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International Women’s Day: What is it, When is it and why was it set up?

International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on March 8. This year there is Google Doodle marking the celebration featuring women and girls across the world who complete the sentence ‘One day I will’, talking about their dreams and ambitions.

International womens day

What is International Women’s Day?

  • The event is now largely aimed at inspiring women across the world and celebrating their achievements.
  • It is a global celebration which aims to inspire women across the world.
  • The first National Women’s Day took place in 1909 and its roots are in campaigning for better pay and voting rights.
  • International Women’s Day is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity.
  • No one government, NGO, charity, corporation, academic institution, women’s network or media hub is solely responsible for International Women’s Day.
  • Many organizations declare an annual IWD theme that supports their specific agenda or cause, and some of these are adopted more widely with relevance than others.

How did it start?

It’s difficult to say exactly when IWD (as it’s known) began. Its roots can be traced to 1900s, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours.

A year later, the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the US on 28 February in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America.

In 1910, a woman called Clara Zetkin – leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany – tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She suggested that every country should celebrate women on one day every year to push for their demands.

An annual “international women’s day” was first organised by the German socialist and theorist Clara Zetkin along with 100 delegates from 17 countries in March 1911.

The event was marked by more than one million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, with hundreds of demonstrations across the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since. The day was only recognised by the United Nations in 1975, but ever since it has created a theme each year for the celebration.

Why was it set up?

When it first began, women were demanding that they be given the right to vote – which they received in Britain in 1918 but just last year in Saudi Arabia – to hold public office and to be given equal employment rights as men.

Today, when only a fifth of parliamentary seats are held by women and only 19 heads of state out of a possible 196 are women – only seven more women than 20 years ago – there is much progress still to be made.

The number of female cabinet ministers has at least tripled between 1994 and 2014 – but remains low compared to men, at only 17 per cent.

Women are also facing another 118-year wait for the gender pay gap to close.

This shows the need for a day like International Women’s Day.

What is this year’s International Women’s Day focusing on?

The 2016 theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. The idea is to accelerate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which was formally adopted by world leaders at a 2015 UN summit. It focuses on reducing poverty, hunger, disease and gender inequality.

The United Nations first began celebrating the day on 8 March in 1975, and each year has given focus to women’s status around the globe.

The current goals fit in with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

They follow on from an event hosted by UN Women and the People’s Republic of China for global leaders to commit to action on women’s empowerment and access to capital.

The new agenda, which is meant to build on the unfulfilled Milennium Development Goals, has a stand-alone goal just for the empowerment of women and girls as a core means of tackling economic underperformance, global overpopulation and poverty worldwide.

It also celebrates the achievements of women throughout history.

In some countries, the day is a national holiday and sisters, grandmothers, mothers, women and partners are given presents to mark it.

How can you take part?

Head over to the IWD website and pledge to help women and girls achieve their ambitions. Fight to get girls into school, for an end to child marriages and spread the message of gender equality in all walks of life.

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