International Women’s Day: Looking Back
International Women’s Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day when
women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic,
linguistic, cultural, economic or political. It is an occasion for looking back on past struggles
and accomplishments, and more importantly, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and
opportunities that await future generations of women.
In 1975, during International Women's Year, the United Nations began celebrating International
Women’s Day on 8 March. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a
resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be
observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national
traditions. In adopting its resolution, the General Assembly recognized the role of women in peace
efforts and development and urged an end to discrimination and an increase of support for
women’s full and equal participation.
International Women’s Day first emerged from the
activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across
1909: The first National Woman's Day was observed in the United
States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honour of the 1908
garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions.
1910: The Socialist International, meeting in Copenhagen, established
a Women's Day, international in character, to honour the movement for women's rights and to build support
for achieving universal suffrage for women. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the
conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the
Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance.
1911: As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women's Day
was marked for the first time (19 March) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one
million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they
demanded women’s rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.
1913-1914: International Women's Day also became a mechanism for protesting
World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women’s
Day on the last Sunday in February. Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women
held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.
1917: Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to
protest and strike for ‘Bread and Peace’ on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March
on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted
women the right to vote.
Since those early years, International Women's Day has assumed a new global
dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women's
movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women's conferences, has helped make
the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women's rights and participation in the political
and economic arenas. Increasingly, International Women's Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to
call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an
extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.
The United Nations and Gender Equality
The Charter of the United Nations, signed in 1945, was the first international agreement to affirm
the principle of equality between women and men. Since then, the UN has helped create a historic
legacy of internationally-agreed strategies, standards, programmes and goals to advance the status
of women worldwide.
Over the years, the UN and its technical agencies have promoted the participation of women as
equal partners with men in achieving sustainable development, peace, security, and full respect
for human rights. The empowerment of women continues to be a central feature of the UN’s
efforts to address social, economic and political challenges across the globe.
For information about recent themes and commemorations by the United Nations of International
Women’s Day, please visit: