International Women’s Day: Exploring its Origins, Significance and Modern Representation

May 23, 2024
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History of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD), originated as a labour movement in North America and is now a recognized yearly celebration by the United Nations. Every year on March 8, people celebrate IWD.  In 1910, Women’s rights advocate Clara Zetkin proposed an international women’s day at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Denmark, to give women a louder voice to advance their demand for equal rights.

It was adopted unanimously by the female attendees from 17 countries, including Finland’s first three female MPs. International Women’s Day was first observed in March 1911, and the date was set as March 8 in 1913. The UN celebrated it for the first time in 1975 and in 1996 it announced its first annual theme: “Celebrating the past, Preparing for the Future”.

The platform was developed in 2001 to rekindle interest in the day, honour women’s accomplishments, and continue to advocate for gender equality. On the centennial anniversary in 2011, the then US President Barack Obama declared March to be Women’s History Month. “History shows that when women and girls have access to opportunity, societies are more just, economies are more likely to prosper, and governments are more likely to serve the needs of all their people,” said President Obama.

How is the day observed across the world?

The International Women’s Day is an occasion to celebrate how far women have progressed in society, politics, and economics while raising awareness of ongoing inequalities. IWD is a worldwide celebration of women’s historical, cultural, and political achievements. The day is also marked in support of global action to combat gender inequality.  

Companies of different levels band together to demonstrate how vital women are in today’s society. Likewise, efforts are made to assist women in the community by locating resources on scholarships available for women from all over the world to assist them in spreading their wings and flying higher. Here are some examples:

Education and Skill Development: Education and skill development programs can empower women and provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue their dreams and achieve their goals.

Mentorship and Networking: Women can benefit from mentorship and networking opportunities that can help them connect with other professionals in their field and gain valuable insights into the industry.

Access to Finance: Access to finance is crucial for women who want to start their own businesses or pursue entrepreneurial ventures. Providing financial support, such as microloans or grants, can help women overcome the financial barriers that prevent them from pursuing their goals.

Advocacy and Policy Change: Advocacy and policy change can help create a more equitable environment for women to thrive. This can involve lobbying for changes in laws and policies that support women’s rights, and raising awareness about issues that affect women.

Community Support: Building a supportive community for women can provide them with a sense of belonging and empowerment. This can involve creating spaces where women can come together to share their experiences, learn from one another, and support each other.

Many nations observe International Women’s Day as a national holiday, including Russia, where flower sales double during the three or four days surrounding March 8th. According to the State Council, many women in China are given a half-day off work on March 8th. IWD, or la Festa della Donna, is marked in Italy with the distribution of mimosa blossoms. March is Women’s History Month in the United States. In India, while February 13th is recognized as National Women’s Day, the International Women’s Day on March 8th is also celebrated widely across the nation. 

Colours associated with International Women’s Day

Purple, green, and white are the three main colours associated with IWD. Purple denotes justice and dignity, green represents optimism, and white represents purity. The use of these colours was initiated in 1908 by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in the United Kingdom. 

The International Women’s Day colours are used in various formats to promote gender equality and women’s rights globally. Some of the formats in which these colours are used include:

Social media graphics: On International Women’s Day, people all over the world use social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to share messages of support for women’s rights. These messages are often accompanied by graphics that use the IWD colours, such as purple, green, and white.

Clothing and accessories: Many people wear clothing and accessories that incorporate the IWD colours on March 8th. For example, they may wear a purple shirt, green scarf, or white hat to show their support for women’s rights.

Posters and banners: Posters and banners that promote gender equality and women’s rights often use the IWD colours to draw attention to their message. These posters and banners may be displayed in public spaces, such as streets, parks, and community centres.

Virtual backgrounds: In the era of virtual meetings and events, many people use virtual backgrounds that incorporate the IWD colours to show their support for women’s rights. These backgrounds can be used in virtual meetings, webinars, and other online events.

Flags and symbols: The IWD colours are often used to create flags and symbols that represent women’s rights and feminism. These flags and symbols may be used in protests, rallies, and other events that promote gender equality.

Themes for International Women’s Day 2023

The global campaign theme for IWD 2023 is #EmbraceEquity. To achieve equity, we must understand that women’s experiences differ depending on criteria such as colour, ethnicity, gender orientation, ability, and financial background. While tackling gender inequality, interdependence must be considered to guarantee that all women have equal opportunities and are not left behind.

Embracing equity requires a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and justice for all individuals, regardless of their background or identity. It requires recognizing the strengths and contributions of different individuals and ensuring that everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources to achieve their full potential.

The United Nations sets a different theme and this year, they have selected ‘DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality’ about the digital gender gap and growing economic and social inequality.

This theme is matched with the key theme for the upcoming 67th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-67), ‘Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.’  

The 2023 commemoration will look at the impact of the digital gender gap on growing economic and social disparities, as well as the necessity of preserving women’s and girls’ rights in digital environments and tackling online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence. To recognize the Day, the UN is planning a high-level gathering to highlight the importance of all stakeholders in expanding access to digital tools. A high-level panel discussion and musical performances will be part of the event.

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DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality

As women and other marginalized groups participate in the development of technology, the potential for breakthroughs that satisfy women’s needs and advance gender equality increases. Their absence, on the other hand, has enormous financial effects. According to the UN Women’s Gender Snapshot 2022 study, the absence of women from the digital world has affected low- and middle-income nations $1 trillion in GDP over the last 10 years. This loss will rise to $1.5 trillion by 2025 if nothing is done.

As a result, the IWD 2023 theme, DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality, will emphasize the importance of preserving women’s and girls’ rights in digital environments and tackling online and ICT-facilitated gender-based violence.

Attending a course, calling loved ones, making a bank transaction, or scheduling a medical visit all rely on excellent technology integration. At the moment, a lot of critical activities are done digitally. However, 37% of women globally, on the other hand, do not have access to the internet. Despite accounting for over half of the world’s population, women have 259 million fewer Internet users than men.

If women are unable to use the Internet, they are cut out from learning essential digital skills, limiting their possibilities to pursue professions in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related disciplines. By 2050, 75% of occupations will be tied to STEM subjects. Women currently hold only 22% of roles in artificial intelligence, to mention one example.

Ten Top Reasons Why International Women’s Day is Important

International Women’s Day is a worldwide celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements. The day also serves as a rallying appeal for greater gender equality. Worldwide, there is a lot of activity as people join together to celebrate women’s achievements or to fight for women’s equality. Here are some of the reasons why International Women’s Day is important.

1. A different theme is explored every year:

There are several systemic issues concerning women’s rights and gender equality, therefore each International Women’s Day focuses on a unique theme to raise awareness around important issues that must be addressed. Last year, the IWD theme was Break the Bias to compel everyone to identify conscious and unconscious biases that impede gender equality. This year’s theme is Embracing Equity aimed at finding solutions to allocate appropriate resources for true inclusion.  

2. One in every three women suffer violence:

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in every three women will experience physical or sexual violence over her lifetime. This statistic is a stark reminder of the extent of the problem of gender-based violence and the urgent need to address it. It is a violation of human rights and a major obstacle to women’s empowerment and gender equality. Gender-based violence can have devastating physical, psychological, and social consequences for women, affecting their health, education, employment, and overall well-being.

The impact of violence is particularly acute for marginalized and vulnerable women, including women living in poverty, women with disabilities, indigenous women, and women belonging to ethnic and religious minorities. These women often face multiple forms of discrimination and are more likely to experience violence.

3. The event has a significant history:

IWD is now a global event dedicated to women’s rights and gender equality. It began as part of the labour and voting rights movements. Clara Zetkin, a women’s rights activist, proposed an international day during a convention in 1910. The 100 women in attendance, representing 17 countries, all agreed. In 1911, Austria, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany observed the first International Women’s Day. The United Nations declared March 8th as a worldwide International Women’s Day in 1977. Knowing the origins of IWD allows us to better adhere to the spirit of the day. 

4. The gender disparity will take roughly 140 years to close:

According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, it will take another 135.6 years to achieve global equality between men and women at our current rate. His estimate is based on the average annual progress made towards gender equality across four key areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.

The report indicates that progress towards gender equality has been slow, with the global gender gap widening over the past years. Closing the gender gap is essential for achieving sustainable and inclusive economic growth, promoting social justice and human rights, and ensuring that everyone can fulfil their potential, regardless of gender. 

5. A moment to recognize women’s achievements:

History is brimming with significant events that have made the world a better place. Women have historically played critical roles in movements for voting rights, civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, labour rights, children’s rights, and a variety of other issues. They’ve also made significant contributions in every sector, including medicine, science, literature, and politics. IWD is an excellent occasion to celebrate all of these accomplishments.

6. Potential for schools and organisations to deliver education:

While learning about women’s rights and gender equality is always important, international days provide opportunities for more concentrated education and awareness. By designating a single day, there is a focused flow of information and knowledge that is not ordinarily available. Schools can search for resources online or arrange events, workshops, and other collaborative activities. IWD can be used by any group to focus on the women’s rights that are most important to their mission.

7. Connecting people from around the world:

International Women’s Day, as the name implies, is about women from all over the world. IWD is a global celebration of women Organizations and activists that promote awareness of gender equality and provides an opportunity for many to network and interact with others who are passionate about gender equality. Social media has made international connections much easier than in the past. IWD connections can lead to long-term collaboration, friendships, and financial support.

8. Women are not permitted to open bank accounts in certain countries:

Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that prohibit women from opening bank accounts or acquiring credit without the approval of a guardian, while others require a woman to be married before she may access financial services. According to additional World Bank data, even in locations where women are not subject to these restrictions, just 65% of women have bank accounts, compared to 72% of males. Some countries, such as India, are working hard to close the gender gap, with current statistics showing that 83% of males hold a bank account compared to 77% of women – a disparity that has narrowed to 6% from 20% in 2014.

9. Representation in politics and leadership:

Women are underrepresented in politics and leadership positions in India, despite the fact that they make up nearly half of the population.  One of the reasons for the under-representation of women in politics and leadership in India is the patriarchal societal structure, which often prevents women from pursuing leadership roles. Women have also historically faced discrimination and marginalization in political and social spheres.

The 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments have mandated the reservation of one-third of seats for women in local government bodies. Women’s representation in India’s parliament has also increased in recent years. In the 2019 general elections, the number of women elected to the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of parliament, reached a record high of 78 out of 542 seats. However, this is still only 14.39% of the total seats. IWD is an opportunity to call for greater representation of women in these areas and to encourage women to participate in politics and leadership.

10. Health and well-being:

Women’s health is often overlooked in India, with many women lacking access to basic healthcare services. As a result, many women struggle with preventable health issues and suffer from poor health outcomes. Another challenge is the cultural stigma surrounding women’s health issues, such as menstruation and reproductive health. Women may feel embarrassed or ashamed to seek care for these issues, or they may not have access to services that address their unique needs.

IWD provides an opportunity to highlight these issues and advocate for better access to healthcare services for women. This includes not only physical health but also mental health, which is often overlooked or stigmatized in India.

Contribution of Women Entrepreneurs in Embracing Equity

According to the Sixth Economic Census, more than 83% of women-owned businesses operate as sole proprietorships, with no hired labour. Women-led businesses, as compared to men-led businesses, are distinguished by consistent, home-based, traditional operations that account for more than 80% of all enterprises. There are also fundamental disparities in the kind of businesses that are owned and controlled by women. According to a British Council report, women lead less than 9% of for-profit companies in India, but they contribute more than 24% of the country’s social enterprises.

The theme of Embrace Equity in Micro Small Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) is critical for the advancement of women entrepreneurs, particularly in emerging economies. The promotion of gender equality in MSMEs can have significant economic and social benefits, including increased productivity, enhanced innovation, and improved livelihoods for women and their families. To connect women in MSMEs with this theme, several strategies can be adopted, including advocacy, education, mentorship, and policy reform.

Advocacy is an essential strategy for promoting equity in MSMEs. Women entrepreneurs can join forces with advocacy groups and civil society organizations to amplify their voices and demand equal opportunities for all. Advocacy efforts can include lobbying for policies that promote gender equality, organizing workshops and seminars to raise awareness of the benefits of equity in MSMEs, and building networks of like-minded entrepreneurs to share knowledge and resources.

Education is another powerful tool for women-led MSMEs with the theme of embracing equity. Women entrepreneurs can participate in training programs and workshops to enhance their business skills and gain knowledge of best practices for promoting gender equality. Business schools and training centres can also offer specialized courses and programs focused on equity in MSMEs, providing women with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in their businesses.

Mentorship is a valuable resource for women entrepreneurs, particularly those in emerging economies. Experienced entrepreneurs and business leaders can serve as mentors to women entrepreneurs, offering guidance, advice, and support as they navigate the challenges of running a business. Mentorship programs can also provide networking opportunities, linking women entrepreneurs with potential investors, partners, and customers.

Finally, policy reform is a critical strategy for promoting equity in MSMEs. Governments can play a vital role in creating an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs, including policies that promote access to finance, education, and markets. Governments can also adopt gender-responsive policies that address the specific needs and challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, including policies that promote work-life balance and support for women-led businesses.


IWD holds great significance for the growth and development of MSMEs around the world. The history of IWD dates back over a century, and it continues to be celebrated as a day that highlights the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. MSMEs have been recognized as crucial engines of economic growth and development, and women entrepreneurs have played an essential role in their success. 

However, women entrepreneurs continue to face significant challenges, such as limited access to finance, training, and networking opportunities. IWD serves as a platform to raise awareness about these issues and advocate for greater gender equality and empowerment of women entrepreneurs. It provides an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women in business and highlight the vital role they play in creating sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

This day is an important occasion to reflect on the progress that has been made towards gender equality while also recommitting to the work that still needs to be done to ensure greater empowerment and inclusion of women in all aspects of life. In recent years, IWD has also become a call to action for governments, organisations, and individuals to commit to gender equality and take concrete steps to support women in all walks of life, including entrepreneurship. This includes policies and programs that promote women’s entrepreneurship, increase access to finance, and provide training and mentoring opportunities. 

IWD serves as a reminder of the critical role that women entrepreneurs play in economic growth and development and the importance of supporting their success. It is a day to celebrate progress, but also to recommit to the work that still needs to be done to ensure greater gender equality in MSMEs and beyond.

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