The curious history behind International Women’s Day

March 8 marks International Women's Day - a day he United Nations says is "a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women." 

Sounds pretty straightforward right? But what stared International Women's Day in the first place? Here's a little history on this particular commemorative day. 

How did International Women's Day start? 

There seems to be a bit of a disagreement on what exactly  constituted the first Women's Day, but there's no disagreement on one thing: historically anyway, it was really socialist. 

According to the UN, the first National Women's Day happened in the United States on February 29, 1909 and was organized by the Socialist Party of America to honour the 1908 garment workers' strike in New York. 

The idea was for an international Women's Day was adopted in Copenhagen by the Socialist International in 1910, and was first celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19, 1911. People marched to express support for women's suffrage and to end discrimination at work. 

The first time it was celebrated on March 8 was in 1917, when Russian women protested for "Bread and Peace" against the backdrop of WWI. 

Just days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. 

Vladimir Lenin made the day an official holiday in the Soviet Union in 1922, and over the next few decades it was celebrated mostly in communist countries, including China, where women are given a half day off from work even today. 

The United Nations brought the idea back to the western world in 1975, when it celebrated International Women's Year and adopted the same celebration date as the communist countries. 

Since the 1990's, the UN started adopting an annual theme for the day. 

What's this year's theme?

In 2016, the official theme is "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up For Gender Equality." 

The idea is to push for measurable gender equality, particularly when it comes to education. 

How far away are we from that?

Depends who you ask, but most would say pretty far. Even the United Nations, which tends to be optimistic, is only hoping that things like equal access to education and an end to gender discrimination happen by 2030.

To give one recent Canadian example, a new report from Oxfam Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives estimated that in 2011, women earned 72 cents for every dollar men earned. It's partly due to more women working part time - many of them saying that they only work part-time because of concerns about child care. 

An international report from January on women at work called the situation "an economic and social travesty." 

And that's just employment - there are lots of other ways to be discriminated against. For example, women also face higher rates of family violence, according to police-reported crime numbers from Statistics Canada. 

Is there an International Men's Day?

Actually, yes. It's Nov 19. It's not as old an event though, and it doesn't seem to be backed by the UN the same way Women's Day is. 



Rachel Igarta

Rachel Igarta

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