By Lucía Garrido
Imagine a gender-equal world: free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A diverse, equitable, and inclusive world where difference is valued and celebrated. March 8 is International Women’s Day, an important date to remind the women’s equality battle.
Together we can forge women’s equality.
It’s a global day to recognize and celebrate women’s and girls’ social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. It’s also a time to raise awareness of the progress toward achieving gender equality and the remaining work.
The beginnings of International Women’s Day can be traced back to the early twentieth century. It emerged from the activities of labour movements in North America and Europe and reflected a growing call for women’s equal participation in society. The first International Women’s Day occurred on March 19, 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. Over a million women and men attended public events to show their support that day. Other countries began to observe and celebrate this day in the following years. The United Nations recognized 1975 as International Women’s Year and celebrated March 8 as International Women’s Day.
Today, International Women’s Day is a day of unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy, and action and is celebrated in many countries worldwide.
While Canada has made so much progress by removing gender parity, more work must be done to bridge that gap between men and women. In 2016, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that, even after so many long years, some women are still denied education and face various gender-based valances being forced into child marriage. So, as a society, as parents, and as community members, we need to come forward and support the idea of gender parity.
The Canadian Government adopted a theme for the International day celebration 2016: “women’s Empowerment leads to equality”. A campaign started on this day in Canada, #YouAreEmpowerment, and Justin Trudeau urged the people of Canada to participate in the campaign.
It is essential to encourage women to choose freely for gender equality. Women who have come forward and are pursuing studies in STEM, alias Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, inspire many. Canada is one such fortunate place that ardently advocates gender equality.
Many women in Canada have inspired women around the world to come forward. One such example is Dr. Victoria Kaspi, a professor at McGill University. She is the first woman awarded Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal at Canada’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. When she was young, she was very much enthralled by the sky that appears at night, and gradually she turned her fascination into her career and researched the extreme physics of neutron stars, which are believed to be the densest type of star in the Universe.
What’s happening to women’s rights around the world?
The COVID-19 pandemic has set back progress for gender equality and girls and women’s rights. The longer the pandemic continues, the longer women may go without access to jobs, food, health care, and education, further exposing them to the risks of gender-based violence, health issues, and poverty. Yet we know that girls and women can be powerful agents of change in crisis, provided they can exercise their rights.
This International Women’s Day, as we celebrate the strides women have made and continue to push for, we can’t let progress slip away. We must ensure that girls and women can secure the resources and services they need to overcome the impacts of the pandemic and reach their full potential.
Data: Gender equality in Canada
In Canada, 70% of women say they have experienced some form of inequality in their lifetime due to discrimination or gender stereotypes, according to a 2020 Plan International Canada survey. The 1,400 women surveyed between 18 and 65 said they believe that gender stereotypes fuel expectations related to appearance, behaviour, and career choices.
Beyond March 8
While International Women’s Day is a global occasion to celebrate women and people of marginalized genders, the work to achieve gender equity continues throughout the year.
Colonial and patriarchal structures continue to oppress racialized peoples and people of marginalized genders. These systems impact people’s ability to access safety, employment, justice, health care, housing, education, and reproductive rights.
Exploring the history of International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day, commonly abbreviated to IWD, is a global day celebrating women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements worldwide. IWD is celebrated every year on March 8 and marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.
This year, the campaign theme for IWD is #BreakTheBias. Whether it’s deliberate or unconscious, biases, stereotypes, and discrimination make it difficult for women to move ahead and be seen as equal.
While there have been significant improvements in the fight for equality since early history, International Women’s Day is still a reminder of the progress needed so women can have equal opportunities.
The history of International Women’s Day dates back over a century.
At the start of the 20th century, women began to be vocal and active in campaigning against women’s oppression and inequality. Democratic action was soon taken when 15,000 women marched through New York City in 1908, demanding shorter working hours, better pay, and voting rights.
This rally led to unparalleled events and movements for women’s rights and freedoms.
In 1909, a declaration was held by the Socialist Party of America to observe the first National Women’s Day (NWD) across the United States on February 28.
A year later, in 1910, a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen, Denmark.
At this conference, Clara Zetkin, leader of the “Women’s Office” for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed the idea of an international women’s day. Clara suggested a celebration for women on the same day every year in every country to press for their rights and demands.
The conference unanimously approved her idea, thus inaugurating the first official International Women’s Day.
Following this result, IWD was recognized for the first time in 1911 in Denmark, Austria, Germany, and Switzerland on March 19. On this day, more than one million men and women attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, hold public office, and end discrimination.
A few years later, just before the start of the First World War, discussions were held, and it was agreed upon that International Women’s Day would be held annually on March 8, the same day we celebrate it more than a century later. Around this time, Canada was also making strides in the fight for women’s rights and freedoms.
In 1929, women were declared “persons” in Canada and could be appointed to the Senate of Canada. This was a tremendous victory for Canadian women across the country.
A few decades later, Canadian women were granted the right to vote in 1960, and in 1967, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women was established. The Commission’s mandate was to “inquire into and report upon the status of women in Canada, and to recommend what steps might be taken by the federal government to ensure for women equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society.”
In 1981, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms finally enshrined women’s rights. IWD was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Shortly after this, in 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed by Member States on any day of the year, per their historical and national traditions.
Since the first official International Women’s Day, the world has seen significant improvements and shifts in women’s freedoms, equality, and emancipation. However, there is still much work to be done.
Canada’s Labour movement has been a powerful force for women’s equality and positive workplace and societal change. Canada helps make the workplace safer and challenges harassment and discrimination. Have administered open doors to women working in trades and technology, and we build women’s leadership and political participation.
From maternity and parental leave to public pensions, from equal pay to workplace safety legislation, have led the way for better, fairer workplaces for all women in Canada. Many challenges remain, especially for women who face additional barriers because of race, disability, Aboriginal status, age, sexuality, and gender identity and expression.
On this International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate women’s strength and courage at home and worldwide.
Why we still need International Women’s Day in 2023
International Women’s Day has never been more critical. The pandemic has made it abundantly clear what happens when we don’t prioritize gender equality. Women absorb childcare burdens, and incidents of child marriage increase, just to name a few. Women and girls cannot afford to lose hard-fought gains every time there is a global crisis. We need to embed gender equality in the law today. And we can’t do it alone.
For over 100 years, feminists worldwide have marked International Women’s Day on March 8, celebrating women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and focusing on the work that must be done to accelerate gender equality.
This March, on International Women’s Day and throughout Women’s History Month, we will support our global team of human rights lawyers and policy experts who work daily to make the world a better place for women and girls.
And we know that by working together, we’ll be able to help more women and girls secure the protections and fundamental rights they deserve to live safely, fearless, and accessible.
Support International Women’s Day
Whether hosting an event, running a campaign, launching an initiative, reporting on achievement, donating to a female-focused charity, or more – there are many ways groups and individuals can mark International Women’s Day.
Three central beliefs underpin and guide the purpose and provisions of the International Women’s Day website:
- Identifying, celebrating, and increasing the visibility of women’s achievements can help forge equality.
- Strategic collaborations based on a foundation of shared purpose, trust, and appreciation can impact positive change for women.
- Worldwide awareness raising via meaningful narratives, resources, and activity can help combat gender bias and discrimination to accelerate gender parity.
To support worldwide activity, the International Women’s Day website provides the following:
- free guidance and resources
- a searchable IWD events database
- a platform for collaborative purpose-driven missions
- a hub showcasing the work of women creatives
- speakers register for IWD event managers
- a women-owned business IWD supplier directory
- a fundraising channel for female-focused charities (100% direct to charity)
How Is International Women’s Day Celebrated Around The World?
The United Kingdom
The Women of the World event (including International Women’s Day), which takes place in London over three days, brings together activists, lecturers, and entertainers to address global issues affecting women. WOW, which began in the United Kingdom, now includes sister festivals in various parts of the world, with intertwined speeches, debates, walking tours, films, exhibitions, workshops, fun runs, and more.
The United States
In the United States, International Women’s Day is not an official holiday, but March is designated as Women’s History Month, commemorating women’s achievements throughout history, both past and present. Rallies, seminars, and corporate events are held in capital cities on March 8, bringing together conversation and thought leadership.
In Italy, International Women’s Day is called La Festa Della Donna. People in Italy celebrate the day by offering mimosa flowers to the women in their lives, similar to how red roses are given on Valentine’s Day. The yellow flower was chosen partly because it blooms in early March and is generally inexpensive. Women commonly pass springs of mimosas to one other as a show of female unity, also considered a symbol of strength.
March 8 is a national holiday in Russia. This holiday arose as a political commemoration of women’s struggles worldwide for equal rights, full equality with men, democracy, and peace. The most common way Russian people commemorate this day is to visit family, have dinner, and have a glass of champagne. Flowers, chocolate, poetry postcards, and other pleasant presents are given by men and women to their mothers, wives, grandmothers, sisters, and daughters. On March 8, flowers are the most common gift, with yellow mimosas and roses being the most popular.
International Women’s Day has been observed in Argentina since the early twentieth century. Women are honoured in this country, as they are in Russia and Italy, by getting and donating flowers and other gifts. Over the last five years, however, protests for gender equality have occurred in Argentina around International Women’s Day, with women protesting for gender equality, an end to femicide, and reproductive rights.
Do we still need an International Women’s Day?
Yes! There’s no place for complacency. According to the World Economic Forum, sadly, we will not see gender parity in our lifetime, nor likely will many of our children. Gender parity won’t be attained for well over a century.
There’s urgent work to do – and we can all play a part.