First celebrated as "National Women's Day" in 1909 today International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world.
On 8 March, in honour of International Women's Day, UniCredit lights up the spire of the Milan headquarters in purple, green and white – the colours of this special day. Celebrated for over 100 years in 25 countries around the world, International Women’s Day raises different reactions: some think it's the legacy of a dated culture, while others see it as an opportunity to reiterate fundamental concepts connected to gender balance or promote campaigns for equality and respect for women's rights, especially in countries where gender equality has not yet been achieved. Like any anniversary of this kind, this day is based on historical events and has had great importance in the past. Here are four facts that perhaps not everyone knows:
The first day
The first "National Women's Day" was celebrated in 1909 in the United States. It was organised on 28 February by the Socialist Party of the United States of America (later dissolved in 1972) following the protest movements in which thousands of women had participated a year earlier, demonstrating in the streets of New York for better working conditions. "These women were in less organised workplaces, they were in the lower echelons of the garment industry, they were working for low wages and they were being sexually harassed", says Eileen Boris, professor of feminist studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. The movement spread to Europe, where the first International Women's Day was held on 19 March 1911, joined by Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark.
Why 8 March? The movement from 1913-14
On the eve of World War I, campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on 23 February, the last Sunday in February. Following discussions, International Women's Day was agreed to be marked annually on 8 March (which, in the widely adopted Gregorian calendar, translated as 23 February). This day has remained the global date for International Women's Day ever since. In 1914, further women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women's solidarity. For example, in London in the United Kingdom there was a famous march from Bow to Trafalgar Square in support of women's suffrage on 8 March 1914.
Adopted by the UN in 1975
International Women's Day was adopted globally by the United Nations in 1975 at the first UN Conference on Women, held in Mexico City. Following the event, 1975 is remembered as “International Women's Year”. Since then, UN has become the main sponsor of the annual event and has encouraged more and more countries around the world to embrace this occasion and its goal of celebrating "acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities".
Each year an international committee sets an official theme for the day. In 2021 it will be #ChooseToChallenge, a major campaign to raise awareness on gender balance, reminding us "We can all choose to challenge and denounce gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women. Collectively, we can all contribute to creating an inclusive world." Learn more about the theme of International Women's Day 2021 and official events around the world.
The significance of colour
As mentioned above, purple, green and white are the colours of International Women's Day. Purple signifies justice and dignity. Green symbolises hope. White represents purity, albeit a controversial concept. These colours originated from the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) in the UK in 1908.