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Business, Diversity & Inclusion

Today is International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD). It has been observed since the early 1900s, and has grown each year with more activities and participation from women worldwide.

Google Logo for International Women's Day

Google Logo for IWD 2013

Here’s something that you may not know: IWD was born in or through socialist movements in different parts of the world.

Based on current patterns and behaviors, will parity for women occur first in the developing world before gaining acceptance by developed nations?

Some notable key dates in the IWD movement are [Ref 1]:

1908 Women’s oppression and inequality spurred women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. In 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

1909 The first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed in the United States on February 28th through a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.

1910 A second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named a 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 proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval. International Women’s Day (IWD) was born.

Women Demonstrators (Undated photo, Huffington Post)

Women Demonstrators (Undated photo, Huffington Post)

1911 IWD was observed for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19th. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on March 25th, the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labor legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent IWD events. The women’s ‘Bread and Roses‘ campaign also occurred in 1911.

1913-1914 On the eve of World War I campaigning for peace, Russian women observed their first IWD on the last Sunday in February 1913. In 1913 following discussions, IWD was changed to March 8th and this day has remained the global date for IWD ever since. In 1914, men across Europe held rallies to campaign against the war and to express women’s solidarity.

1917 On the last Sunday of February, Russian women began a strike for “bread and peace” in response to the death of over 2 million Russian soldiers in war. Opposed by political leaders the women continued to strike until four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional government granted women the right to vote. The date the women’s strike commenced was Sunday, February 23rd on the Julian calendar then in use in Russia. This day on the Gregorian calendar in use elsewhere was March 8th.

1918 – 1999 Since its birth in the socialist movement, IWD has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For decades, IWD has grown from strength to strength annually. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women’s rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. The United Nations declared 1975 as the International Women’s Year. Women’s organizations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on March 8th by holding large-scale events that honor women’s advancement and while diligently reminding the public of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women’s equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.

IWD has really taken off in the 21st century. So much so that some might ask, do we really need a day to recognize women? Women have made strives and gains over the past century in just about every pocket of the world.  In his annual statement on IWD, U.S. President Barack Obama states: “Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.  When women succeed, nations are more safe, more secure, and more prosperous.” [Ref 2] I agree with President Obama. Yet for the successes and challenges that women have overcome, we have still not reached parity with men in a number of key areas.

Photo of Malala Yousafzai, New York Times, 02.08.2013

Photo of Malala Yousafzai, New York Times, 02.08.2013

The newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, asked his first day on the job: Can a man be Secretary of State? [Note: See my post with same name on 02.02.2012] Secretary is following in the footsteps of Madeliene Albright, Condoleeza Rice, and most recently Hillary Clinton who held the post before him. Yes, women are prime ministers, chief executive officers, university presidents and deans, astronauts, engineers, etc. However, the unfortunate fact in 2013 is that women are still not paid equally for doing the same job as men, and they are not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

IWD was born out of the socialist movement. Again, based on current patterns and behaviors, it would not surprise me that developing countries will reach parity between men and women before many of the developed nations.


  1. International Women’s Day Website, http://www.internationalwomensday.com/about.asp#.UTpCoDfvg9s
  2. Statement by the [United States] President on International Women’s Day, http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/03/08/statement-president-international-women-s-day?goback=.gde_80766_member_220989342#.UToe0HyiBX0.facebook

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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