International Women's Day

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On March 8, I walked into my Russian class to find a red rose on the table for each female student and our professor. Why? It was International Women’s Day. In Russia, it’s celebrated more than it is in the US, so the two male students in the class had decided to get us all flowers and cards in keeping with that tradition. I didn’t really know much about International Women’s Day beyond the infographics and inspirational quotes shared on Facebook among my feminist friends and family members, so I set out to find out where it all started and what it’s like internationally, not just in the US.

The first ever International Women’s Day was held on March 19, 1911, although the date was changed to March 8 in 1913. In 1975, the United Nations began to officially sponsor it, and in 1977, the UN made March 8 the United Nations’ Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace for the purpose of eliminating discrimination against women. Today, it’s regarded as a platform for important discussions on the way women are treated in society and how to improve women’s status worldwide, as well as a day to celebrate the past and present achievements of women around the world.

Many groups and organizations around the world hold events such as speeches, conferences, and seminars on International Women’s Day. Some countries, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine, have declared it a public holiday. In this form, its name is sometimes shortened to just “Women’s Day,” and it’s treated just like we in the US treat our public holidays (businesses, schools, and government offices close, and some cities hold marches or parades). In some countries, such as Russia, men take over all of the housework for the day and give their wives and girlfriends some combination of flowers, gifts, and/or a homemade dinner, and children bring gifts to their female teachers and family members. It’s celebrated in many countries not listed here, although not as an official public holiday, and those celebrations range from completely apolitical (such as gifts of flowers and chocolate from men in Italy) to very political (such as large feminist demonstrations commemorating women’s current struggle for due rights in Pakistan).

Every year has a different theme. This year’s UN IWD theme was “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality,” and an independent campaign created a hashtag, #PledgeForParity. Next year’s theme has yet to be announced, but past themes have often focused on gender equality, as well as women’s roles in international conflict management, ending violence against women and girls, and the positive results of the empowerment of women. The 2016 theme laid out a plan to be implemented over the next 14 years for worldwide gender equality, and I’m excited to see what positive changes will be made!