What International Women's Day is all about - and why it's more crucial than ever

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·5-min read
Actor Natalie Dormer and fellow activists attend the annual March4Woman on International Women's Day in London in 2020. (Getty Images)
Actor Natalie Dormer and fellow activists attend the annual March4Woman on International Women's Day in London in 2020. (Getty Images)

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.

Read more: International Women's Day 2022: Companies getting creative with their celebrations

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.

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 whose impact is still felt 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.

German communist leader, socialist and staunch feminist Clara Zetkin (1857 - 1933) photographed in 1924. (Getty Images)
German communist leader, socialist and staunch feminist Clara Zetkin (1857 - 1933) photographed in 1924. (Getty Images)

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.

Members of the National Women's Liberation Movement marching to mark International Women's Day in London in 1971. (Getty Images)
Members of the National Women's Liberation Movement marching to mark International Women's Day in London in 1971. (Getty Images)

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

British suffragette Lady Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1868 - 1954) addressing a crowd in Trafalgar Square in 1908. (Getty Images)
British suffragette Lady Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1868 - 1954) addressing a crowd in Trafalgar Square in 1908. (Getty Images)
Women participating in the
Women participating in the "Purple Ride" feminist women's bicycle protest on International Women's Day on March 08, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Getty Images)

What's the theme for International Women's Day 2022?

Campaign themes over the years have included: #ChooseToChallenge, #EachforEqual, #BalanceforBetter, #TheGenderAgenda and more.

This year, the theme is #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.

Why do we celebrate International Women's Day?

Because it’s more important than ever. Research shows that COVID pandemic may well have put sex equality back by 25 years as women are now doing more domestic chores and family care than they were before the pandemic.

Not only that, but according to the latest figures from the ONS, between April 2020 and March 2021, 177 women were murdered in the UK – usually by men they knew.

Watch: 'We are tired:' MP makes powerful speech about the toll of male violence on women

And in the year ending September 2021, there were a total of 40,572 sexual assaults against women, an increase of 13% from the previous years and the highest number of sexual offences ever recorded within a 12-month period.

Read more: 11 of the best brands supporting International Women's Day

How you can mark International Women's Day this year

For this IWD, women across the world are being asked to strike the IWD 2022 pose (arms formed in a cross in front of face) and to share the picture on social media to encourage further people to commit to helping women achieve equality.

Camilla Thurlow, Nicola Coughlan, Raye, George MacKay, Emeli Sande, Natalie Dormer, Sandi Toksvig, Bianca Jagger and Sadiq Khan during the #March4Women 2020 rally at Southbank Centre on 8 March 2020 in London. (Getty Images)
Camilla Thurlow, Nicola Coughlan, Raye, George MacKay, Emeli Sande, Natalie Dormer, Sandi Toksvig, Bianca Jagger and Sadiq Khan during the #March4Women 2020 rally at Southbank Centre on 8 March 2020 in London. (Getty Images)

There will also be a March4Women event in London as well as various networking events and seminars, including a webinar chaired by Denise Lewis OBE in which women’s sport will be discussed.

Sophie Walker, a campaigner, activist and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party UK will also be speaking at an event in Brighton.

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