International Women’s Day 2023: theme, when is the day, why do we celebrate IWD and events

For more than a century people around the world have been marking 8 March as a special day to raise awareness about women’s equality

International Women’s Day has become a date to celebrate how far women have come in society, politics and in economics, whilst also addressing the significant inequalities that still remain.

It is celebrated annually on 8 March, with many strikes and protests organised to raise awareness of the continued gender inequality.

A new theme has been announced this year and organisers are inviting men and women to participate in campaigns to raise awareness.

Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s International Women’s Day, from why it is celebrated on this particular date, its history, to the meaning of this year’s theme.

How did it start?

International Women’s Day (IWD) grew out of the labour movement in 1908 which saw 15,000 women marching through New York demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote.

A year later the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Woman’s Day.

Clara Zetkin, a communist activist and advocate for women’s rights, suggested the creation of an international day. She put her idea to an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910 - and the 100 women there, from 17 countries, agreed to it unanimously.

International Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

The day was made official in 1974 when the United Nations started celebrating the annual event. The first theme was adopted in 1996 which was "Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future".

The centenary was celebrated in 2011, so this year we are celebrating its 111th year.

When is International Women’s Day celebrated?

Clara’s idea for an International Women’s Day had no fixed date. However, it became a formalised day after a wartime strike in 1917 when Russian women demanded “bread and peace”.

The strike began on 8 March and this became the date that International Women’s Day is celebrated.

Four days into the strike the tsar was forced to abdicate and the provisional government granted women the right to vote.

How is Women’s Day celebrated?

International Women’s Day is a national holiday in many countries, including Russia.

In China, many women are given a half-day off work on 8 March, as advised by the State Council, whereas in Italy the day is celebrated by the giving of mimosa blossoms.

In the US, the month of March is Women’s History Month where every year a presidential proclamation is issued honouring the achievements of American women.

Events will be held worldwide to mark the occasion.

At London’s Southbank Centre, the WOW, Women of the World, will return as an in-person event heralded as the “biggest, most comprehensive festival celebrating women, girls, and non-binary people” in 2023.

The #IWD23 hashtag will be used to unite conversations online.

People can also show support can by dressing in campaign colours purple, green, and white, to represent justice, dignity, hope, and purity.

In the UK you can find a variety of IWD events here. Use the search tool to find events near you.

What is this year’s theme?

Every year, International Women’s Day celebrates a different theme. This year’s theme calls for women around the world to #EmbraceEquity.

On the IWD website it reads: “Equity isn’t just a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have A focus on gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA. And it’s critical to understand the difference between equity and equality.

“The IWD 2023 campaign theme drives worldwide understanding of why equal opportunities aren’t enough!”

Why do we have International Women’s Day?

Over the past year there has been a significant step back in the global fight for women’s rights as well as shocking events, such as the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer, which have reignited debates around women’s safety.

Analysis by NationalWorld last year revealed the scale of violence against women, finding almost 340 rapes or sexual assaults of women and girls were recorded every day on average in England and Wales in the six months following Sarah Everard’s murder.

A 2021 study by UN Women based on 13 countries showed that almost one in two women reported that they or a woman they know experienced a form of violence during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This includes non-physical abuse, with verbal abuse and the denial of basic resources being the most commonly reported.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, the time needed to close the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

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