International Women’s Day: History and Celebration

Article by: Tara
Edited by: Chris
Visuals by: Andie

This year, International Women’s Day was held on the 8th of March. The theme, decided by the U.N, was #ChooseToChallenge, which inspired everyone to defy biases and stereotypes. The day is a celebration of achievements of women worldwide, and has been conducted for more than a century. Every year, a specific theme overarches the event. The theme for 2020 was “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights.” This theme coincided with the UN Women’s campaign, Generation Equality, and was also used to mark the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, which fueled the progression of women empowerment. These themes are used to highlight specific milestones, or are homages to movements in the past. 

The celebration’s roots date back to 1908, where garment workers held a strike in New York. During this, women protested for better working conditions, namely shorter working hours, higher pay, and the right to vote. A similar movement sprang up in Germany in 1911, where Clara Zetkin advocated for a celebration on the same day every year, in every country, to “press for women’s demands.” She introduced the idea of an International Women’s Day in the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, and the idea was well received and implemented. The first official celebration  was in 1911, and was celebrated in Denmark, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. European campaigns against the First World War also encouraged women across  the world to participate in International Women’s Day. The event was officialized in 1975 by the UN, making it a recognised celebration of how far women have come in society.

This day is also important for us at ISM. Many students have posted on their social media stories to honor the celebration. “This day is actually really important to me. I feel like there are very few events that celebrate women, and how far we’ve come, and it’s great that a day like this is acknowledged as a worldwide event,” Allison, a sophomore, said about the celebration. When asked about the celebration, Ms. Sarkawi explained its’ importance to her, and further delved into what it means to be a woman, “To me, International Women’s Day is both a celebration and a call to action. As a celebration, I hope it is a day to highlight all the different ways womanhood is experienced and lived out by women all over the world. I don’t believe there is one “right” way to be a woman – some of us are perceived to be born into it, some of us are perceived to transition into it, some of us only identify as a woman sometimes. A woman’s experience is so varied and that’s beautiful to me. I hope we can learn to uplift the women in our lives and unlearn the implicit bias absorbed that nudges us to disregard women and their stories.” She further connected it to recent events that illuminate the importance of the day, “As a call to action, this year’s International Women’s Day comes at a conflicting moment in history. It’s been one year and a few days since Breonna Taylor was killed in her home as she was sleeping. Recently, Sarah Everard’s body was found after she disappeared while walked home. The attrition rate of women in STEM fields is still quite high. Often, men are still holding senior leadership positions in influential companies and organizations. On average, women are still making less than men in the same positions. There is still equity work that needs to be done. Gender equity is not a zero-sum game and can serve to benefit all of us! I hope that International Women’s Day serves as a reminder that close enough is not good enough.” While the day is a celebration of womens’ progress, it also reveals how much more we can progress in regard to gender equity.