What does International Women’s Day mean in 2023?

07/03/2023     2 min 50 sec read     By Ahlem Khattab

Women marching the streets of Washington D.C., United States in October 2021 (Gayatri Malhotra / Unsplash)

Three organizations that work daily to achieve gender equality tell us what March 8 means to them.

It’s on most newsrooms’ calendar: International Women’s Day (IWD). What stories to publish to mark the day? How to make it different from what we did the previous year? How to stand out?

Behind all these questions, another one might arise, said or unsaid: with all that is happening in the world, what is even the point of IWD?

We asked three organizations that work to achieve gender equality every single day what March 8 means to them.

“It’s important to remember that International Women’s Day has its roots in working-class struggles and the suffrage movements of the early 20th century,” tells us Equal Measures 2030. The UK-based organization has been monitoring progress on gender equality since 2016. For its team, it’s now more necessary than ever to reconnect with the past to move forward. “It’s a single day that provides an opportunity to show how unequal systems and structures hold women — especially women from marginalised and excluded groups — back the other 364 days of the year.”

Despite claims that it originated after women workers marched the streets of New York (United States) for their rights in 1857 or 1908, Women’s Day as a concept was actually agreed upon in 1910 at the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference, taking place in Copenhagen (Denmark). But one thing that the myth got right: workers were at the origins of IWD. And the day took on such an importance for some of them that it helped start a revolution in Russia on March 8, 1917. Fifty-eight years later, the United Nations celebrated its first official International Women’s Day.

“We are proud to follow in the footsteps of these brave women and stand in solidarity with all women across the world in our demand for gender equity,” says Roopa Dhatt, who co-founded Women in Global Health in 2015. For her, too, this day remains important to celebrate because despite the progress made since the 1910s, “there is still much work to be done.”

Being a physician and the executive director of a women-led global movement made up of health workers of all kinds, she gives as an example the care sector. “Women provide essential health and care services for around 5 billion people and contribute an estimated US$3 trillion annually to global health, but half of this is in the form of unpaid work.” As for paid work, according to estimates by the World Health Organization in 2021, women account for 70% of the health and social workforce while they only hold 25% of leadership positions in the field. 

“So in effect, women continue to deliver health while men lead it.” Which is why Roopa Dhatt believes Women’s Day should also be about recognition for women’s “tremendous contribution to individuals, families, communities and countries.”

Equimundo (formerly known as Promundo-US) agrees. Founded in 2011, the NGO promotes gender equality through developing ways to engage boys and men in the process. “International Women’s Day, on March 8, is an important day in globally recognizing and championing the women and girls who have helped to advance our societies in everything from science and technology to the care that they provide to sustain homes and families.”

“International Women’s Day was born out of collective action and this is what March 8th should be about: a celebration and continuation of feminist struggle,” sums up Equal Measures 2030.

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