What is the origin of Women’s Day (and why it is commemorated on March 8)

What is the origin of Women’s Day (and why it is commemorated on March 8)


March 8 is a highlight date in multiple parts of the world.

International Women’s Day is celebrated , formalized by the United Nations in 1975.

This special day, in the words of the UN, “refers to ordinary women as the creator of history and has its roots in the plurisecular struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men”.

Despite having become a global day in favor of equality, many people still wonder what is their origin and what led to the March 8 obtained this international recognition.

To explain it, we have to look back: to the protests that led to a whole revolution. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

“Women and men are created equal”

International Women’s Day has its roots in the labor movement of the mid-nineteenth century, at a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world, in which women began to raise their voice more and more.

The life of women in the West at that time was a continuous history of limitations : no right to vote, no management of their own accounts, no training and a life expectancy much lower than that of men due to childbirth and abuse.

An example of this growing concern and debate among women is found in 1848, when Americans Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott assemble hundreds of people at the first national convention for women’s rights in the United States.

Both maintained that “all men and women are created equal” and demanded civil, social, political and religious rights for the collective.

Then, they received ridicule, especially regarding the right of women to vote, but they put a seed that in the following years was growing, highlights the UN in a special on the activism of women over the years.

Suffragette protests to vote in the United States.
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Image caption In 1913, women were already protesting the right to vote in the United States. At that time, protests were also frequent to ask for better working conditions.


In this context, historians coincide in highlighting as a direct prelude to International Women’s Day the march of women lived in New York in 1908, when some 15,000 protested to demand fewer hours of work, better salaries and the right to vote.

A year after that, the Socialist Party of America declares National Women’s Day, which is celebrated for the first time in the USA. the 28th of February.

In this context, a woman who would go down in history as the impeller of the international women’s day: the German communist Clara Zetkin bursts onto the scene .

Zetkin suggested the idea of ​​commemorating a woman’s day globally in 1910 at the International Working Women’s Conference in Copenhagen (Denmark).

His proposal was heard by a hundred women from 17 countries and approved unanimously , although without agreeing on a specific date.

Clara Zetkin and Rosa de Luxemburgo.
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Image caption Clara Zetkin (left) and Rosa de Luxemburgo, another of the most outstanding revolutionaries of the 20th century.

A year later, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 19, 1911, bringing together more than one million people in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland.

In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, the right to work for women, professional training and non-discrimination in the workplace was demanded.

However, in its beginnings, ” the commemoration (also) serves as a protest against the First World War “, recalls the UN.

And there is one of the keys to why it ended by choosing the date of March 8.

Russia and the First World War

There are different versions of why this particular date was chosen.

But the UN highlights the importance of the events that took place in Russia, amid the protests against the Great War.

“Within the framework of the peace movements that emerged on the eve of the First World War, Russian women celebrated their first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday of February 1913. In the rest of Europe, women celebrated rallies around March 8 of the following year to protest the war or to show solidarity with other women, “recalls the agency.

In 1917, and as a reaction to the millions of Russian soldiers killed, the women of that country returned to the streets on the last Sunday in February, under the slogan “bread and peace”.

Marches of Russian women in 1917.
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Image caption In 1917 in Russia, thousands of women took to the streets against the war, a protest that culminated in the revolution and marked the date of International Women’s Day.


It is a strike that continues for several days and ends up forcing the Tsar to leave.

“Metallurgical workers joined their protest (of women) despite the fact that the Bolsheviks saw the women’s mobilization as precipitate: February 25, two days after the insurrection of women began on the International Day of Woman, the Tsar ordered (…) to shoot if necessary to end the women’s revolution “, explains the American historian Temma Kaplan, in” On the Socialist Origins of International Women’s Day “(” On the socialist origins ” of the International Women’s Day “).

The measure of the tsar failed and instead began “the February revolution,” says Kaplan, which ended with the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II that March.

The success of the Russian women was consecrated shortly after: the provisional government that was formed after the withdrawal of the czar recognized them the right to vote.

The date on which the strike of the Russian women began on the Julian calendar, then the one of reference in Russia, was on Sunday 23 February. That same day in the Gregorian calendar was March 8, and that is the date on which it is celebrated now.

manifestation Mexico.
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Image caption Women from all over the world continue to claim equality on a daily basis and fight against violence against women, as in this demonstration for that last reason in Mexico in 2018.


In 1945, the United Nations is formed to promote international cooperation after the devastation of World War II and the Charter of this multilateral organization becomes the first international agreement that enshrines gender equality.

Three decades later, in 1975, the UN established and celebrated for the first time International Women’s Day on March 8, coinciding with the International Year of Women.

Are there reasons to continue the fight …?

The answer is given with the most recent published data of the UN itself:

  • Only one in four parliamentarians are women worldwide.
  • In 2018, only 9.8% of countries in the world had heads of state or government.
  • One in three women suffers violence throughout their lives.
  • 830 women die each day from avoidable causes related to pregnancy.
  • And until 2086 the salary gap will not be closed if the current trend is not counteracted.
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