The history of International Women’s Day highlights the progress on women’s rights in the workplace and the voting booth that have been made since its inception. However, much remains to be done to realize gender parity.
International Women’s Day is not a national holiday and no one government, institution, network or organization is solely responsible for it. The focus of International Women’s Day is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It is a collective day of global celebration and a call for gender parity, unity, reflection, advocacy and action.
In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter work hours, better pay and voting rights. On February 28, 1909, the first National Woman’s Day was observed across the United States. National Woman’s Day was celebrated on the last Sunday of February until 1913.
In 1910, an International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen, at which Clara Zetkin proposed an annual celebration in every country to focus on women’s demands. International Women’s Day was the result of the conference adopting Ms. Zetkin’s proposal. On Marcy 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was held in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. More than one million women and men attended rallies for the right to vote, the right to work and the right to be trained, the right to hold public office and to end discrimination. Less than a week after this first celebration, a fire occurred in New York City that killed more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. The fire drew attention to working conditions and labor legislation in the United States that became the focus of subsequent International Women’s Day events.
Within a few years of its inaugural 1911 celebration, International Women’s Day was moved to March 8. In the 1913 celebration, women across Europe held rallies to campaign for peace. On the last Sunday of February 1917, Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace” in response to the death of more than two million soldiers in World War I. The strike lasted four days until the czar was forced to abdicate and a provisional government granted women the right to vote.
In 1975, the United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time. In 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed in Member States in accordance with their respective history and national traditions.
In the year of the 100th anniversary of the first International Women’s Day, President Barack Obama proclaimed March Women’s History Month. Also in 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton launched “100 Women Initiative: Empowering Women and Girls Through International Exchanges.”
Much has been accomplished since 1911 for women’s labor and political rights. In Nevada, 2019 was a year to boast that a majority of legislators were women and that the Supreme Court was composed of a majority of women. But such developments do not tell the entire story and may lead some to gloss over underlying issues of gender disparity. Women holding positions of power in business, politics and government should not be the outlier: it should be the norm. It is important that Nevada recently broke some of the glass ceiling in our legislative and judicial branches of our state government: the glass ceiling needs to break in its entirety in every other aspect of economic and political life, and not just in Nevada. Regrettably, it has not. Women are not paid equally with their male counterparts. Women are not present in equal numbers in business and politics. Globally, health and violence are worse against women than men. This March 8 is a perfect day to celebrate the progress that has been made – and to consider and tackle the work that remains unfinished.