International Women’s Day: What, When, and Why We Celebrate

Strong women support strong women… always. But that support takes on a unique and powerful meaning on International Women’s Day. Whether through the potent tap of a hashtag or simply by word of mouth, chances are you’ve heard of the holiday in some capacity. However, with a name that is as straightforward as it is lofty and vague, it’s reasonable to feel like you’re grasping at straws for a way to understand all that little #iwd2021 contains. And with a history that dates back to 1911, it contains a lot. So, when is International Women’s Day? What should you do to show your support and celebrate? And, most importantly, why do we celebrate? What notion are we amplifying with our voices? We’ll try to pin down the answers to these questions here.

WHEN is International Women’s Day?

Mark your calendars for March 8th, because that’s when International Women’s Day or IWD is celebrated around the globe each year. And while this annual date is solid and unchanging, the campaign theme is different each year, always reflecting an aim to which all efforts of the day will be directed towards. For IWD 2021, the theme is “Choose to Challenge”.

WHY that Day, Specifically?

Historically, and surprisingly, the first National Women’s Day was held in the U.S. by the Socialist Party of America on February 28, 1909. It’s fair to say its roots run deep, deep. But the first official International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 19, 1911 in Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, and Germany. The celebration was the result of a unanimous decision made at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen the previous year, where Clara Zetkin-- the leader of the “Women’s Office” for Germany’s Social Democratic Party—first proposed the idea for a set day dedicated to amplifying the demands of women worldwide.

It was in 1913, however, that International Women’s Day officially switched over to good ol’ March 8th. The date traces its roots to a WWI Russian women’s strike for “bread and peace,” which occurred on March 8, 1917.

WHAT is International Women’s Day?

Essentially, International Women’s Day is a full 24-hour period that is dedicated to “celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women” (via the official IWD website). It is also a day of global unification of all people committed to promoting and “accelerating” gender parity.

To break it down, use International Women’s Day to:

  • Uplift and honor all women’s achievements (both historically and recently)
  • Educate yourself and others about the significance of supporting women’s equality
  • Raise awareness about the existence of gender inequality to challenge complacency
  • Actively promote and advocate for gender parity through physical or online events
  • Fundraise for charities and organizations that are focused on supporting women and their agendas (see a full list on the IWD website)

WHAT Are the Colors & Logo of IWD and WHAT Do They Mean?

The official International Women’s Day logo is a purple, looping arrow that has a white stamp of female gender symbol (for reasons that seem, well, pretty obvious) inlaid within it. It is used to “support and unify activity that celebrates and drives women’s advancement,” hence, the arrow.

Besides purple, which is meant to symbolize justice and dignity, IWD’s other official colors include green (to symbolize hope), and white (to represent purity, traditionally, as controversial a concept as it is). All three of these colors find their origins in the Women’s Social and Political Union in the U.K. in year of 1908.

WHAT Does the 2021 Theme “Choose to Challenge” Mean?

In the words of the official International Women’s Day website: “A challenged world is an alert world. Individually, we’re all responsible for our own thoughts and actions—all day, every day… From challenge comes change, so let’s all choose to challenge.”

To us, “Choose to Challenge” means holding every decision and action up to the light, finding those toxic shadows of gender bias and disparity, and using our voices to call attention to them. The first step towards a world free from the long-expired shackles of gender inequality is voicing that, yes, they still exist, we see them, and we will not tolerate it. Choosing to challenge means always enforcing and re-enforcing the need to hold people accountable, it means sharpening our ideas of what an inclusive world looks like. Likewise, it means actively choosing to take steps forward, amplifying and celebrating women’s achievements as if they were our own—because they are.

WHAT Should I Do to Show Support?

To take part in the IWD 2021 #ChooseToChallenge theme, take a pic of yourself with your hand high to “show your commitment to choose to challenge inequality, call out bias, question stereotypes, and help forge and inclusive world” (via the official IWD website).

The official International Women’s Day website also has a full list of events (both in-person and virtual!) to celebrate and use the day to learn more about how you can show your support both on March 8th and every day, no matter where you are.

WHY Do We Still Need International Women’s Day?

While we’re certainly making intentional and confident strides towards gender equality, it’s clear that we are still nowhere close to achieving that ideal of gender parity. In fact, according to both the official IWD website and the World Economic Forum, none of us will live to see gender parity in our lifetime. What’s more, neither will many of our children. Gender inequality is an issue whose rot extends back centuries into human existence, and so it will require almost a century of work to fully remedy. But just because there’s hefty work to be done absolutely does not mean we should lean back and accept a man-made fate. There exists a great amount of power in doing what little part you can play in building a better, more inclusive world. Take up your role, play it proudly, and in 2021: choose to challenge. Yes, we women are strong. But we’re even stronger together. Together, we can move mountains, shift viewpoints, and re-form our reality to work for everyone, always.