March 8 marks the 113th celebration of the global holiday known as International Women’s Day, an annual celebration created to commemorate the cultural, political and socioeconomic achievements of women around the planet.
As we prepare to mark this year’s important and especially meaningful occurrence — which occurs at the start of Women’s History Month and at a time when issues such as gender inequality, reproductive rights and violence and abuse against women continue to be dire and ongoing problems both domestically and abroad — here’s a look at everything you need to know about how the occasion began, why it matters today more than ever, and what you — and your co-workers and the company you work for — can do to celebrate its passing while continuing to help make significant and lasting improvements in the lives of all women.
About International Women’s Day
Created more than a century ago as part of the burgeoning global women’s suffrage movement, International Women’s Day was designed as a way to help raise awareness of — and to fight against — all issues that prevent women from having the same rights as men, including work and pay inequality, the right to vote, women’s health issues, as well as restrictions on other personal freedoms that hold women back or place them at a lower level in society than men.
Originally called “Women’s Day,” the day of celebration, volunteerism and awareness-raising is meant to create a collective action that all women can feel part of and take part in to help further women’s equality initiatives.
As iconic feminist, journalist and social political activist Gloria Steinem — long a supporter of International Women’s Day — has said, “the story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
She added that the day is your chance to do anything you can to try and make a truly positive and lasting difference for women.
How It Began
According to the History Channel’s Sarah Pruitt, the first official Women’s Day celebration occurred on Feb. 28, 1909 in New York City. Organized by members of the Socialist Party of America, the event (which was held on a Sunday so that working women could attend) included a march and rally, as well as dozens of inspirational speeches by noteworthy female leaders, including then Labor party organizer Leonora O’Reilly and popular writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Thousands of demonstrators attended various events which took place across the city, uniting the crowds on one popular message and theme: women deserve full equality with men.
In her speech, Gilman summarized the prevailing thought of the time: “It is true that a woman’s duty is centered in her home and motherhood…[but] home should mean the whole country, and not be confined to three or four rooms or a city or a state!”
The New York event was a major success, and by 1911, Women’s Day celebrations had spread to Europe, with observances taking place in both London and Paris. By 1917, even women in Russia — led by feminist Alexandra Kollontai — had begun to mark the occasion with their own demonstrations and assemblies. In fact, Vladimir Lenin (founder of Russia’s Communist Party) even went so far as to declare Women’s Day an official Soviet holiday. Countries like Spain and China followed, and by the 1970s International Women’s Day was a true global phenomenon.
Why It Matters
Today, the mission of International Women’s Day is simple: by working together as one massive global collective, we can all help to bring out true female equality — and we can bring it about sooner and faster when we all work together as one united group.
The current goals of the International Women’s Day movement are based around four main tenets and missions:
- Raising greater awareness about issues impacting women’s equality
- Taking a stance to call out inequality while working to forge positive action
- Highlighting and applauding where important gains are being made
- Celebrating women’s achievements and accomplishments
In addition to continuing to promote these core initiatives, International Women’s Day 2022 has a special focus on promoting women in technology, forcing inclusiveness in the workplace, improving women’s overall health, access to healthcare, and protecting reproductive rights, and celebrating women’s ongoing and outstanding creativity, empowerment, and achievements in business, sports, politics and the arts.
The theme for International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. As the event’s organizers proclaim on their official site: “Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.”
Marking Its Observance
International Women’s Day can be observed and celebrated in various ways. One of the easiest and most visible options encouraged by event organizers is for all supporters of the initiative to proclaim their support over social media.
To call out deliberate or unconscious gender bias, supporters of International Women’s Day are encouraged to post a photo of themselves with their arms crossed in an X in front of them. The pose and the post, which should include the tags #IWD2022 and #BreakTheBiasshow is meant to show solidarity with the message of the day and to encourage everyone to come together and help to forge a more equal and inclusive world.
In addition to showing your support for International Women’s Day over social media, the IWD website lists a directory of events including speeches, marches, demonstrations and volunteer opportunities scheduled to take place in more than 45 countries around the globe. In the U.S. alone, more than 50 different major events are scheduled including massive equality demonstrations in New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston and many of the country’s other most populous urban centers. There are also numerous virtual and online celebrations planned as well.
What Else Can You Do?
In addition to volunteering with a local women’s base group you support, attending marches or demonstrations and promoting IWD awareness over social media, there are numerous other ways every single one of us can make a meaningful impact on the lives of the women around us and help to further promote female equality and empowerment. Some popular options:
1. Buy coffee for the women in your workplace or hold a virtual coffee break where you can celebrate their hard work and dedication.
2. Find and support a local woman-owned company. Order a work lunch or catered meeting from a local restaurant run by a female chef or business owner. Move one of your business accounts to a female-backed organization you would like to support. Or simply stop in your favorite female-owned business after work and make a purchase to support their success.
3. Commit to raising funds for a female-focused charity. It could focus on women’s health issues, female empowerment, supporting school-aged girls, or improving the lives of the female elderly — there are numerous local, national and international options to pick from so do a bit of digging and support the group whose message touches you the most.
4. If you can’t make a financial contribution, commit to learning more about history’s most famous and inspirational women. Go to the library and check out a few books, stop in a female-owned bookstore, or just look online for further information on women you’d like to know more about and that inspire you personally. One good place to start your search is to look for inspirational quotes about women from women — you may find a woman you’ve never heard of before whose words and message could literally change your life.
Take some time too to learn more about the fascinating history of women’s rights and those who helped to get us to where we are today. And then think about the issues women still face today — and the efforts we can all put in to further promote and enhance female equality.
5. Support women in the arts. In addition to reading books by female authors, don’t forget all the great female artists, musicians, actors, directors and other cultural leaders who have left their mark on our shared collective pop culture. Find these women online or search for the social media accounts to see what they are doing now and further support their efforts even if they are no longer part of the pop culture mainstream.
6. Reach out to the women in your life who have inspired you or who have made a difference in your life. It could be a friend, a family member, a former classmate or professor, a co-worker or a mentor. Think not just about the people you have learned the most from and that have inspired you to be a better person but also the people in and around your life who are continuing to set a positive example for other women. Call one or more of these women, send them a test, write an email or send a card and let them know they have made an important meaningful impact in your life.
As we all know, women around the world are strong, powerful, inspirational, loving, smart and empowering, and everyone deserves equal rights in the workplace, in the home and in society. When we all work together, we can help to make these common needs and desires a reality.