17 February, 2017

Why do we celebrate the International Women’s Day?

Category: gender equality, sexism, sexist hate speech, women
Community Manager
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Written by Denislava Ilieva (Youth Red Cross – Braga)blog braga

Photo: Sylvia Pankhurst (1882 – 1960)- one of the leaders of the Suffragettes movement in England

The International Women’s Day – 8 March has been around for more than a century. It is approached in various ways, according to cultural contexts and historical past; however, the focus is always valuing the woman’s achievements and role in the society. But what is the meaning behind the date 8 March on which in many countries children write postcards to their mothers and grandmothers and men give flowers to their girlfriends and wives? What is there to be celebrated about womanhood? What statements does it make as a united platform of the diverse women’s rights movements?

As a starting point of the women’s rights movement the year 1908 is usually referred to. In March 15 000 women marched across New York city boldly announcing demands for reduced working hours, higher payment and the right to vote – this was the first official demonstration of what would become an organized women’s rights movement. The idea of an international women’s day was born couple of years later in 1910 on the second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen. It was proposed by Clara Zetkin – the leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, as a day to celebrate achievements of the women’s movement and, at the same time, to make a statement that a deep social change is demanded for the future – until the point absolute equality has been reached. On the following year on 19 March rallies took place in several countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland) in which more than a million women insisted for higher level of parity between man and women, access to equal opportunities and conditions at work, social and political participation, equal access to education and end of gender discrimination. In 1913 the event was placed on the date 8 March which remains official worldwide to this day.

The United Nations marked the day for the first time in 1975 and in 1977 the annual celebration of 8 March was declared as The United Nations Day for Women’s Rights for all its member states was officially declared. Since 1996 the UN commemorates the date with different annual theme. Today the International Women’s Day is an officially celebrated all over the world and is a public holiday in a number of countries.[1]

The International Women’s Day has still not lost impetus as a significant landmark of the women’s movements – a day to reflect on the achievements, generate debates, and urge for further action. The women have realized that their empowerment is not only necessary for improving their own quality of life but that gender equality is a basic condition for a free and just society. Women’s rights are part of the broader concept of human rights and it’s up to every citizen to abide by them, regardless of gender affiliation.

The movement had a substantial effect on the shift of women’s role in society and had tremendous impact on the modern history in general. Nowadays, we tend to take for granted rights like the right to vote and the right to equal access to education but this was not always the case, it’s the result of devoted and tenacious struggle. Yes, today we enjoy civil rights and women emancipation has never been more widely exercised. The past and present are abundant of inspiring women figures that manage to make life choices outside of the framework of the traditional gender role prescribed. But still, we shouldn’t forget that the history of gender equality is still being written. Overall, women’s role in the social and political life is still poorer than the one of men.

Some signals for that are often neglected but they are important markers for the stage we are currently at. Women are still underrepresented in many important fields like the political, business or media sectors and globally the levels of education and literacy are lower than that of men. Women are often paid less than man for the same professional position.[2] Discrimination and violence against women is still an issue. And when it comes to violence we should keep in mind there are various levels and that it can take diverse forms and manifestations. Hate speech is a form of violence and a violation of human rights and it has to be taken as serious as any other form of violence and combated with the means available.[3]

Gender stereotyping and sexist hate speech can be encountered daily – in our private and professional lives, online and offline. It is one of the signals that we have a long way to go as it is responsible for perpetuating gender discrimination. Stereotypes attribute certain qualities that function in a deterministic way and limit individual’s freedom of life choices by creating expectations according to the gender role prescribed. We shouldn’t forget that stereotypes attributed to women have been coined throughout history of power relationship between men and women in a world of male domination. They tend to deprive and undervalue women’s role and skills and objectify the richness of the personality into a cluster of shared characteristics usually loaded with negative connotations. Education and mass culture are to an extend product of the background of patriarchic tradition and, sometimes even unintentionally, teach us accepting inequality. The way it’s profoundly integrated in society makes sexism hard to fight and put us in a stage of a very difficult period in the history of women’s emancipation. In order to combat sexist hate speech that reproduces the inequality and promotes discrimination on the first place we should be able to recognize it. Raising awareness and action campaigns as Countering Sexist Hate Speech are imminent tools to fight the lack of awareness in order to move on to direct action with legal means from the part of the authorities and end of the viewpoint that sexist hate speech is socially acceptable.

[1] For detailed timeline of the history of IWD see: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/About.

[2] For more statistical data see: UN Women website, http://www.unwomen.org/en.

[3] See also: Combating Sexist Hate Speech, Gender Equality Strategy, Council of Europe (2016), https://rm.coe.int/CoERMPublicCommonSearchServices/DisplayDCTMContent?documentId=0900001680651592.


  1. gatto

    Society has long process ahead to clean from its collective memory the myths and images where the sexist hate speech has its roots. How much is Adam and Eve and other similar myths still strong and present in our culture? This fight is far from done, as you can see by one very stupid speech of a Polish MEP this week. Its by bringing this issue to public arena more and more that we spark the change in people’s values!



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