International Women’s Day (IWD) has not been marked for a very long time.
It all started in 1908 when 15 000 women rallied in New York demanding shorter working hours, better payment for their work and the right to vote. Back then it was still not the “international”, but just the “National Women’s Day”. The date was the “last Sunday of February”. Such was the case until 1913.
It was in 1910 in Copenhagen on the second Conference of Working Women, when a lady named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the women’s office of the German Social Democratic Party) suggested that Women’s Day be an international one. She proposed that on the same day across the globe the International Women’s Day will be marked with celebrations and push for their demands. The suggestion was adopted and this is how International Women’s Day came to be.
The first International Women’s Day was thus celebrated on March 19, 1911. More than a million people marched in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland. The demands were for the women’s right to work, vote, study and hold public office, as well as against discrimination.
In 1913 the date of the day was set on March 8 and has remained such ever since. In 1914 women across Europe held campaigns against the war.
In 1917, on the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike “Bread and Peace” as a result of the death of 2 million Russian soldiers in WWI. The date was February 23 under the Julian calendar (active in Russia at the time), or March 8th under the Gregorian calendar. With political opposition, the strike went on for four days. Then the Czar abdicated and a provisional government was set in place. It granted the right to vote to Russian women.
1928 saw the first celebration of International Women’s Day in Sydney, Australia. It was organised by the Militant Women’s Movement and called for eight hour working days, increased pay for women and the right for paid leave. The next year the women’s marches spread to Brisbane. In 1931 marches were held in Melbourne and Sidney, and have continued ever since on the date.
In 1975 the International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations. Two years later, in 1977, a Resolutions was passed under which proclaimed the Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.
In 1996 the UN announced their first theme for the IWD. It was “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future.” Since then each year the celebration also has an underlying theme, just as there is one for 2022.
2011 market the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day in the countries where it all started – Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. US President Barack Obama coined the whole month of Month 2011 as “Women’s History Month”.
Celebration-Today And Into The Future
Today, 111 years after the initiation of the Day, it is acknowledged that much has been accomplished. Women are active voters across the world. Equality is greater and acceptance of women to managerial positions is common. An abundance of women role models exists, which stimulate young girls to find their rightful place in life. We have female Presidents, female astronauts and female scientists and athletes in abundance. March 8th has been proclaimed as a national holiday in many countries.
Will the IWD slip into becoming just a historic mark of a date? Have all the demands of women been met? Have all the meaningful causes been satisfied?
Irrespective of the great progress made over the century, sadly there is still a long list of topics worth campaigning about on IWD. True equality between men and women has not been achieved. Women are still not paid equally to their male colleagues holding the same positions. Women’s education and healthcare is worse than that for men. Sadly, violence against women is still a fact.
As much as has been accomplished over the years, there is much to look for in the future. International Women’s Day calls for a celebration of all the good things achieved in the past. It provides also a good opportunity to unite the efforts for more meaningful changes.
The campaign for this year is “BreakTheBias”.
The wish is to reach an equal world for all genders. A world with no biases, discrimination or stereotypes. An inclusive and diverse world that values the differences between people. The call is to break the bias on this year’s International Women’s Day and every day from then on, in all communities, all workplaces, all schools across the world.
Planning in advance for this year’s event you may consider hiring some female motivational speakers. Female inspirational speakers or female keynote speakers can convey this year’s IWD theme and help organisations to “Break the Bias”:
- The radiant journalist and entertainment reporter Brooke Boney can help media events find their place (and possibly correct it) in creating and supporting biases;
- The witty and vigorous TV anchor, radio commentator, award-winning writer Virginia Trioli can master the whole IWD ceremony;
- The greatest Australian athlete of all times – the cyclist Anna Meares may reflect on what it takes to become an Olympic medallist in four consecutive Olympic games and how we can all help to break the bias, just like she has done;
- The inspiring story of tennis star Jelena Dokic and her fight with biases, poverty, humiliation, exclusion, racism, injury, depression, physical and emotional family abuse;
- The first-hand account of women fighting in the first line against the results of biases – the women’s mental health and diversity and inclusion speakers.
Whatever the set-up we have to honour and celebrate what has been accomplished in the past and mark the beginning of what we will be working on into the future. Australia has gone a long way since 1928, and we know where we need to go into the future. Australia’s annual national march in 2022 will be to BreakTheBias.