The history of International Women's Day

2017 marks the 106th IWD

A shelter at Jordan's largest refugee camp, Za'atari, where UN Women provides economic empowerment and protection programming for women and girls. (United Nations)

March 8, International Women’s Day, is a century-old tradition of acknowledging the significant role of women around the world.

Women make up more than 47 percent of the workforce and are dominant in professions, including registered nurses, dental assistants, cashiers, accountants and pharmacists, according to the U.S. Census. They make up at least a third of physicians and surgeons, as well as lawyers and judges. Women also represent 55 percent of all college students.

Still, American women continue to be paid less than men, earning 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. The median income for women was $40,742 in 2015, compared with $51,212 for men, according to census data.

The Global Gender Gap 2016 Report estimated the global gender gap won’t be closed for another 83 years, but for some countries, it will take more than 120 years.


Established by the United Nations in the early 1900s, the day is meant to be a celebration and a call for gender equality.

The first U.S. National Women’s Day was in 1909, when garment workers went on strike in New York to protest women’s working conditions.

The next year at a meeting in Copenhagen, International Women’s Day was established, but no fixed date was planned. In 1911, Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland hosted International Women’s Day on March 11, with millions attending rallies, according to the U.N.

In 2011, former President Barack Obama declared the month of March to be “Women’s History Month.”

More than 100 countries participate on March 8. The day is celebrated with thousands of events around the world, honoring women’s achievements.

This year, for the second time, the U.N. also recognized women’s accomplishments in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, for International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

The theme of 2017’s Women’s Day selected by the U.N. is “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work.”

International Women’s Day is followed by a U.N. session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This year will mark the 61st session and runs from March 13-24.


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