March 8, marks International Women’s Day (IWD). Observed since 1911, the day celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Furthermore, it marks a call to action for accelerating gender equality. The day is centered in unity, celebration, reflection, advocacy, and action—whatever that looks like from thinking globally and acting locally.
Yes, women won the right to vote, attend college, and are CEOs, astronauts, and doctors. We can work and have a family. We can dream and act upon them. This is what we celebrate: how the world has experienced significant change in women’s equality and emancipation and all the people who relentlessly worked to achieve that.
But there are more battles to be fought. The gender pay gap is still there (yes, for the exact same work), paid maternity leave is not, and though more women are in the boardroom, they are still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Furthermore, on a global scale, women's education, health, and the violence against them is worse than that of men.
That’s why the theme for IWD is #BeBoldForChange. The site reads, “Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world—a more gender inclusive world." Last year, individuals supported the #PledgeForParity campaign, but the World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won't close entirely until 2186. The #BeBoldForChange campaign hopes to encourage people to take groundbreaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women now.
Because IWD is as good a day as any and better than most for words and action for equality, thousands of events—conferences, corporate events, awards, exhibitions, festivals, fun runs, concerts, theatric performances, and more—are set to take place around the globe. Find an event close to you here.
The History of IWD
In the early 1900s, women's oppression and inequality were spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change, demanding shorter hours, better pay, and voting rights. Then Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women's Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, tabled the idea for the holiday at the 1910 International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. A year later, IWD was honored for the first time on March 19, 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland.
Rallies took place throughout these countries, gathering millions of men and women alike, who fought for issues such as job training, the ability to hold public office, and an end to discrimination. The tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City that took the lives of more than 140 workingwomen the following week drew significant attention to working conditions and labor legislation in the United States.
However, by the new millennium, feminism was no longer at the forefront and IWD activity stalled. To re-energize the day as an important platform to celebrate the achievements of women and to end gender disparities, the global internationalwomensday.com digital hub was launched in 2001. A decade later on the occasion of IWD’s 100-year centenary, President Barack Obama proclaimed March to be "Women's History Month."
La Festa della Donna: IWD in Italy
IWD was officially recognized in Italy in 1922, but wasn’t celebrated throughout the peninsula until after WWII. In 1946, the Unione Donne in Italia decided to choose the bright yellow flowers of the Mimosa to symbolize the event. Not only does it blossom at the beginning of March, but its color is a symbol of vitality and joy. And so it became custom for Italian men to gift their mothers, wives, and daughters with Mimosa on IWD as a sign of respect and solidarity with them in their support for oppressed women worldwide. Many florists donate parts of their proceedings to projects related to women’s causes, such as shelters for women subject to violence, breast cancer research, or co-operatives run by women in third world countries.
Naturally, Italians also prepare for the festivities with dessert. And what’s more fitting than Mimosa cake? In addition to its color, its texture is also reminiscent of the Mimosa—the crumbled sponge cake is akin to the buds of the flower. Even better is that it’s simple to make. Bake two sponge cakes and cover the bottom layer with custard (crema pasticcera) and whipped cream (panna montata). Then cover the top layer with a crumble finish.
One more Italian tradition is girls night out, otherwise known here in the States as GNO. The idea is for women to celebrate each other, typically through dinner and parties. But there are also many cultural initiatives, like free admission to museums and archeological sites for women.