International Women’s Day has celebrated the economic, cultural, political and social achievements of women for more than 100 years. From Greta Thunberg becoming an international sensation with her campaign for climate change last year to Chloe Kim snowboarding loops around Olympic records at the PyeongChang Games in 2018, women across the globe have been challenging stereotypes and the status quo.
The day isn’t simply a celebration — it’s a call to action for everyone to continue to push for complete gender equality.
The early 20th century was a time when women were becoming more active in their protests against oppression and gender inequality, leading marches and campaigns to demand equal rights. According to the official International Women's Day website, during the International Conference of Working Women in 1910, Clara Zetkin of Germany's Social Democratic Party proposed that a day be set aside every year across the world to celebrate women and reinforce their demands. The proposal was ultimately accepted and put into practice, starting in Germany and Europe and spreading across the globe over the years.
The first International Women’s Day was observed March 8, 1914. Even though International Women’s Day was decided upon in 1910, the tradition of celebrating it on March 8 took a few more years to decide upon.
In 1975, the United Nations announced that International Women’s Day would be an official day of observance for all of its member countries. Years later, the world body also instituted annual themes to promote the celebration of the day, such as “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future” and “World Free of Violence Against Women.”
Let our news meet your inbox. The news and stories that matters, delivered weekday mornings.
This year's theme is #BalanceforBetter, meant to promote a future in which both men and women are equal in professional status, media perception, the positions they hold in government and more. Whether it’s men supporting their female coworkers or women pushing into the STEM field, everyone has a part in promoting #BalanceforBetter. STEM programs stress education in science, technology, engineering and math.
Purple is the internationally recognized color to symbolize women while the combination of the colors green, purple and white is meant to represent women’s equality, according to the IWD website. Purple, or the combination of those colors, may be displayed to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Every country has its own special tradition for celebrating International Women’s Day. In Italy, for example, the day is celebrated by giving women a mimosa blossom. You can celebrate the day on social media by posting pictures of yourself with your hand out like a set of scales and using the hashtags #BalanceforBetter and #IWD2019. People also share posts of themselves celebrating the women in their lives and showing how they are actively working to support women.
Women have come a long way since that conference in 1910, and many people believe that most of the battles have already been won for women. But according to the IWD website, women are still not getting equal pay, there are lower proportions of women to men in government positions, and women’s education is still being withheld across the world. Battles have been won, but the battles aren't over yet.
Olivia Roos is a member of the NBC News Digital staff.
Polly DeFrank is the Director of News Research/Infocenter for NBC News.