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A Complete History of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8th, and you’d be hard-pressed to find me not celebrating. Between the incredible women in my life – my mother leading her own business or my best friend spearheading her way into the male-dominated computer science field just to name a few- and the women all over the world breaking glass ceilings, I hope everyone has a woman in their life they can express gratitude for on March 8th. But aside from the simple act of showing appreciation, International Women’s day is about much more. International Women’s Day presents a challenge to everyone: how will you take action for gender equality?

As I considered this question, I wondered how it was originally asked, since the fight for complete gender equality, not just our basic rights, became a serious conversation fairly recently. This thought led me to a quick Google search, which was followed by a heavy amount of research on the history of International Women’s Day. The women who started this movement deserve credit for their efforts, especially as people around the world are about to celebrate this holiday for the 120th time.


Woman holding sign
Photo by Dulcey Lima from Unsplash

To quickly summarize what IWD is all about, it is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women, while also calling people to take action for gender equality. At its very beginning, in 1910, Clara Zetkin proposed the idea of an annual celebration for women to press for their demands at a conference in Copenhagen.

The eldest of three children, Zetkin grew up in Saxony, Germany. As a student of Marxist theory and an activist, Zetkin could not stay in Germany, causing her to move to Paris, pursuing a career in journalism. During her time in Paris, she played an important role in the Socialist International group and took special interest in women’s politics, including the fight for equal opportunity and women’s suffrage through a socialist means. While leading the “Women’s Office” for the Social Democratic party in Germany, Zetkin proposal for the very first International Women’s Day was greeted with unanimous approval from over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, and working women’s clubs.

After the decision, International Women’s Day was honored for the first time in 1911 by Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, and the United Nations celebrated IWD for the very first time in 1975. In 2001, after the conversation surrounding feminism and gender equality died down, the internationalwomensday.com platform was launched to re-inspire people around the world to take action. In 2011, exactly 100 years after its inception, President Obama named March to be Women’s History Month. 


woman holding sign at march
Photo by Raquel García from Unsplash

While the sentiment of International Women’s Day is exactly what we need, there is still a long way to go to reach gender equality. Women around the world are still battling unequal pay, sexual harassment, uneven access to education lack of political representation, and poor access to birth control and medical care. International Women’s day reminds us all to appreciate the accomplishments of women globally, but it should not be overlooked that this holiday challenges everyone to take whatever steps possible to fight for equality. 

 

Click here to learn more about International Women’s Day: 

https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

 

Madeleine McCollum is from Bethesda, Maryland, and is thrilled about continuing her career at Her Campus UVA. She is a member of UVA's Student Entrepreneurs for Economic Development (SEED) club where she volunteers as a consultant for non-profits in Charlottesville. She has also interned for Lerch, Early & Brewer Law firm and Compass realty, assisting with their marketing operations. As a second year at UVA, she is very excited to keep writing for Her Campus and reading her peers' articles. In her free time, Madeleine loves to get out into nature, travel, curl up with a book, and go for runs.
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