International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day to highlight the great progress we have made towards gender equality. It is also a day to recognise what still needs to be done and to create awareness about how we can play our part in making change for the better.

IWD is celebrated across the globe in quite diverse ways, reflective of its global history which is a very interesting socio-political case study in itself!

The first National Women’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February 1909. Against the backdrop of WW1, women in Russia chose to protest and strike for “Bread and Peace” on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote. After World War II, 8 March started to be celebrated in a number of countries in different ways.

In 1975, during the International Women’s Year, the United Nations began celebrating 8 March as International Women’s Day. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.

Since then, the United Nations and their agencies have worked tirelessly to secure gender equality worldwide with great outcomes achieved: in 1995 the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a historic roadmap signed by 189 governments, focused on 12 critical areas of concern; and the inclusion of Goal 5 “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

2023’s UN theme ‘Cracking the Code: Innovation for a gender equal future’ illustrates the importance of transformative ideas, accessible education, and inclusive technologies in the fight to combat discrimination and the marginalisation of women globally.

The UN’s work and the importance of the IWD celebrations to their work to progress Global Gender Equality must be recognised.

Whilst the work of the UN is absolutely central to the observance of IWD, the day has never been ‘owned’ by one feminist body over another. As those of us working directly with industry to achieve greater representation of women across all sectors and in all levels of leadership know, there are systemic barriers and behaviours that must be addressed and for us, IWD is a day where we like to call for action in ways that are very specifically aligned to the DE&I agenda of businesses. Since 2000, a commercially sponsored site, has communicated hash tagged themes each year (not aligned with the themes published by the UN) that have resonated with these strategies.

In 2023 are promoting #EmbraceEquity.

There are many who feel that the corporatisation of IWD contradicts and removes focus from the work of the UN. This article gives a good sense of this perspective.

At NAWO, we choose not to buy into these polarising discussions.  IWD, and the days leading up to it, are a time to celebrate (in any way we can) the good work of our NAWO members and advocate the removal of systemic barriers to equitable outcomes and better gender balance in traditionally male dominated workplaces.

Every year we have delegates from our volunteer community who attend the UN Women IWD events, and we also find a way to weave the UN theme into our events and programming. We also use the hashtags throughout our IWD communication as they connect very well to NAWO’s Nine Levers and the work we do with our membership to advocate for the change that better’s the balance.

As with all our work, an intersectional approach to IWD is also extremely important to us here at NAWO. Diversity and inclusion are incomplete without intersectionality. That is also why we don’t believe that one organisation should claim ownership of the day and make it exclusive. There is a place for all kinds of women and allies to celebrate and honour International Women’s Day.

Keen to learn more about the history of International Women’s day? Here are some useful resources