Across the globe, we recognize women and their achievements on March 8. Although the holiday is not a federal one in the U.S., there are many countries – spanning from Afghanistan to Zambia – that observe International Women’s Day officially. From giving women mimosa flowers (Italy) to being the equivalent of Mother’s Day (Bulgaria and Romania), the customs are as diverse as the countries on March 8.
As a student studying abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, March 8 was a day to bring flowers or a small gift to important women in your life, including teachers. In fact, I have never seen so many flowers in one day, including Valentine’s Day in the U.S. Before going abroad, I had no real sense of how important March 8 was in other cultures.
While reflecting on International Women’s Day this year and how it is recognized across the globe, I wondered how the holiday came into being. According to UN Women, International Women’s Day came out of labor movements in the early 20th century in North America and Europe. The first National Women’s Day happened on February 28, 1909, to recognize the strike that women garment workers organized the previous year in New York to protest poor working conditions in factories.
During World War I, International Women’s Day became a venue to protest against the war and was an integral part of the peace movement. Russian women started to observe the day on the last Sunday in February, and women in Europe began recognizing it on or around March 8th with rallies to protest the war or support peace. In 1917, Russian women organized a strike for “Bread and Peace” which fell on March 8. A few days later the czar left the throne and women were granted the right to vote.
The United Nations proclaimed 1975 was International Women’s Year, and began recognizing March 8 as International Women’s Day. By 1977, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that officially recognized International Women’s Day, and that member states should observe the day “in accordance to their historical and national traditions.”
Even though the U.S. does not recognize March 8 as a federal holiday, many organizations devoted to women’s rights and empowerment, including InStepp, recognize the day. This year, InStepp held its annual March 8 International Women’s Day event, which focused on immigrant communities and the law. The event’s keynote speaker was the Honorable Remedios Gómez Arnau, the Consul General of Mexico for Raleigh, North Carolina.