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What’s the Relevance of International Women’s Day in 2017?

Brenda Samson and Lilly Be’Soer of Voice for Change. Photo: Gemma Carr

International Women’s Day is less than a month away.

March 8th 2017 has always been a big day on our calendar, but this year, it feels particularly important to come together. The global Women’s Marches that happened in January showed the world what we already knew. Women are bold, brave and engaging in collective action against injustice – just as they always have.

On International Women’s Day, we celebrate all women, in all their diversities. We embrace the many facets of women’s identities – intersections of faith, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, or disability. We celebrate those who came before us, those who stand beside us now, and those who will come after.

But International Women’s Day is about more than a party for women (though we’re definitely having one of those, too). Here’s why we mark March 8, and what it means to us.

How did it start?

Like the women’s movement, the reasons for today’s date are complex. Here’s a bit of a timeline about the history of the movement:

Early 1900s

At a time of questionable labour laws and growing women’s suffrage movement, factions of women began to band together and talk about oppression. Unrest was growing, and in 1908, 15,000 women took to the streets of New York to demand better hours, increased pay and voting rights.

1909

The United States was the first country to hold a National Woman’s Day on February 28th, 1909.

1910

A call for an international day was first made in Copenhagen at the 2nd ever International Conference for Working Women in 1910. It was warmly received by the 100+ women in attendance from 17 countries, and the day was gradually adopted by different countries, including Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

1911

There was still no set date, but in 1911, over one million women and men attended rallies worldwide to end discrimination, calling for women’s rights to work, vote, and hold public office.

1913

March 8th was officially proclaimed International Women’s Day in 1913, and more countries acknowledged the day, including Russia and The United Kingdom.

1975

The United Nations officially joined the movement in 1975 by recognising the day for the first time.

Two years later, the UN General Assembly formally adopted the day for its Member States, and the rest is history (more of which you can read here).

Why do we mark today?

International Women’s Day is about celebrating women. But it’s also about acknowledging that no country in the world has achieved gender equality. Every day, we witness violations of women’s rights, discrimination based on gender, and a lack of women’s representation in positions of power.

Too often systems are not designed to allow women to succeed. Gender inequality is perpetuated by both formal and informal systems, structures and attitudes. And for women who are not cisgender, white and straight, the schism can be even wider. To achieve truly systemic change, laws, policies, behaviours and cultural norms must be radically altered.

We work to disrupt and transform these systems every day. But International Women’s Day is a day where the world unites to call for a better, more gender equal world. It’s a day for the movement to come together and call on the international community to listen to women’s voices and enable real change for women everywhere.

What can you do?

Some of the most important advances have been secured through the efforts of women’s movements. Having gender equality as the core organisational goal allows organisations like IWDA to focus our energy and funding on advancing and protecting the rights of women.

Here are a few ways you can help:

  1. Participate in Marches and events in your state
  2. Get outside of yourself and listen to other women share their stories – whether they’re queer, women of colour, or women with disabilities –and think about how inequality affects them specifically
  3. Donate to IWDA to support the brilliant work our partners do in Asia Pacific
  4. Share this article on social media, and urge your networks to get involved
  5. Write to your local Member of Parliament, let them know you vote in their seat and that you want to see proactive action towards gender equality
  6. Have discussions with the people in your life about privilege, discrimination and how we can all unknowingly play into it

At our current rate of progress, it will take 170 years for women to achieve gender equality around the world. This is simply too long to wait, and it is why dedicated women’s movements matter. This International Women’s Day, speak up, speak out, and speak to each other. Celebrate women. Condemn inequality. Create change.

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