International Women’s Day: a celebration of progress and a reminder of the challenges

Mar 8, 2024

On 8 March, people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day, an opportunity to honour the social, political and economic achievements of women and reflect on the ongoing struggles for equality and emancipation. But how did this important day, which has since become a global symbol of women’s rights, come about?

The origins of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day has its origins in the socialist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe and the United States. The idea of a special day to recognise the social and political achievements of women arose at a time when women were largely excluded from public life and had little to no political rights.

Women's Day, Primroses

The first Women’s Day

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on 19 March 1911 in Denmark, Germany, Austria-Hungary and Switzerland. Millions of women and men gathered in these countries to campaign for women’s right to vote, equal working conditions and the elimination of discrimination.

The choice of date

Why exactly 8 March was chosen as the official day for International Women’s Day remains an interesting aspect. The decision to set the day on 8 March goes back to the role of women in the Russian Revolution of 1917. On this day, 23 February in the Julian calendar, women workers in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg) demonstrated against the First World War and for “bread and peace”. The demonstration was an important trigger for the revolution and ultimately led to the abdication of the Tsar and the establishment of a provisional government. According to the Gregorian calendar, which most countries use today, 23 February corresponds to 8 March.

The development of Women’s Day

Over the years, International Women’s Day has evolved and become a global event. It is recognised and celebrated by governments, NGOs, businesses and individuals worldwide. The day serves not only to celebrate the achievements of women, but also to draw attention to persistent injustices and challenges faced by women, including the gender pay gap, sexual harassment in the workplace, access to education and healthcare, and political representation.

The significance of International Women’s Day today

Today, International Women’s Day plays an important role in promoting gender equality and encouraging women to stand up for their rights. It is an opportunity to show solidarity, raise awareness and inspire change. From public events and demonstrations to social media campaigns, people around the world use this day to emphasise the importance of gender equality and advocate for a fairer future.