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International Women’s Day (IWD)

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Authored by Katherine Waite
Published on 8th March, 2022 3 min read

International Women’s Day (IWD)

A poster for International Women's Day showing cartoon women hugging in a circle.

International Women’s Day is a global holiday celebrated annually on 8th March. This day commemorates cultural, political, social and economic achievements of women. It has become a focal point in the women’s rights movement, and is used to spotlight issues facing women, such as reproductive rights, abuse and violence, and gender inequality.

IWD has its roots in socialist movements. The earliest observance of a Women’s Day can be attributed to the Socialist Party of America, who held a “National Women’s Day” in New York on 28th February 1909. The next year at the International Conference of Working Women, German campaigner and socialist Clara Zetkin, inspired by her American counterparts, decided that an annual “Women’s Day” should be established. Zetkin and her contemporaries decided to turn the day into an international movement advocating universal suffrage and used to promote equal rights. In 1911 this idea expanded, and on 19th March women across Europe protested, demanding the right to vote, the right to hold public office, and protesting against employment sex discrimination.

By the end of the decade, the 8th March was settled on as International Women’s Day. This date was chosen to commemorate the important role Russian women workers played in actions that led to the Russian Revolution of 1917. In Russia, International Women’s Day was celebrated from 1913. However, on 8th March 1917, against a backdrop of unrest, women workers in Petrograd held a mass strike and demonstration demanding peace and bread. This strike spread and was the foundational basis of the February Revolution. A week later, the Tsar abdicated, signaling the downfall of the Russian monarchy. Consequently, IWD became an official Soviet holiday, and Russian women were granted the right to vote. 

Due to its political associations with the Soviet Union and socialism, for the next half a century IWD was largely overlooked by Western Nations. Nevertheless, in the 1960s IWD was adopted by the global feminist movement. However, it was not until 1977 that the United Nations acceptance of the holiday propelled it into the mainstream. 

International Women's Day is now commemorated globally in a variety of ways. The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. This campaign is aimed at creating a greater awareness of gender bias, ‘whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. Knowing that bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field. The break the bias campaign calls on everyone to actively call out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it’.

The United Nations chooses a theme each year to spotlight. In 2022 this theme is “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, which celebrates the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on climate change adaptation, mitigation, and response, to build a more sustainable future for all. 

Whilst celebrating International Women’s Day, and International Women’s Month, it is important to remember its progressive historical roots.  Ultimately, Women’s Day is not just about gifting flowers, it is about making permanent steps to rectify gender imbalance. It is a time for everyone to consider the ways you can empower and support women; educate, inspire, donate.

Authored by Katherine Waite

Katherine Waite

Katherine Waite is Head of Publishing at British Online Archives. Katherine studied History at Newcastle University, graduating in 2016. She has worked in the editorial and content teams at British Online Archives. As Head of Publishing she is currently working on curating a collection on the history of pandemic disease in the United Kingdom.

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Notable Days


The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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