History of International Women’s Day: How did it start?

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INDIANAPOLIS — March 8 is recognized by countries around the world as a day to celebrate women’s achievements and promote gender equality.

The 2021 #ChoosetoChallenge theme encourages women and men to speak up, question and call out inequality, bias or stereotyping — not just for a day but throughout the coming year.

But how did International Women’s Day get its start, and what’s the significance of March 8?

History of International Women’s Day

Women’s Day has been celebrated in some capacity around the world since the early 1900s, but there’s no one country, group or organization that can take sole credit for its creation.

In the United States, the first National Women’s Day was observed in 1909, but at that time the celebration took place on Feb. 28.

Similar celebrations sprang up across Europe over the next decade, including Denmark, the Netherlands and Russia, as the women’s movement gained momentum worldwide.

Issues including working conditions, women’s right to vote and hold public office, and even opposition to World War I served as catalysts for formalized celebrations.

In 1977, International Women’s Day was officially recognized by the United Nations.

Why is International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8?

According to the UN, the modern celebration is connected to a protest and strike for “Bread and Peace” held by Russian women in 1917.

Just days after the protest, the Russian Czar abdicated and a provisional government was put in place that gave women the right to vote.

Here’s where it gets confusing: The protest date was Feb. 23 in Russia, but because the country had not yet adopted the Gregorian calendar, most of the world considered that day March 8.

IWD 2021: Honoring women’s contributions to fighting coronavirus

The UN has its own theme for 2021 International Women’s Day: “Women in leadership: Achieving and equal future in a COVID-19 world.”

The theme recognizes women working on the front lines of the pandemic as health care workers, caregivers, community organizers and more, and highlights the “disproportionate burdens that women carry” in adjusting to pandemic life.

A LinkedIn survey released today shows that 49% of women say their career has been set back or put on hold due to the pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Labor reports 275,000 women left the workforce in January alone, compared to only 71,000 men.

How can I get involved?

Many International Women’s Day events were cancelled or held virtually due to the pandemic, but the IWD 2021 #ChooseToChallenge campaign continues for the next year.

Click here for more information on the campaign, events throughout the year and a list of resources to organize your own local groups and events.

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