All over the world on March 8, people celebrate International Women’s Day, a time to acknowledge the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and to strengthen the call to action for accelerating gender parity. Celebrations are not specific to any institution or organization. According to the website, “International Women’s Day is all about unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy and action – whatever that looks like globally at a local level.”

“Gender equality” means that people, regardless of gender, have the same rights and responsibilities and are entitled to the same treatment. Gender parity is a sociological index or ratio comparing certain indicators – such as average income, college graduation rates and workforce participation – between males and females.  

Ten values that guide International WomenCs Day are justice, dignity, hope, equality, collaboration, tenacity, appreciation, respect, empathy and forgiveness.

Purple, green and white were the original colors of International Women’s Day, from the Women’s Social and Political Union in the UK in 1908. Only two are used now – purple, signifying justice and dignity, and green, signifying hope. White, signifying “purity” was dropped, as the concept of purity has become controversial.

Below is a brief timeline from

1908: In February, 15,000 women on strike to protest poor working conditions, marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

1909: In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on Feb. 28. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.

1910: An International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed that every year in every country there should be an International Women’s Day to celebrate women and press their demands.  

1911: International Women’s Day was honored for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19. 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. Less than a week later, on March 25,  the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, drawing attention to working conditions and labor legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events.

1913-1914: On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. Later that year, International Women’s Day was transferred to March 8, which remains the global date for International Women’s Day. In 1914 further women across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity.

1917: On the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace” in response to the death of more than 2 million Russian soldiers in World War 1. Opposed by political leaders, the women continued to strike until four days later, the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. The date the women’s strike commenced was Feb. 23 on the Julian calendar, then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar, in use elsewhere,
was March 8.

1975: International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations. In December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by member states, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

1996: The U.N. commenced the adoption of an annual theme in 1996. That year the theme was “Celebrating the Ppast, Planning for the Future.” Recent themes have been “Empower Rural Women, End Poverty & Hunger” and “A Promise is a Promise – Time for Action to End Violence Against Women.”

2000: By the new millennium, International Women’s Day activity around the world had stalled in many countries. The world had moved on and feminism did not seem to be a popular topic. International Women’s Day needed re-ignition.

2001:The global digital hub for everything IWD was launched to re-energize the day as a platform to celebrate the successful achievements of women and to continue calls for accelerating gender parity.

2011: This year saw the centenary of International Women’s Day. In the United States, President Barack Obama proclaimed March 2011 to be “Women’s History Month,” calling Americans to mark IWD by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women” in shaping the country’s history. The then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched the “100 Women Initiative:
Empowering Women and Girls through International Exchanges.” In the United Kingdom, celebrity activist Annie Lennox led a march across one of London’s iconic bridges raising awareness in support for global charity Women for Women International. Further charities such as Oxfam have run extensive activity supporting IWD and many celebrities and business leaders also actively support the day.

This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter, calling for ways to create a more gender-balanced world.