International Women’s Day – A brief history

March 1, 2024

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International Women’s Day – A brief history

By D. Lurion, FSWC Director of Tour for Humanity

The dawn of the 20th century created a remarkable shift in the lives of women everywhere. By 1908, women's oppression and inequality were spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. This culminated in a 15,000+ person march through New York City, with marchers demanding better working conditions, higher wages and voting rights.  

On March 19, 1911, the first International Women’s Day took place in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Switzerland. More than one million women and men attended International Women’s Day rallies that year, campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be properly educated, to hold public office and end discrimination.

Tragically, less than a week later, on March 25, the “Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire” in New York City took the lives of more than140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This catastrophe drew significant attention to women’s working conditions, which became a focus of later International Women’s Day events.

In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly marked International Women’s Day for the first time. They adopted a resolution, stating that all member states would observe a day for women’s rights and international peace.

Since 1996, each year is assigned a specific theme, in connection with women’s issues around the world. The 2024 theme is “Inspire Inclusion,” reflecting the desire for a world where “women themselves are inspired to be included, there's a sense of belonging, relevance, and empowerment”.  

The world has witnessed an improved awareness in gender equality and inclusivity over the last decade – more so than ever before in history; however, we also know there is more work to do. Even here, in Canada, as of 2021, women earn on average $0.89 to every dollar earned by their male counterparts. The federal government’s theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress” which it describes as “a call to action and a reminder that gender equality is one of the most effective ways to build healthier, more prosperous, and more inclusive communities.”