International Women’s Day History

International Women’s Day History

International Women’s Day History

On this day during on March 08, 1975, the United Nations was celebrated the first official International Women’s Day (IWD) in the International Women’s Year.

Poster for Women's Day March in London, 1975
Poster for Women’s Day March in London, 1975

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global holiday celebrated annually all across the globe every year on March 8 to commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women. It is also a focal point in the women’s rights movement, bringing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women.

International Women's Day 1975
International Women’s Day 1975
Equality the time is now
Equality the time is now

International Agreement to Affirm

In 1945, the Charter of the United Nations became the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men.


However, the earliest Women’s Day observance, called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909, in New York City, organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of activist Theresa Malkiel.

In August 1910, an International Socialist Women’s Conference was organized ahead of the general meeting of the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, Denmark. Inspired in part by the American socialists, German delegates Clara Zetkin, Käte Duncker, Paula Thiede, and others proposed the establishment of an annual “Women’s Day”, although no date was specified.

Clara Zetkin (left) and Rosa Luxemburg (right) in January 1910
Clara Zetkin (left) and Rosa Luxemburg (right) in January 1910

The 100 delegates, representing 17 countries, agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights, including women’s suffrage. The following year, on March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day was marked by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland.

Adoption by United Nations

British poster for Women's Day March, 1974
British poster for Women’s Day March 1974

IWD remained predominantly a communist holiday until roughly 1967 when it was taken up by second-wave feminists. The day re-emerged as a day of activism, and is sometimes known in Europe as the “Women’s International Day of Struggle”.

In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as an official UN holiday for women’s rights and world peace. It has since been commemorated annually by the UN and much of the world, with each year’s observance centered on a particular theme or issue within women’s rights.

Around the world

IWD Official, Non-official holiday
IWD Official, Non-official holiday

IWD is an official holiday in several countries worldwide, including Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Germany (Berlin only), Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Zambia.

In some countries, such as Australia, Cameroon, Croatia, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Vietnam, and Chile; IWD is not an official public holiday but is widely observed nonetheless.

Yellow mimosa is the symbol of IWD in Ukraine and Italy
Yellow mimosa is the symbol of IWD in Ukraine and Italy

Official United Nations themes

YearUN theme
1996Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future
1997Women and the Peace Table
1998Women and Human Rights
1999World Free of Violence Against Women
2000Women Uniting for Peace
2001Women and Peace: Women Managing Conflicts
2002Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities
2003Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals
2004Women and HIV/AIDS
2005Gender Equality Beyond 2005; Building a More Secure Future
2006Women in Decision-making
2007Ending Impunity for Violence Against Women and Girls
2008Investing in Women and Girls
2009Women and Men United to End Violence Against Women and Girls
2010Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All
2011Equal Access to Education, Training, and Science and Technology: Pathway to Decent Work for Women
2012Empower Rural Women, End Poverty, and Hunger
2013A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women
2014Equality for Women is Progress for All
2015Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!
2016Planet 50–50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality
2017Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030
2018Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives
2019Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change
2020“I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights”
2021Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world
2022Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow
Official United Nations themes