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International Women’s Day: The History

With March just around the corner, it’s important to highlight March 8th as the world comes together to honour International Women’s Day: a day to lift women up, celebrate their achievements in all spheres of life, whilst raising awareness for women’s equality.  As this important day approaches, I’ve been thinking about the journey women have gone through, the huge steps taken and the sacrifices made by so many incredible women in the fight for women’s rights.  But, it also has me thinking about the flip side of the coin. How gender parity still exists in today’s society, how the journey hasn’t stopped with the here and now, and that further change is truly needed to have worldwide gender equality.

But where did the story begin for International Women’s’ Day? Who were the inspirational women that brought about necessary change for women across the globe? In school we are taught women’s history, but did I take it to heart? Did I value the lessons and the struggle? Not really… and I am sure I’m not the only one! 

Over 100 years ago, in 1908, 15,000 women protested for equality, marching through New York City demanding better pay, shorter working hours, and voting rights. 1909 saw the first National Women’s day observed on February 28th in the United States. In the years that followed, women continued to celebrate National Women’s day on the last Sunday of February.

This was the start of something bigger to come and the birth of the globally recognised International Women’s Day. In Copenhagen, the Second International Conference of Working Women was held in 1910. It was here that two women, German socialist Luise Zietz and Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany put forward the idea of an International Women’s Day. This would be the same day across all countries, a day to celebrate women and push campaigns for women’s rights.  This was approved with a unanimous yes by representatives from socialist parties, unions and working women’s clubs at the conference. 

A year later in 1911, on March 19th, International Women’s Day was officially observed and celebrated for the first time with over a million women and men attending International Women’s Day rallies showing solidarity to demand women’s suffrage, right to work, hold public office and equality, to bring about the end of discrimination women continued to face.

With the start of WWI, International Women’s day became a means to protest the war and as part of the peace movement, Russian women celebrated their first International women’s day on the last Sunday of February 1913. Shortly after, the date for International Women’s Day was transferred to March 8th, the date we recognise today. 

During WW1 women were not only suffering but they had no voice when it came to the government matters. With that, women united and rallied across Europe in protest of the war. Violence became part of the movement with Emmeline Pankhurst’s famous “Deeds, not Words” speech where the suffrage movement adopted a distinctly radical strategy. In fact, her daughter, and one of history’s heroines, Sylvia Pankhurst, was arrested on March 8th, 1914 as she made her way to speak at a rally in Trafalgar Square, London.

It wasn’t until March 8th, 1975 that The United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time as an official holiday. International Women’s Day has since gained awareness for women’s equality, a day to celebrate women’s achievements, lobbying for accelerated gender parity, and fundraise for female-focused charities. This day is honoured in all four corners of the globe but as we look back at the history and evolution of International Women’s Day and what it stands for, how do things measure up today? 

When looking at women in the workplace and leadership, The United Nations published the following statics in ‘The World’s Women 2020: Trends and Statistics’: 

  • In terms of power and decision making, women held only 28% of managerial positions globally in 2019
  • Among Fortune 500 corporations only 7.4%, or 37 Chief Executive Officers, were women
  • In political life, while women’s representation in parliament has more than doubled globally, it has still not crossed the barrier of 25% of parliamentary seats in 2020
  • Women continue to be underrepresented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, representing only slightly more than 35% of the world’s STEM graduates. 
  • Women are a minority in scientific research and development, making up less than a third of the world’s researchers.

Whilst reflecting and recognising the progress made from that first protest in 1908, with stats like these it’s abundantly clear to see that there is still a long way to go, highlighting the importance of March 8th in the ongoing fight for women’s equality.

As we look to this year’s International Women’s Day the campaign theme for 2021 is #ChooseToChallenge. Choosing to seek out and challenge gender biases and inequality in the interest of creating a more inclusive and a gender-equal world. Strike the #ChooseToChallenge pose is taking place as a way to show your solidarity, by stepping forwards and committing to calling out bias, discrimination, those old conventions, anything unhelpful to women. We are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day

As the world embraces International Women’s Day 2021, many events will take place in celebration. I am excited and proud to say that Introhive will be hosting an event for this landmark day. On March 4th Introhive joins the conversation with an International Women’s Day panel event, featuring an incredible line up of inspiring and successful women in leadership, including Introhive’s very own Diana Sapienza, Global Head of Strategic Alliances and Partnerships. The panel will delve into their own career paths and how their life experiences as a woman prepared them to succeed in the workplace, challenges faced and overcome, advice on how to rise and reach your goals and much more. It’s an event you don’t want to miss, so register right here to be part of the conversation

So, to all the amazing women; the sisters, mothers, work colleagues, mentors and fierce female friendships let’s come together and celebrate one another this International Women’s Day and every day.

Remember a challenged world is an alert world and from challenge comes change. #ChoosetoChallenge

Becky Roles
Marketing Manager, EMEA

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