International Women's Day 2017: What is it, how did it start and why is it still needed?

What is International Women's Day?

International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality.

It has been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on March 8. Is is not affiliated with any one group, but brings together governments, women's organisations, corporations and charities.


The day is marked around the world with arts performances, talks, rallies, networking events, conferences and marches.

Last year, there was a Google Doodle marking the celebration featuring women and girls across the world who complete the sentence ‘One day I will’, talking about their dreams and ambitions.

How did it start?

It’s difficult to say exactly when IWD (as it’s known) began. Its roots can be traced to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours.

A year later, the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the US on February 28,  in accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America.

In 1910, a woman called Clara Zetkin – leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany – tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She suggested that every country should celebrate women on one day every year to push for their demands.

A conference of more than 100 women from 17 countries agreed to her suggestion and IWD was formed. In 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19.

In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since. The day was only recognised by the United Nations in 1975, but ever since it has created a theme each year for the celebration.

Where are we now?

The first IWD to be officially recognised was in 1911, so the centenary was celebrated in 2011. This year is the 106th.

In 2011, former US President Barack Obama proclaimed March to be ‘Women’s History Month’.

Why do we still celebrate it?

The original aim – to achieve full gender equality for women the world – has still not been realised. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than that of men.

According to the World Economic Forum, the gender gap won't close until 2186.

On IWD, women across the world come together to force the world to recognise these inequalities – while also celebrating the achievements of women who have overcome these barriers.

Is there an International Men's Day?

Yes, it takes place on November 19 each year and is celebrated in 60 countries around the world.

The objectives of the day include a focus on men's and boy's health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models.

It is an occasion for men to celebrate their achievements and contributions, in particular their contributions to community, family, marriage, and child care while highlighting the discrimination against them.

The month of November is also  a chance for men to take part in the popular 'Movember' charity event, by growing facial hair for charity sponsorship. 

What’s this year’s theme?

The theme for IWD 2017 is #BeBoldForChange - encouraging people to step up and take groundbreaking action to help drive gender equality. It's an active message that is likely to resonate with the millions of women, girls and men who have taken to the streets to march this year, in opposition to divisive politics. 

How can you get involved?

There are many ways you can take part in IWD.

1. Make a pledge for parity.

This involves going to the IWD website and pledging to help women and girls achieve their ambitions; call for gender-balanced leadership and create flexible cultures.

2. Join one of the many events happening around the world.

The IWD website shows where events are happening in countries and towns.

For instance, there are major festivals taking place - including the global HeForShe Arts Week, run by UN Women as part of Emma Watson's gender inclusivity campaign.

3. Host your own event

It’s still not too late. IWD encourages people to host a prominent speaker and create an event of their own.

4. Go to Southbank's Women of the World festival

This takes place in London from March 8-13 to celebrate IWD with a series of events. 

Can I march?

Yes. Mass demonstrations are planned around the world in the wake of  January's 'March on Washington'. In the UK, between 80,000 and 100,000 women and men are thought to have marched in UK cities on the first day of Donad Trump's presidency.

The IWD movement is being led by eight leading feminists and academics, who have pledged to go on strike on March 8: Angela Davis, Linda Martin Alcoff,  Nancy Fraser, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Cinzia Arruzza, Barbara Ransby, Rasmea Yousef Odeh and Tithi Bhattacharya. 

For more information, click here.

How is IWD celebrated across the world?

Countries celebrate it in different ways. It is an official holiday in a number of places including: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.

Other countries celebrate it in a similar way to Mother’s Day with men presenting their wives, girlfriends, mothers and female  friends with flowers and gifts.

For more information see