Everything You Need To Know About International Women’s Day On March 8

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated every year on March 8. It’s a day to recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of women throughout history and across the world. It’s also a day to advocate for women’s rights and gender equality.

But how exactly did IWD get started, why is it still observed and how can you celebrate it this year? 

The History of International Women’s Day 

The origins of International Women’s Day are somewhat controversial and a little hazy. Depending on your source, details will change here and there. Still all stories date back to the early 20th century when women’s rights activists across the world were campaigning for suffrage, better working conditions, and equal rights. 

The most common origin story for International Women’s Day starts with a march that took place in 1908. 15,000 women marched together through the streets of New York demanding better pay, voting rights, and shorter hours. However, research from the 1980s suggests this story was made up to separate International Women’s Day from its socialist roots.  

What’s clear is that in 1909, the Socialist Party of America declared February 28 the first National Woman’s Day in the US. It was observed on the last Sunday of February so that working women could join the march. 

On February 28, 1909, suffragists and socialists, who had previously been at odds, united. Thousands of women congregated at Murray Hill Lyceum at 34th Street and Third Avenue. Many stood to speak to the gathered crowds. This included labour organizer Leonora O’Reilly and author of The Yellow Wallpaper, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 

The First International Women’s Day 

Two years later, Woman’s Day caught on in Europe when women marched on March 19, 1911. It was an international event with more than 1 million men and women rallying for women’s rights. Today, this is seen as the first International Women’s Day Event, though the holiday was not yet recognized by the UN. 

When World War I broke out in 1914, most social reforms experienced a freeze. Still, women gathered and marched on Woman’s Day.  

Why Do We Celebrate On March 8?

On February 23, 1917, thousands of Russian women took to the streets of Petrograd demanding bread and more rations for families of soldiers. The result of this has been tied to the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and the start of the Russian Revolution. The provisional government that formed in the wake of the abdication granted women the right to vote. It was the first government of a major power to grant these rights. 

In recognition of the events on February 23, Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Communist Party in Russia, declared the 23rd as Woman’s Day and an official Soviet Holiday. Communists in Spain and China followed suit. 

At the time of these events, Russia was using the Julian calendar, which was 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar used by western countries. In 1918, when Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar, Woman’s Day shifted to March 8. 

BONUS FACT: You may have noticed that up until this point, the holiday has been referred to as Woman’s Day. That’s because it wasn’t changed to Women’s Day until sometime after 1945. 

Up until 1975, the day was mostly celebrated in socialist countries. However, in 1975, the United Nations General Assembly marked March 8 as International Women’s Day. Two years later, the Assembly allowed Member States to choose their date of observation based on their own historical and national traditions. 

Reigniting A Movement

Over the next decades, International Women’s Day began to lose traction. By 2000, most countries did very little to celebrate. But gender parity still hadn’t been achieved. 

In 2001, internationalwomansday.com was launched. The website existed in a pre-social media era, so its main focus was to provide information, encourage events and celebrate women. 

Today, International Women’s Day is celebrated with workshops, luncheons, and other events, centered around an annual theme developed by the IWD website. 

The Introduction Of Themes

Themes are not a new element of IWD. In 1996, the UN announced its first theme – Celebrating The Past, Planning For The Future

Since then, every International Women’s Day has had a specific theme. This year, it is #EmbraceEquity. 

About #EmbraceEquity 

The #EmbraceEquity theme is a powerful message that emphasizes the difference between equity and equality. People start from different places, which means equal opportunities are not enough. True inclusion and belonging require equitable action and making sure everyone receives the resources and opportunities needed to achieve an equal outcome. 

Tamara Makoni, founder of Kazuri Consulting provides the following example to help illustrate the importance of equity. 

“Imagine that you are babysitting two children, and they are hungry. You go to the fruit bowl, and you start to pick up two apples to give them to each child. However, you remember at the last moment that one of the children is allergic to apples. Instead, you reach for one apple and one banana, and that way you’re being fair. You still give one piece of fruit to each child, but you’re also being equitable because you’re giving each child a legitimate way of satisfying their hunger.

If you had gone for two apples, the child who’s allergic to the apple would on the surface have a way to satisfy their hunger, but they couldn’t do that without getting ill. In this way you’re being fair. You’re giving each child a piece of fruit but, you’re also giving them something that is in line with their individual needs so they can be successful.”

Each one of us can play a part in actively supporting and embracing equity within our own sphere of influence.

How To Work For Change 

We had a chance to sit down with Teresa MacLennan, the Executive Director of Barrie Women and Children’s Shelter, and chat about how women can continue to work for change, especially in the workplace. 

MacLennan shares, “We encourage women to use their voice, to participate, to ask questions, and not be afraid of what the outcomes will be. If we are doing good work, if we are saying the right things, we can’t lose.” 

MacLennan also shares the importance of women getting into politics as men still dominate the space. Part of that is many women are unsure about how to go about getting involved; making the decision to run. But that’s changing. MacLennan explains, “What we’re seeing now is that women politicians are encouraging educating and supporting other women to consider running. That is a great first step!”

PODCAST: We talk to Teresa MacLennan about International Women’s Day (and more local news)

Celebrating International Women’s Day 

There’s no right or wrong way to celebrate International Women’s Day. You could watch a documentary about women’s rights or read articles about women’s achievements. You can take time to learn about the challenges that women and girls deal with in different places around the world, shop from a women-owned business or make donations. The options are truly endless. 

Annual International Women’s Day Empowerment Luncheon

If you’re looking for a local event to celebrate, learn, and network with other women, The Barrie Women and Children’s Shelter will be hosting their Annual International Women’s Day Empowerment Luncheon. The event takes place on March 8 from 11:30 AM to 1:30 PM at the Barrie Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram at 395 Dunlop St W. 

Keynote speaker, Jayne Pritchard, is a retired broadcaster, Registered Nutritional Counsellor, and author. Jayne started her career with Faberge, arranging media events with spokespeople, like Farrah Fawcett and Cary Grant. She eventually moved to Innisfil before becoming a broadcaster in Barrie. 

Today, she works as a Registered Nutritional Counsellor and Reiki Master. In her book, Breast Cancer After Diagnosis, Jayne shares how she faced setbacks and the emotional ups and downs she experienced. 

During the event, Jayne will talk about women’s roles in media, the barriers faced by women, and the trials and triumphs of personal and professional life. 

To buy tickets for the event, click here.

In addition, there will be a march downtown. It will leave city hall around 5 p.m. Those planning to take part are asked to arrive by 4:45 p.m.

Regardless of how you celebrate, remember that the true purpose of International Women’s Day is to recognize and honour the achievements and contributions of women throughout history, and to continue advocating for gender equality, equity, and women’s rights. 

By working together, we can create a more just and equitable world for all women.

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