Significance of International Women’s Day

Dr. Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

International Women’s Day is one of the most important days of the year celebrated every March 8 to observe women’s success and part in cultural, political, social, and economic development. It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic, or political. This day spurs us to acknowledge and make people aware of women’s rights and gender equality, parity, and call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an official holiday in many countries. In some countries, the tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries, IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers. Purple, green, and white are the colors of International Women’s Day. Purple signifies justice and dignity. Green symbolizes hope. White represents purity, albeit a controversial concept. The colors originated from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in the UK in 1908.

International Women’s Day first emerged from the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe. In 1908, great unrest and critical debate were occurring amongst women. Women’s oppression and inequality were spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change.

The seeds of it were planted in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay, and the right to vote. It was the Socialist Party of America who declared the first National Woman’s Day, a year later. In 1909, in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day was observed across the United States on February 28.

The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. Women continued to celebrate National Woman’s Day on the last Sunday of February until 1913. In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen.

The idea to make the day international came from a woman called Clara Zetkin, leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands.

The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs – and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament – greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval, and thus International Women’s Day was the result. It was first celebrated on 19 March 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. More than one million women and men attended International Women’s Day rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained to hold public office, and end discrimination.

However, International Women’s Day (IWD) has been observed since the early 1900’s – a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. The fact that Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th is strongly linked to the women’s movements during the Russian Revolution (1917), where on the same date women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia. Later, March 8 became a national holiday and the day used to be celebrated by the communist countries and socialists’ movement.

But the first milestone in the US was much earlier – in 1848. Indignant over women being barred from speaking at an anti-slavery convention, Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott congregated a few hundred people at their nation’s first women’s rights convention in New York. Together they demanded civil, social, political, and religious rights for women in a Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. A movement was born.

International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Then in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by the Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

The centenary was celebrated in 2011, so this year we’re technically celebrating the 110th International Women’s Day. In the United States, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be “Women’s History Month”, calling Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping the country’s history.

As the International Women’s Day 2021 is nearing here, we are with this year’s theme and that is: “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world on the way to the Generation Equality Forum”. The hashtag is #IWD2021 and #InternationalWomensDay. The theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.

It highlights the impact that girls and women worldwide had as health care workers, caregivers, innovators, and community organizers during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is also aligned with the priority theme of the 65th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”.

The flagship Generation Equality campaign, calls for women’s right to decision-making in all areas of life, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to all forms of violence against women and girls, and health-care services that respond to their needs.

The Generation Equality Forum, a milestone for gender equality investment and actions, kicks off in Mexico City from 29 – 31 March and culminates in Paris in June 2021. It will draw leaders, visionaries, and activists from around the world, via a safe virtual platform, to push for transformative and lasting change for generations to come.

Every day, through our actions, and in the way we lead, talk, question, and act, we challenge norms, transform habits, change laws, take action and inspire others to create a world without gender-based discrimination. We are Generation Equality rising.

However, IWD 2021 campaign theme is #ChooseToChallenge #IWD2021. A challenged world is an alert and vigilant world. This implies that the women are responsible for their own thoughts and actions every day and they challenge the world every day. The theme further signifies that women can choose to challenge gender bias and inequality in the world. People need to celebrate women’s achievements and also make the world a better place to live in with equality. It also encourages further people to commit to helping forge an inclusive world with an equal future in a COVID-19 world.

From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge. International Women’s Day is powered by the collective efforts of all. Collective action and shared ownership for driving gender parity are what make International Women’s Day impactful. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist, and activist once explained ‘‘The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.’’ So, make International Women’s Day your day and do what you can to truly make a positive difference for women.

The purpose of the International Women’s Day website is to support the supporters, and in doing so it provides a platform to help forge positive change for women. The official website of International Women’s Day came up with the campaign theme and it is now asking the organizations and people to share the images with #ChooseToChallenge in the caption. In the picture, one needs to put a hand up facing the camera which will symbolize you calling out and standing against gender bias. It means raising your hand high to show you’re in and that you commit to choosing to challenge and call out inequality.

In 1996, the UN announced their first annual theme “Celebrating the past, planning for the Future” which was followed in 1997 with “Women at the Peace table”, in 1998 with “Women and Human Rights”, in 1999 with “World Free of Violence Against Women”, and so on each year until the current.

Last year’s theme was I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”. Similarly, campaign theme was #EachforEqual. The theme is aligned with UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platforms for Action.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action emphasizes the need to address inequality between men and women in the sharing of power and highlights women’s equal access to and full participation in decision-making as a critical strategy for achieving equality for women and girls. It also emphasizes that all people have an equal right to participate in their country’s government through the public office and informal leadership.



The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

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