8 March is International Women's Day, and this important day for women's rights is also celebrated in Luxembourg. For the past couple of years, the association JIF has organised a Women's March through the centre of Luxembourg City. But what are the origins of this global day of protest and celebration?
While it might seem like a fairly recent development, the origins of International Women's Day date back to the early 20th century and are closely linked to labour and socialist movements in the United States and across Europe.
As early as 1908, 15,000 women gathered to march through New York City, demanding better working conditions and the right to vote. Already a year later, in 1909, the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Women's Day, which was observed on 28 February until 1913. Around the same time, in 1910, Clara Zetkin, a member of the German Social Democratic and later the Communist party raised the idea of having a yearly women's day to promote and demand women's rights at a conference in Copenhagen.
The delegation, comprised over 100 women representing various countries, women's associations, and socialist parties, approved of the idea, and International Women's Day (IWD) was born. The following year the first IWD was observed on 19 March in several European countries, and both men and women took to the streets to protest for more women’s rights.
The date we know today, 8 March, stems from the involvement of Russian women who stood in for peace under the shadow of a luring First World War in 1913. They agreed to celebrate IWD annually on 23 February, which is 8 March on the widely used Gregorian Calendar. Despite these early efforts, it wasn’t until 1975 that IWD was globally recognised by the United Nations.
Beginning in 1997, the UN announced specific yearly themes for IWD, a tradition that is continued until this day. Previous themes have included 'Celebrating the past, Planning for the Future', 'Women and Human Rights', or 'Women in the Changing World of Work'. This year's theme is 'DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality'. More information about the UN's involvement can be found here.
Despite the initial success, IWD was no longer widely celebrated in the early 2000s. Although many women's issues had improved since the first calls for a Women's Day, many inequalities still remained. In light of this, the platform internationalwomensday.com was founded in 2001 and is still active today.
The platform aims to rekindle the wider public's enthusiasm for IWD and draw attention to why it's still needed today. The association also chooses an annual theme for IWD, independently of the UN's. This year’s theme, '#EmbraceEquity', highlights why equal opportunities are often not enough as they don’t account for different starting positions and circumstances.
The platform breaks the differences between these easily confounded concepts in this explainer. Through their tireless engagement, IWD is now again recognised and celebrated across the globe. As an additional mark of recognition, Barack Obama declared March to be women's history month in 2011, exactly 100 years after the first IWD in 1911.
Also in 2011, the platform JIF (Journée Internationale des Femmes) was founded in Luxembourg to promote and organise collective activities for IWD. Reminiscent of the beginnings of IWD, JIF is made up of various associations, political parties, and individuals. JIF is an inclusive organisation; they welcome everyone who socially identifies as a woman and run a group for men who want to show solidarity.
In 2020 the platform organised the first Women's Strike in Luxembourg, which also took place on 8 March. JIF's annual main event is a march taking place on International Women's Day. During the march, the participants voice several demands, including a call for fair wages and for real action in the fight to end violence against women. This year's march starts at Hamilius at 5 pm. More information about JIF and how to get involved can be found on their website (in French).
As long as gender parity is not yet the reality, IWD remains an important day of activism that draws attention to remaining issues and strengthens women's rights. However, IWD is not only a day of demands but also a day of celebration where everyone is encouraged to appreciate the achievements of women across the globe. In several countries, including Armenia and Laos, IWD is a national holiday. In Europe, IWD is a national holiday in the federal state of Berlin.