Celebrating but still fighting: What International Women’s day means now and then

How did International Women’s Day even come about? We want to look back into history to understand better, what this event means to us nowadays.


Text by Carina Parke
Header Photo by Billie

How did International Women’s Day even come about? We want to look back into history to understand better, what this event means to us nowadays.

It seems like, women’s voices got louder for a few years. With the rise of social media and a globalized, connected world we got to witness and listen to inspirational personalities from all over the world more and more. But the commitment of eager women goes way back in history, they were always there. Fighting for us in the background or the forefront. Making a stance. 

Celebrating women’s rights and gender equality

Today we’re celebrating the International Women’s Day (IWD) 2020 – and while we are cheering for women’s achievements, we are still fighting for a gender equal reality all over the world. Therefore, this year’s campaign tries to address every individual to form a bond and face the challenge together. “We are all parts of a whole. Our individual actions, conversations, behaviors and mindsets can have an impact on our larger society. Collectively, we can make change happen. Collectively, we can each help to create a gender equal world”, it says on the official website of International Women’s Day

But we have to acknowledge that it is not as easy as it sounds. And we can unfortunately not generalize the issue. Women face different realities in different parts of the world – not just based on their gender but also their race, ethnicity, religion, background, education, disabilities, personal relations and so on. While we are all striving for equality, every women has to fight her own individual fight simultaneously. So what does International Women’s Day means then today? It means that those, who can, should acknowledge their privileges, while raising their voice for a unity. It means sharing privileges and letting other women speak for themselves. It means standing up for yourself, while letting other women space to stand up for themselves too. But it still means being in this and going through it together – even if it is just in our minds. Because there is still a long way to go. 

Women’s March in Pennsylvania Ave, Washington. (Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash)

International Women’s Day in history

Nowadays gender equality and women’s rights are taking a centre stage, but it took time, effort and a lot of fearless women – and men too – to get to this point. “I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves”, writer and feminist activist Mary Wollstonecraft said in 1792. 119 years later in 1911, the first International Women’s Day was honoured in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland on March 19th. The event followed a decision agreed at Copenhagen. 

But what had happened? Since a few years there was already a critical debate occurring amongst women, because of the inequality and oppression they had to face. But they screamed for change, got louder and more active in campaigning against old structures. In 1908 for example, 15,000 women went on the streets in New York City to march for voting rights and better salaries. German feminist activist Clara Zetkin joined the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen two years later and expressed her idea that there should be a celebration for women every year in every country on the same day. And that’s how the International Women’s Day was born. 

I do not wish them [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.

Mary Wollstonecraft

At the first IWD there were already more than one million women and men attending rallies. And in the following years the development kept going. March 8th is the global date for the international event since 1913. In 1975 it was celebrated by the United Nations for the first time. Nowadays International Women’s Day celebrates social and economic as well as cultural and political achievements of women globally. It is not specific to an organisation or a country, but is held by different groups in different parts of the world. 

The fight for equality continues

And to this day IWD has not lost any of its relevance. “We don’t have an equal world at the moment and women are angry and concerned about the future. They are radically impatient for change. It’s an impatience that runs deep, and it has been brewing for years”, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, underlines in an official statement. “Even though there has been progress, no country has achieved gender equality. Our best hasn’t been good enough. Challenges remain for all countries, although many of them are not insurmountable.” But although she and other women “are radically impatient”, they do not want to give up and remain hopeful. Mlambo-Ngcuka believes: “Lessons learnt in the last 25 years have shown us what is needed to accelerate action for equality. Generation Equality is one of our answers and together, we are that generation.”

Either if women are marching on the streets today, posting for their rights on social media or just being conscious for themselves – in all this dynamic the world kind of stands still on International Women’s Day. Because it is the day to take a break and just celebrate us, our pride and achievements. To celebrate women from our history as well as the modern era, to celebrate business women as well as housewives, and strangers as well as your loved ones. We are celebrating to call attention and to create a spirit – and that’s important. Because this spirit is the fuel which keeps us going when this day is over. 

How are people celebrating International Women’s Day in different countries?
Find some examples for certain events here:

Bhopal, India: IWD 2020 WOMEN Photography Exhibition
Brussel, Belgium: Women who Advance Associations
Colmar, France: STRIKE THE POSE by vanessamoselle
Düsseldorf Germany: Lean In NRW presents the award winning Ruth Bader Ginsburg Documentary
Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Free Workout Celebrating Women’s Strength
Kampala, Uganda: 2020 JBCH Youth Dialogue
London, United Kingdom: March4Women
Nairobi, Kenya: Dada Fest 2020
New York, United States: Women’s Empowerment event with speakers and networking
Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Haitian Supershero Supports Gender Equal Farming
Sydney Australia: A program for women
Tangerang, Indonesia: HeForShe RUN
Toronto, Canada: Toronto International Women’s Day (IWD) Celebrations & Women Achiever Awards 2020