It’s an understatement to say that this world was not built for women. It’s evident in the leaders we choose, in the violence we see, and in the political and social structures that have been built, and propagated, in order to keep women down.
But this Sunday, International Women’s Day, is meant to be an outlier. IWD is a global holiday to celebrate women’s social, economic, cultural, and political achievements and act as a much-needed call for gender parity.
The idea for IWD first began in 1908 New York City, when thousands of female garment workers went on strike, protesting their working conditions and lack of voting power. The strikes went on for more than a year, and in commemoration, the Socialist Party of America led efforts to create a National Women’s Day. Now, IWD is marked every year on March 8th. Women often wear purple or receive flowers, and in some countries, it’s even an official holiday. However, in others, IWD can mean large protests or commercial sales.
Wherever you are, IWD is a day to take stock of all that women have accomplished—and how much still must change. But if you’re wondering how people around the world spend their IWD, read on.
Russia first observed IWD in February 1913, but it wasn’t until 1917 that the country had arguably its most important IWD. That year, women held a demonstration for “bread and peace” in response to World War I, and according to TIME, the protests evolved into daily mass worker strikes. Shortly after, the Tsar abdicated, and Russian women gained the right to vote the same year. Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated more along the lines of Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, where women are gifted flowers and chocolate. As ABC News reports, the celebrations now “tend to promote determinedly old-fashioned visions of what women’s roles should be.”
Although IWD is not an official holiday in the U.S., people still participate with political protests and corporate events, while celebrities and businesses might use the day to launch or celebrate female-focused projects. For example, this year, Netflix announced it’d be partnering with UN Women for the launch of Because She Watched, a collection of series, documentaries, and films that celebrate the power of telling women’s stories. In 2019, the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team sued U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination on IWD.
In Italy, IWD is known as La Festa della Donna, and people hand out yellow mimosa blossom flowers to the women in their lives. According to The Independent, mimosa blossoms are seen as a “symbol of female strength and stability,” and some Italians even make a special cake decorated to look like small blooms of mimosa flowers.
IWD is a well-known holiday in China and has been celebrated since 1924, when women are usually given a half-day off from work. But according to Adage, while the holiday used to focus on older women in society, companies have tried to rebrand the holiday as a consumer shopping day, with the e-commerce giant Alibaba naming it “Queen’s Day.”
Berlin officially made IWD a public holiday in 2019, giving workers and students the day off. Known as Frauentag, Fortune reports that residents have celebrated with a number of protests as well as a feminist film festival. Back in former east Germany, IWD was seen as a day to celebrate the work of women, and people would often hand out red carnations.
Five million female workers held a 24-hour strike in Spain during 2018’s IWD in order to protest against domestic violence, sexual discrimination, and the gender pay gap. There were rallies in more than 200 locations throughout the country.
In 2018, women and men across France reportedly left work at 3:40 P.M. in order to protest the country’s wage gap. (In France, the gap makes it so women are essentially working for free every day after 3:40 P.M.) Then last year on IWD, France awarded its first-ever Simone Veil prize, named after a French politician, to Aissa Doumara Ngatansou, a Cameroonian activist who works to prevent forced marriages and violence against women.
Women in South Korea have used IWD as a day of political protest. In 2018, women and men rallied together, holding up #MeToo signs as a symbol of the country’s reckoning with sexual harassment and misconduct. In 2019, women marched in witches costumes as a way to denounce what they called a “witch hunt” against feminists. This year, South Korea’s first feminist political party plans to launch on IWD with a vow to fight for equal pay and end voyeurism against women.
Last year, women in Istanbul flooded the streets to protest against domestic violence and celebrate International Women’s Day. The rally happened despite a protest ban that was put in place shortly before the event. The Turkish police ended up using tear gas on protesters, a turn from the peaceful demonstration that took place in the city the year prior.
On IWD, it’s expected that female protesters will march into the streets of Mexico, but the real action won’t come until the day after. This year, on March 9th, a number of Mexican women are planning a daylong strike in order to protest gender-based violence and inequality in the country. According to the New York Times, the strike’s hashtag is #UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS (A Day Without Us).
Similar to past years, women in Pakistan have plans to hold an Aurat March on this year’s IWD (aurat being the Urdu word for “women”). The Aurat March Twitter explains that women will be marching for “socio-economic, reproductive and environmental justice and the right to our city,” and people have even begun tweeting with the hashtag #WhyIMarch. It was also reported through Twitter that while some made feminist artwork in order to advertise the march, the posters have since been ripped down.