Thursday, March 8 marks International Women’s Day (IWD) – a day when activists all over the world unite to send a strong call to motivate communities to be gender inclusive. IWD is a time to reflect on progress made, call for change and celebrate the determination of women who have shaped history.
"Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.” – United Nations (U.N.) Secretary General António Guterres
Despite notable progress since 1909, the year of the first IWD, celebrating this day remains necessary and relevant, as many challenges and struggles still stand in the way of full gender parity, especially since the original aim of the day has not been realized. The World Economic Forum reported in its Global Gender Gap report that gender parity is some 200 years away and the gender gap will not close until 2086.
Inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, the feminist agenda has gone further and is no longer affiliated with any one group, ethnicity, color, background or gender. Women from all over the world are voicing to the world that everyone should act upon issues that continue to stand in the way of gender equality, and that equality benefits everyone in society. The theme for IWD 2018 is “Women Too: Press on to Progress as Game Changers”, aiming to encourage people to take strong action and be vocal to press forward and progress gender parity.
This theme is supported by corporate and non-governmental organizations, while the U.N. supports the theme “Time is Now: Rural and Women’s Activists Transforming Women’s Lives”, connecting women’s struggle to the Sustainable Development Goals (
Global figures on women’s education and health are still worse than that for men
Each year, gender equality advocates and activists come together to coordinate an array of activities that include arts, discussions, rallies, protests and marches to celebrate the achievements of amazing women around the world who inspired generations to overcome gender barriers and say no to deeply rooted inequalities that hold women back, including the gender glass ceiling, gender pay gap, sexual harassment, violence and abuse of power. They also come together to say yes for gender parity and full representation of women in all aspects of life; they say yes for women’s full control over their bodies, minds, choices and future.
How did IWD start?
The roots of IWD can be traced to 1908 when more than 15,000 women marched in
and struggled for women’s suffrage and economic rights. Later in 1909, the first National Women’s Day was celebrated in the U.S. on February 28. One year later, a woman from Germany named Clara Zetkin proposed the idea of an international Women’s Day and suggested that each country should celebrate women on one day every year to push for their demands.
In 1911, more than 100 women from 17 countries gathered in a conference and agreed on Zetkin’s idea. The day was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19, 1911. In 1913, the day was transferred to March 8 and has been celebrated on that day ever since. It was not until 1975 when the U.N. recognized the day and created an annual theme for the celebration. Ever since, IWD has grown and been celebrated in over 100 countries, having been declared an official holiday in more than 25 countries by 2014.
The annual IWD is just the start of a year-round campaign adopting the annual theme as a direction to guide all groups’ and countries’ collective actions and gender-focused initiatives. There are many ways to celebrate the day and show your support for women’s rights and gender equality. Consider these inspiring examples of positive behaviors proposed by the International Women’s Day website:
• Maintain a gender parity mindset: Question any lack of women’s participation, identify alternatives that are more inclusive, nominate women for opportunities, always include and support women, and think 50/50 as the goal.
• Challenge stereotypes and bias: Question assumptions about women, challenge statements that limit women, always use inclusive language, work to remove barriers to women's progress and buy from retailers who position women in positive ways.
• Forge positive visibility of women: Identify ways to make women more visible, extend opportunities to women first, assume women want opportunities until declined, select women as spokespeople and leaders, and support visible women.
• Influence others’ beliefs/actions: Sportively call-out inappropriate behavior, campaign for equality in meaningful ways, lead by example via inclusive actions, be a role model for equality and actively contribute to changing the status quo.
• Celebrate women’s achievements: Believe achievement comes in many forms, value women's individual and collective success, ensure credit is given for women's contributions, celebrate women role models and their journeys, and support awards showcasing women's success.