International Women's Day: A History Worth Remembering

International Women’s Day will be celebrated across the world on 8th March 2017. Both women and men will have the slogan “Be Bold For Change” in the forefront of their minds, focusing on the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.

I hope that by delving into the history of how and why we celebrate International Women’s Day we can not only have a greater understanding of the struggles that women throughout history have faced, but also find the motivation to continue striving for gender parity.


In the early 1900s, general unrest was stirring amongst women all over world, who were becoming more and more vocal about the oppression and inequality they faced on a daily basis.

In 1908 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. They were consequently closed inside of the factory they were protesting in order to suppress their demands. The act resulted in the death of 129 women when a fire broke out on the factory premises.

Following this event, the International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen in 1910, where it was decided that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day - a Women's Day - to press for their demands.

In 1911, 17 countries celebrated International Women’s Day with more than one million women and men attending rallies worldwide.

In 1913 the official date of March 8th was chosen.


The important women involved in the creation of International Women’s Day were (L-R) 
Clara Zetkin, Luise Zietz and Alexandra Kollontai.


We are all aware of the struggles which women faced in the beginning of the 20th century, the reasons that really drove women into campaigning and rallying to improve their position in society were:

  • Women could not vote
  • Women faced sexual exploitation in the workplace
  • Women worked very long hours for indecent pay

Luckily for women living here in Brighton, we do not (or rather, should not) have to face the difficulties that these women in history campaigned against. But just because the same inequalities are not affecting us today, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t learn from the determination and the achievements of these women to challenge the gender-equality issues we face in the modern world.

Why International Women’s Day is still relevant

If you find yourself in a conversation where someone doubts the importance of International Women’s Day, here are a few facts to blow them out of the water: 

  • It is estimated that one in five women worldwide will become a victim of rape or attempted rape and one in four will experience domestic violence
  • At the current rate of progress, it would take 200 years to achieve an equal number of women in UK Parliament
  • In the UK, women are still less likely to progress up the career ladder into high paying senior roles
  • One UN study revealed that 43% of young women in London, UK, had experienced harassment on the street
  • While the gender pay gap for women in the UK with no children is slightly more than 7%, for those with at least one child it leaps to 21%

Looking into how and why International Women’s Day was established is hugely important in today’s world, not only because it reveals how far we have come, but it also empowers us to achieve more in the struggle for gender parity.

Written by Imogen.