All You Need to Know About International Women's Day Before It Arrives

Hannah Jeon, Selena Barrientos
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

Celebrated on March 8 every year, International Women's Day is a day dedicated to honoring the achievements of women throughout history and all across the globe, and is typically a day for women from all different backgrounds and cultures to band together to fight for gender parity and women's rights.

This year, International Women's Day occurs on a Sunday and will be celebrated with the special 2020 theme, #EachforEqual. But before you start celebrating all the influential female figures in your own life, take a look back at the fascinating history behind this special day — including why International Women's Day is celebrated, when the holiday was first established, and how exactly you can join in on the celebration this year.

What is International Women's Day?

International Women’s Day (IWD) is dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements in the social, economic, cultural, and political spheres. The day, collectively founded by women, also brings attention to gender parity and women's rights.

Gender parity is a statistical measure that compares women and men through their income, education, and work hours, among other points. This sociological metric helps researchers understand how society is progressing or regressing in specific areas. It’s also an important tool for policymakers striving towards gender equality.

Of course, the global celebration of International Women’s Day is a time for reflection of how far women have come, advocacy for what is still needed, and action to continue breaking down barriers. With over a century of history, IWD is a growing movement centered around unity and strength.

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

International Women’s Day has a rich history dating back 108 years — the first glimpse of it was in 1909 when the Socialist Party of America celebrated 15,000 women who protested long work hours, low pay, and the lack of voting rights in New York City.

Originally called National Woman’s Day, the monumental annual celebration spread across the world (officially celebrated in 1911), but it was Russia who unknowingly set the March 8 trend. Although International Women’s Day became an official holiday in Russia in 1913, women still experienced difficulties caused by WWI. While men were off at war, women dealt with food shortages and a government who wouldn’t listen to them.

On March 8, 1917 (February 23 in the former Russian calendar), tens of thousands of Russian women took to the streets demanding change. The unified cry for help paved the way for Russian women to be granted voting rights soon after.

What is the theme for International Women's Day 2020?

In 1975, the United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day, and, in 1996, began to adopt an annual theme for every year. The first theme was "Celebrating the past, Planning for the Future." This year’s theme #EachforEqual is meant to be a shared goal throughout 2020.

"We can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations, and celebrate women's achievements," states the organization's site. "Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world. Let's all be #EachforEqual."

The IWD 2020 campaign theme draws on the notion of "collective individualism," which refers to the idea that every individual is a part of a whole, and that an individual's actions, behaviors, and mindsets can all have an impact on larger society.

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How can I participate in International Women's Day?

There are many ways you can participate in the celebration for International Women's Day, including joining in on the numerous events that will be held worldwide. These special events will span from global gatherings and informative conferences to powerful art exhibitions and festivals, and will be held by women's networks, charities, political parties, corporations, and other communities. You can easily search for an IWD event happening near you before the big day.

Even if you can't attend an IWD event, though, you can still join millions of participants by wearing purple on March 8. Signifiying justice and dignity, the color purple has become an international symbol for women since the origination of purple, green, and white as a symbol of women's equality from the Women's Social and Political Union in the UK in 1908.

To celebrate this year's specific theme for International Women's Day, you can also strike the #EachforEqual pose — and if you want to help spread the word about this important celebration, don't forget to share your pledges and messages on social media using the hashtag #IWD2020.

How is International Women's Day celebrated around the world?

International Women's Day is an official holiday in at least 20 countries, including: Afghanistan, Cuba, Laos, Russia, and Vietnam. In many of these countries, tradition holds that men honor their mothers, wives, girlfriends, and colleagues with flowers and small presents. In other nations, the day is much like the holiday of Mother's Day, in which children give gifts to their mothers and grandmothers. In other countries, however, like Nepal and China, IWD is a holiday only for women.

As for the United States, International Women's Day isn't recognized as an official holiday, although it's been proposed. This doesn't stop the flurry of lively celebrations from taking place across the U.S., though, as numerous political rallies, business conferences, and government and corporate events happen all across the country to honor the special day and bring together women of all different backgrounds and cultures.

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