What International Women's Day is all about – and why it's still so important
A global day celebrating the achievements of women and raising awareness about women’s inequality is still crucial. Marked annually on 8 March every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) helps lobby for women and fundraise for female-focused charities.
Women make up nearly half (49.5%) the global population and there is no doubt that progress has been made in terms of equality over the last century. But across the world, women and girls are still left behind in political, economic and social terms.
According to organisations such as The United Nations and UNESCO, more than two-thirds of the world’s 796 million illiterate people are women, it is estimated that 60% of chronically hungry people are women and around 130 million girls are out of school worldwide.
So, here's a reminder of why IWD is still so important.
Read more: International Women's Day: Fascinating figures show the truth about a woman's life
When did International Women's Day start?
When 15,000 women marched through New York City in 1908 demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights, it sparked a movement that is still impactful across the globe today.
A year later, the first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across America and in 1910, a woman named Clara Zetkin, who was the leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany suggested the idea of an International Women’s Day.
In February 1911, the first every IWD was honoured in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland and more than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.
In 1913, IWD moved to March 8th and it has been celebrated on that day ever since in more than 100 countries. It has even been made an official holiday in over 25 countries.
Who organises International Women's Day?
IWD does not belong to one specific group, organisation, network or charity. It belongs to groups everywhere across the world.
Feminist Gloria Steinham, once said: "The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, nor to any one organisation, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."
What colours are used for International Women's Day?
The three colours purple, green and white symbolise IWD and originated from the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in the UK in 1908 – the original union of the suffragettes.
At the time, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, editor of the weekly newspaper, Votes for Women, explained: "Purple as everyone knows is the royal colour, it stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity… white stands for purity in private and public life… green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring."
Read more: How modern day feminism became fractured
What's the theme for International Women's Day 2023?
Campaign themes over the years have included: #ChooseToChallenge, #EachforEqual, #BalanceforBetter, #TheGenderAgenda, and last year's #breakthebias. Whether it is deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead and achieve equality. In 2020, the UN reported that almost 90% of people are prejudiced towards women globally.
The theme presented by the International Women's Day hub this year is #EmbraceEquity. The aim of the campaign is to "get the world talking about why equal opportunities aren't enough – people start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action".
The 2023 theme presented by UN Women is 'DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality'. Some 22% of women make up the number of artificial intelligence workers globally. A worldwide analysis of 133 AI systems across industries found that 44.2% demonstrate gender bias.
Another survey of women journalists from 125 countries found that 73% had suffered online violence in the course of their work.
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Why do we celebrate International Women's Day?
Because it’s still one of the most important days of the year, for many reasons. For example, UN research showed COVID-19 may well have put sex equality back by 25 years with women doing more domestic chores and family care than they were before the pandemic.
In terms of the gender pay gap, median hourly pay for full-time employees was 8.3% less for women than for men in April 2022, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Median pay for all employees (both full and part-time) was 14.9% less for women than for men in April 2022.
The UK Parliament House of Commons Library explains: "Because a larger proportion of women are employed part-time, and part-time workers tend to earn less per hour, the gender pay gap for all employees is considerably larger than the full-time and part-time gaps."
In terms of government positions, as of 1 January 2023, there are 31 countries where 34 women serve as heads of state and/or government, according to UN Women. At the current rate, gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.
The figures for violence against women in the UK for 2022 make for stark reading too. In the year ending March 2022, almost half (46%) of adult female homicide victims were killed in a domestic homicide (84), according to ONS. Of the 84 female victims, 81 were killed by a male suspect.
According to Rape Crisis, the highest ever number of rapes within a 12-month period was recorded by police in the year ending September 2022 at 70,633.
As well as helping to highlight these dangers, disparities and ongoing works in progress, the global day also celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
Watch: 'We are tired:' MP makes powerful speech about the toll of male violence on women
How you can mark International Women's Day this year
For this IWD, women across the world are being asked to strike the IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity pose (arms wrapped across shoulders, like a 'self-hug') to show solidarity.
"When we embrace equity, we embrace diversity, and we embrace inclusion."
You can also browse what events are on, from festivals and summits, to walks and lunches.