What is International Women’s Day? Who started it? When did it come to be globally recognised?
International Women’s Day has grown to become a “global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.” (www.internationalwomensday.com).
But we wanted to look at the history of the day and how that has shaped it’s current meaning. We also take a look at it’s significance in the workplace and what the day means to us at Morgan Jones.
The first ever National Women’s Day
In New York, 1908, a group of around 15,000 women went on strike and took to the streets to protest the differences in pay, conditions and worker’s rights that they experienced. This strike would become known as the Garment Workers’ Strike.
One year on from that, the first ever national Women’s Day was launched by the Socialist Party of America. This was the start of what was to become a global day of celebration and activism.
The early years
Spurred on by huge gaps in employment, legal, social and democratic rights, it did not take long for the movement to gather momentum. Following a 1910 Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, the first ever International Women’s Day was celebrated on 19th March 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.
Less than a week later, the ‘Triangle Fire’ of New York claimed the lives of 146 people in New York’s garment district (scene of the 1908 strike). 123 of the lives lost were women and this disastrous event drew a great amount of attention. It served to highlight the difference in working conditions and saw many other countries take note of International Women’s Day.
In 1913, International Women’s Day took it’s current date of March 8th and has been celebrated on that day ever since.
For a number of subsequent years, there was a significant crossover between anti-war campaigns and the International Women’s Day movement which perhaps slowed down it’s momentum. More and more countries began to celebrate the day, but it did not gain global recognition for many more years.
Post WWII recognition
In 1945 a big step forward was taken in the process of women being recognised as fundamentally equal to men. The Charter of the United Nations signed that year was the first internationally agreed document that stated the principle of equality between men and women.
In 1975, the United Nations officially recognised International Women’s Day. Although it took 30 years for that to happen, the UN did spearhead a number of initiatives and global regulations and standards that helped to help enhance and advance the status of women in our global society. Recognising International Women’s Day was a further step in their work and gave much more significance to the day in global discussions and policy making.
In the workplace
International Women’s Day has become a day of such global importance that many countries, particularly in Asia and Africa, celebrate the day with a public holiday. In China, Madagascar and Nepal they celebrate the day by giving only the female workers the day off.
Of course, here in the UK it’s a normal working day but that doesn’t diminish the importance of the day as a celebration of the achievements of women over the years. Most importantly, it serves as a reminder and a call to action for future progress. In recent years a number of new problematic areas have been brought to light – particularly in the workforce with regards to the equal pay and equal representation in senior positions.
What the day means to Morgan Jones
Here at Morgan Jones we welcome all initiatives that create an equal and diverse workplace and that is why we believe that International Women’s Day is a chance to shine further light on any inequality.
Of course, we are an equal opportunities employer, but we also recognise that we have a role to play in helping our clients and stakeholders to embrace and celebrate people of all genders, age, nationalities, abilities and religious beliefs and to help them thrive at work.
We hope this brief history of International Women’s Day has helped you understand more about the day.
We believe it has two main functions.
Firstly, the day should celebrate the achievements of women in society and the advancements in recognising their fundamental rights across most of the world.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we believe it should shine a light on any areas where further work is needed to achieve truly equal opportunities for all.