March 8 ~ March 8 ~ March 8 ~ March 8


The origin of International Women's Day (IWD) is drawn from more than one historical event and began as an acknowledgement of women's struggle to make their workplaces better. Created out of protest and political action, it is a symbol for all those who honour women's struggles to improve their lives. Originally the day of remembrance symbolised the efforts to end appalling working conditions endured by women in sweat shops.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, many women in industrially-developing countries entered the labour force taking jobs  with low wages, poor working conditions and little or no chance of improvement.  Such conditions led to industrial disputes, involving both unionised and non-unionised women workers. It was their struggle that created the global impetus for an International Women's Day.

Today, it  is also seen as a day of celebration of women, all that they do, and the accomplishments they have made.  Women and men celebrate International Women's Day to honour those who began the struggle and those who continue to work for change and recognition of all efforts to improve the lives of women, both locally and globally.



During the French Revolution, Parisian women calling for "liberty, equality, fraternity" demanded women's suffrage for the first time as they marched to Versailles;


The first recorded organised action by working women anywhere in the world took place in New York on March 8, 1857, when hundreds of women in the garment and textile factories staged a strike in protest of low wages, long working hours, inadequate pay, inhumane working conditions and the lack of the right to vote. 


The First Congress of the International Workers'  Association adopted a resolution on women's professional work, thus openly challenging the tradition that a woman's place is in the home;


On 19 July, Clara Zetkin delivered her first speech on the problems of women to the Founding Congress of the Second International in Paris.  She advocated women's right to work and protection of mothers and children, as well as women's broad participation in national and international events;


At the Hague, Netherlands, a women's conference against war marked the starting point of an anti-war movement which gathered momentum into the 20th century;


The real inspiration for International Women's Day emanated in the USA. The first 'Women's Day' was organised by American women socialists on February 28th 1907 to demand political rights for working women and was celebrated for the first time in New York.  It honoured the thousands of women involved in the numerous labour strikes in the early twentieth century in many major centres such as Montreal, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. These women protested and rallied for the right to vote, a decent wage, and an  end to sweat shops and child labour.


In 1908, socialist women in the United States convinced their party to designate the last Sunday in February as a day for demonstrations in support of "woman suffrage" - votes for women.


While attending the Second International Conference of Socialist Women, German Labour politician and leader, Clara Zetkin, (1857-1933), proposed that an annual 'Women's Day' be proclaimed internationally in memory of all women who had struggled for equality.  Women from all of the 17 countries represented at the Conference approved her proposal that 'women the world over set aside a particular day each year to remember women and their struggles.' 


As a result of the decision by the Copenhagen Conference, International Women's Day was marked for the first time in March 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland where over one million men and women attended rallies.  In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded the right to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination in the job.


Observances spread to France, the Netherlands and Sweden.

1913 - 1915

In 1913, the date was changed to March 8th to commemorate an important strike by women textile workers in New York in the 1880s.  The first rally for International Women's Day was held in St. Petersburg, Russia, despite police intimidation. 

In 1914, coincidentally, the Russian Revolution began on March 8 with bread riots led by women.  In 1914 International Women's Day was held under the banner of the peace movement to protest against the war brewing in Europe.

Under socialist sponsorship, from 1913 to 1915, International Women's Day was celebrated on March 8 with women's parades and demonstrations in many European cities. 


After 1915, there were years of occasional observance of International Women's Day in countries such as Spain and China.  International Women's Day was celebrated occasionally by socialist women in parts of the United States from 1916 to the end of the 1930s. 

On February 23rd 1917 (March 8th under the old Russian calendar) women in Petrograd insisted on celebrating International Women's Day independently of the wishes of the leadership of the workers' movement of the time. It was the spark that led to the February Revolution and later the October Revolution.  After the revolution, the USSR made International Women's Day an official holiday, as did China.

It was not marked in the United States after World War II although in Europe it continued to be observed sporadically.  North America began to celebrate IWD in the late 1960s and following the world-wide blossoming of feminism International Women's Day became an opportunity for celebrations and public demonstrations.

The revived International Women's Day became associated with various aspects of the history of working-class women.  Women's strikes in the 19th and early 20th century, particularly those in the textile industry in the United States have been used as a symbol of the celebration.

In the early 1970s in the United Kingdom, International Women's Day was again widely celebrated with marches and rallies as the women's movement grew and flourished.


United Nations involvement principally began in 1977 when the General Assembly passed Resolution 32/142 inviting each country to proclaim, in accordance with its historical and national traditions and customs, any day of the year as United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace.  

March 8 was not specifically designated in this resolution. However, many countries have chosen to observe the celebration on this day.    In adopting its resolution on the observance of Women's Day, the General Assembly cited two reasons:

  • to recognise the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women;

  • to acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security.

In recent years, issues of women's political influence (first symbolised by the vote) and economic equality have been joined by struggles against racism, imperialism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression.  For the women of the world, the Day's symbolism has a wider meaning: It is an occasion to review how far they have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilise for meaningful change.


In recent years, issues of women's political influence (first symbolised by the vote) and economic equality have been joined by struggles against racism, imperialism, heterosexism, and other forms of oppression.  For the women of the world, the Day's symbolism has a wider meaning: It is an occasion to review how far they have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilise for meaningful change.


In recent decades, the world's women have made tremendous progress towards achieving equality with men. Women's access to education and proper health care has increased; their participation in the paid labour force has grown; and legislation that promises equal opportunities for women and respect for their human rights has been adopted in many countries. 


Nowhere in the world can women claim to have the same rights and opportunities as men.  Internationally, more women are becoming poorer and, following the rise of religious fundamentalism, ever more oppressed.  With globalisation have come huge increases in female trafficking and prostitution.   Women continue to be:

  • POOR:  the majority of the world's 1.3 billion absolute poor are women.

  • ILLITERATE:  three-quarters of the worlds 960 million illiterates are women

  • EARN LESS:  on average, women receive between 30 and 40 per cent less pay than men earn for the same work.

  • SUFFER VIOLENCE: rape and domestic violence listed as significant causes of disability and death among women of reproductive age world-wide.

At the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, representatives of 189 countries unanimously agreed that inequalities between women and men persist and major obstacles remain, with serious consequences for the well-being of all people.

"The advancement of women and the achievement of equality between women and men are a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and should not be seen in isolation as a women's issue," according to the Platform for Action, the final document of the Conference. "They are the only way to build a sustainable, just and developed society." 

Addressing the problems faced by women is at the heart of a global agenda promoted by the United Nations. By adopting international laws and treaties, the United Nations has established a common standard for societies to achieve equality between men and women. Through policy formulation and institutional development, and by encouraging political commitment, the Organisation has helped promote new values, new attitudes, and new priorities at the national and international levels.

Over 150 countries have so far ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, (CEDAW) legally committing themselves to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.

Until the rights and full potential of women are achieved, lasting solutions to the world's most serious social, economic and political problems are unlikely to be solved.  In the global effort for peace and enduring progress, the promotion and protection of women's rights are central. International Women's Day is a day for international solidarity among women and for global awareness.  It is a day to celebrate the gains women have made and to focus on the changes that are still needed.