History in Brief: Origin of International Women’s Day

Brief History of International Women’s Day

March 8 of each year marks the celebration of International Women’s Day. This special date serves as a reminder of the struggles of women toward achieving recognition, inclusion, and equality while also commemorating the advances made in their plight and celebrating their individual and collective achievements. What exactly is the origin of this celebration? When was it first observed? What was the initial reason for its celebration and commemoration?

A Look Brief Look Into the Historical Origin of International Women’s Day

There are different claims as regards the origin of International Women’s Day and the exact date similar events were first celebrated and observed. Most scholars and rights activists have traced its beginnings to gender-related movements and public discourses that formed the global feminist movement during the initial years of the 20th century.

Movements related to universal suffrage spurred women-led labor movements in North America and Europe during the early 1900s. These progressive advocacies provided an opportunity for women activists to select a particular date that would serve as a reminder of their plight and their appeal for gender equality. The following are the specific details:

• The first and earliest documented observance of an event tackling the rights of women was held on 28 February 1909 in New York City. It was called National Woman’s Day and it was organized by the Socialist Party of America after heeding the recommendations of rights activist Theresa Serber Malkiel.

• German delegates at the International Socialist Women’s Conference held in Copenhagen in 1910 proposed the annual staging of a “Women’s Day” after drawing inspiration from the event in New York. Several demonstrations and commemorations of International Women’s Day across Europe transpired in 1911.

• Millions of people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland staged demonstrations alongside the commemoration of Women’s Day held on 19 March 1911. European women demanded the right to vote and to hold public office while also protesting against employment discrimination based on sex and gender.

• There was still no set date around the initial years of the 1900s. The United States celebrated the event on the last Sunday of February while Russia observed the same event on the last Saturday of February. An International Women’s Day was coincidentally held on March 8 for the first time in Germany in 1914.

• Women in Soviet Russia gained the right to suffrage in 1917. This was one of the accomplishments of the 1917 February Bourgeois Democratic Revolution. International Women’s Day was subsequently made a national holiday on March 8 in Soviet Russia and it was recognized by socialist groups and other communist countries.

• The event has a strong leftist and progressive origin. It was associated with far-left movements and governments. However, through the second wave of the global feminist movement of the 1960s, it gained wider recognition. It further became a mainstream global holiday following its adoption by the United Nations in 1977.

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