It’s no secret that we’ve had a rough year. The outbreak of Covid-19 meant putting a stop to busy lives across the globe and countless canceled holidays and events, from a lonely Christmas to empty birthdays. But today is the one day that cannot be missed because it’s more than an event or even a celebration, it’s a powerful call for action. A day where millions of voices, brands, and businesses come together to be heard and #choosetochallenge gender inequality.
International Women’s Day (IWD) started in the early 1900s but it really started to gain momentum around 2017, when the #MeToo movement went viral.
The day is typically marked by marches, protests, rallies, talks, and powerful performances, but of course, this year things are looking a little different. Fear not! We’ll be looking at all the ways you can celebrate, what you can get involved in and why this day is so important.
This Year’s Theme
This year the official theme is #ChooseToChallenge and according to the UN “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. Although there have been some fantastic moments for women this year including the ban on tampon tax in the UK, Covid-19 has also led to a lot of struggles for women. Domestic abuse cases drastically rose as women were trapped in households with their abusers, an extreme rise in job losses and the difficult pressures of homeschooling; making this IWD even more important.
According to the official IWD website, they made this year’s theme #ChooseToChallenge because “A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions – all day, every day. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world. From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”
Last year, the theme was #EachforEqual, which aimed to recognise the actions we can take as individuals to challenge stereotypes and celebrate women’s achievement
How Did It Start?
IWD grew out of the labour movement to become a recognised annual event by the United Nations (UN). The seeds of it were planted in 1908 when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay, and the right to vote. It was the Socialist Party of America who declared the first National Woman’s Day, a year later.
The idea to make the day international came from a woman called Clara Zetkin. She suggested the idea in 1910 at an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. There were 100 women there, from 17 countries, and they agreed on her suggestion unanimously. It was first celebrated in 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. The centenary was celebrated in 2011, so this year we’re technically celebrating the 110th International Women’s Day.
Things were made official in 1975 when the United Nations started celebrating the day. The first theme adopted by the UN (in 1996) was “Celebrating the past, Planning for the Future”.
International Women’s Day has become a date to celebrate how far women have come in society, in politics and in economics, while the political roots of the day mean strikes and protests are organised to raise awareness of continued inequality.
The date became the 8th of March, but not because of Clara. Clara’s idea for an International Women’s Day had no fixed date. It wasn’t formalised until a war-time strike in 1917 when Russian women demanded “bread and peace” – and four days into the women’s strike the Tsar was forced to abdicate and the provisional government granted women the right to vote.
The date when the women’s strike commenced on the Julian calendar, which was then in use in Russia, was Sunday 23 February. This day in the Gregorian calendar was 8 March – and that’s why it’s celebrated today.
Why Do We Still Celebrate It?
Unfortunately, because there is still a need for it. The goal of IWD is to advocate and ultimately achieve a gender-equal society, and though we have come far we still have a long way to go. Femicide rates are high, abortion is still a vastly debated topic leading to some US states and countries across the world making it illegal. The gender pay gap still exists and is still affecting the way women are viewed in the workplace, there is a drastic lack of female leaders, and violence against women is higher than ever. It doesn’t take a lot to realise we are not yet in an equal society, and as the founding editor of The New Feminist, I would like to take this moment to say that this is the reason that it’s OKAY to call yourself feminist. Let’s leave the stigma behind, fight for our rights and not feel bad about it!
Indeed, this year the need for celebration is more urgent than ever. Global data released by UN Women suggests that the pandemic could put gender equality back by 25 years, as a result of women doing significantly more domestic chores and family care. Research by Counting Dead Women calculated at least 16 domestic abuse killings of women and children had taken place in the first three weeks of the lockdown in the UK.
Healthcare has also been affected. Marie Stopes estimates that 9.5 million women and girls worldwide could risk losing access to their contraception and abortion services because of coronavirus, while thousands of other women have missed out on life-saving breast cancer screenings and smear tests.
So let’s make this the most powerful IWD we’ve ever had. Be loud and use your voice, we need this.
How To Get Involved
Even though we’re still stuck in lockdown, there are plenty of ways you can get involved. There are over 500 virtual events around the world that you can get involved it, find them here.
The IWD organisers are also asking for people to strike the Choose To Challenge pose – with your hands held high – and share it on social media to encourage a commitment to helping forge an inclusive world. Some of the submissions will be featured on the IWD website and social media feeds. You can also download the #ChooseToChallenge selfie cards.
Usually, the day is marked with marches – the main one being the March4Women march in London. There are also several events that pop up around the UK, and the Women of the World (WOW) festival, which takes place at the Southbank centre.
Of course, things will look different in 2021 – but there are still a host of free and ticketed events taking place across the country.
This year’s #March4Women, organised by CARE International, will be taking place as an online day of action. The central message is “Stop Telling Half The Story”, which aims to show how women are still largely absent from decision-making roles and in positions of power. In 2019, the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to 29 per cent. Although this is the highest number ever recorded, the percentage remained the same in 2020 – and there is still a long way to go until 50 per cent representation is achieved.
The organisation is calling on the UK government to be a global champion for diverse women’s leadership. They want to see UK Aid for women’s leadership and rights; diverse women’s leadership in Covid-19 recovery in the UK and globally at G7; and diverse women’s leadership in the climate response at COP26. The theme of the march is #SheLeadsInCrisis, which recognises the enormous role women have paid in tackling the pandemic. You can sign up to take part here.
Alternatively, Equation is hosting their annual IWD event online by inviting a series of speakers to share their wisdom every Monday throughout March on Zoom. Many boardrooms continue to be male dominated spaces, but the continuing success of women in business shows the value of bringing women’s voices to the table.
If culture is more your thing, why not head to the Century of Music by British Women 1921-2021 Livestream concert on March 8, directed by violinist Madeline Mitchell. Or if you’re in need of a little mid-lockdown pick me up, then the interactive IWD2021 Imposter Syndrome Masterclass, led by Clare Josa, author of Ditching Imposter Syndrome, might be just the ticket.
But if you’re suffering from “Zoom fatigue” – and let’s be honest, who isn’t – then there are some in-person events you can enjoy. In London, the IWD 2021 ‘Rise Together walk’, hosted by the charity Rising Girl which aims to empower and inspire girls through education, is happening on March 7. The day will start at 11am at Euston Station and participants will walk a pre-planned route around London visiting statues of women who made history (it’s £15 to register). For a full list of events in your local area, check out the official IWD website.
You could also choose to support IWD (and treat yourself) by shopping from the range of brands who have pledged to join The Princes’ Trust #ChangeAGirlsLife campaign. All donations will go towards improving education and employment opportunities for young people in the UK. Participants include The White Company, Elemis, Whistles and Phase Eight, all of whom will be donating to the Princes’ Trust if you shop on March 8.