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International Women’s Day: Meaning, origins and why is it celebrated on 8 March?

As always, the annual event which focuses on the achievements, challenges and struggles of women around the world will be marked with a host of events worldwide.

People take part in a demonstration ahead of the International Women's Day, in Istanbul, Turkey, March 5, 2023. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan

Today, 8 March is International Women’s Day (IWD) - an event which will be celebrated in all parts of the world. IWD is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Held every year on the same day for over 100 years, IWD is also an opportunity to reflect on and further the push towards gender parity.

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Gender discrimination negatively impacts girls and women every day in almost every society. In some countries women cannot dress as they like, drive, work at night, inherit property and they also suffer a raft of oppressive laws including controlling who they can marry or obliging them to marry in the case of forced or arranged marriages.

And even in countries, such as the United States, where many women’s rights are protected by law, 42% of working women say they have faced discrimination at work based on their gender, while women are regularly paid less for doing the same job as their male counterparts.

Sadly, despite the many years of struggle for a fairer world, the need for International Women’s Day remains as important as ever.

Each year there is a different theme

For 2023, the theme of International Women’s Day is DigitALL. Basically it is a push for greater genderequality in innovation and technology.

Bringing women and other marginalized groups into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality,” states the press release from the UN.

What is the origin of International Women’s Day?

The earliest version of IWD began in 1908 when 15,000 women took part in a New York City march, calling for shorter working hours, better pay and the vote. A year later, the Socialist Party of America marked the anniversary of the march by declaring it the first National Woman’s Day.

At this stage it was only an American celebration but in 1910 Clara Zetkin addressed the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen and suggested that they make the event international.

The 100 women in attendance unanimously supported the idea and in 1911 the first International Women’s Day was celebrated in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, as well as in the United States.

IWD remained a stand-alone event until 1975, when the United Nations began marking the day and organised celebrations. In 1996 the UN began issuing a theme for each year’s celebration, the first of which was “Celebrating the past, Planning for the Future”.

What to expect from International Women’s Day 2023

The 114th International Women’s Day will be marked with the symbol of the crossed arms which represents embracing equality. The aim of the IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity campaign theme is to get the world talking about Why equal opportunities aren’t enough. And you can show your support in a simple way.

Bias, whether deliberate or unconscious, makes it difficult for women to move ahead, however, being aware that this bias exists isn’t enough, action is needed to level the playing field. This is why this year’s focus is about actively calling out gender bias, discrimination and stereotyping each time you see it.

You can register in the IWD Community and access their resources.

Across the world there are many, many events, often these are online so you can join them easily no matter where you are. Check out what’s on.