March 8th is around the corner! Is everyone ready for the big International Women’s Day festivities this year? Have you gotten all of your “Happy IWD!” cards sent out yet? Anyone know what time the Women’s Day Parade starts?
Okay, you’d be forgiven for never having heard of International Women’s Day. Despite its being first celebrated in New York City, IWD is now more widely observed abroad than in the States. Twenty-nine countries count it as a public holiday, and in many others it is observed unofficially, like Mother’s Day or Saint Patrick’s Day.
So why have you never heard of it before?
The reason has less to do with what International Women’s Day stands for and more to do with who started it. In 1909, the Socialist Party of America organized “National Women’s Day” to honor the 15,000 women who went on strike in New York City for better working conditions at garment factories a year earlier.
The idea took hold among the labor movement and within two years, “International Working Women’s Day” was being celebrated by millions across Europe. Though its roots are in the labor movement, the ideals the holiday consecrated went beyond the workplace. It called for equal rights for women, specifically the rights to vote and to hold public office. It was a day for women to come together and protest the gender discrimination they encountered every day of their lives.
While women’s struggle for equal rights was as strong in the United States as anywhere else, International Working Women’s Day became more and more associated with Socialism and lost its popularity in America.
But in 1975, The United Nations began celebrating the day as “International Women’s Day”. Dropping the word “working” from the day’s name made it more relevant in both developing and developed countries. The UN invited its member states to join them in commemorating March 8th as a day to bring attention to the gains made and the obstacles remaining in the struggle for women’s rights across the globe.
Whatever its roots, the struggles the IWD commemorates still continue. Each year, United Nations highlights different elements across the globe involved in the fight for equal rights. In 2002, the theme concentrated on the obstacles and opportunities of modern Afghani women. Other years have put the spotlight on issues like HIV/AIDS, science and technology, rural poverty and gender violence.
As much as the United Nations has done to bring International Women’s Day to a bigger audience, last year an even more powerful and prestigious entity recognized the day: Beyonce Knowles. On March 8, 2014, the performer posted the video “International Women’s Day” which cuts together different women talking about their definition of feminism, while “***Flawless”, the song featuring novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous “We Should All Be Feminists” TEDx Talk, plays in the background.
So what is this year’s International Women’s Day all about? 2015 marks the 20th Anniversary of the “Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action” roadmap. That boring name belies what a white-hot international debate it actually was. For two weeks almost 200 governments met in China’s capital city to hammer out commitments in a dozen areas of concern for women everywhere, ranging from the environment to armed conflict.
International Women’s Day 2015 is a chance to evaluate where the world is when it comes to honoring those commitments made to women 20 years ago. The theme: “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It!” is a call to join activists around the world to hold governments accountable for the remaining gaps in gender equality.
So, now that you know what it is, how are YOU going to honor International Women’s Day? Here are a few tips:
Go purple: Purple is the official color of International Women’s Day!
Participate: in any of the over 500 events around the globe being held in honor of this most kick-ass of holidays.
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