The History of International Women’s Day

The History of International Women’s Day

When is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated around the world on the 8th of March.

What is International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when all women are recognised for their achievements. International Women’s Day was first born out of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.

Since those early days, International Women’s Day has grown in prominence and reach, touching women in every corner of the world. The growing international women’s movement has helped make International Women’s Day a central point for action including building support for women’s rights and their full participation in the economy, politics, community and in everyday life.

History of International Women’s Day

In 1910, Clara Zetkin, the leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. The proposal received unanimous support from over one hundred women representing 17 countries.

The very first International Women’s Day was held the following year on March 19th. Meetings and protests were held across Europe, with the largest street demonstration attracting 30,000 women. In 1913, IWD was moved to March 8th and has been held on this day ever since.

International Women’s Day in Australia

Australia’s first International Women’s Day was held in 1928 in Sydney. Organised by the Militant Women’s Movement, women called for equal pay for equal work, an 8-hour working day for shop girls and paid leave. The next year the event spread to Brisbane. In 1931, annual marches were launched in both Sydney and Melbourne and both marches continue to be held today.

International Women’s Day today

International Women’s Day has become a time to reflect on progress, to call for change and to celebrate the courage and determination of the women who changed history, and those who will advance gender equality into the future. International Women’s Day is an occasion to review how far women have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilise for meaningful change.

Did you know?

  • In 1913, IWD was moved to March 8th and has been held on this day ever since.
  • Russian women demanded — and gained — the right to vote in 1917 as a direct consequence of the March protests and after more than 40,000 women and men again took to the streets demanding universal suffrage.
  • Suffragettes in the U.K. and their counterparts in the U.S. both looked to Russia as an example and held what they saw as the country’s progress and liberation of women up as a mirror to their own governments, warning that they were lagging behind.
  • The earliest purported Women's Day observance, called "National Woman's Day", was held on February 28, 1909, in New York City
  • IWD initially had no set date, though it was generally celebrated in late February or early March. Americans continued to observe "National Women's Day" on the last Sunday in February, while Russia observed International Women's Day for the first time in 1913, on the last Saturday in February
  • The United Nations began celebrating International Women's Day in 1975, which had been proclaimed the International Women's Year.
  • In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as an official UN holiday for women's rights and world peace. It has since been commemorated annually by the UN and much of the world, with each year's observance centred on a particular theme or issue within women's rights.

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