Explainer-International Women’s Day: date, history and this year’s theme

FILE PHOTO: Protest against femicide and violence against women, in Istanbul

By Josie Kao

(Reuters) - As International Women's Day (IWD) approaches on Wednesday, here is a look at what the global event stands for, this year's theme and the issues that activists are focusing on.

On Tuesday, Spain unveiled a bill to boost the share of women in politics and business, including a proposed requirement that women hold at least 40% of seats on the boards of directors at large companies.


IWD is an annual event to celebrate the achievements of women and push for rights progress. It has roots in the U.S. socialist and labour movements of the early 20th century, particularly as women were fighting for better working conditions and the right to vote.

The first recorded celebration was in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland when over a million people rallied to support women's rights.

Since then, the event has grown not only in size but also in its scope. Focus has expanded to issues ranging from violence against women to parity in the workplace.

While no single group has ownership of the event, the United Nations is often at the forefront of celebrations after it officially recognized IWD in 1977. However, celebrations around the world are usually decentralized, though some countries recognize IWD as a public holiday, including China, Russia and Uganda.


The U.N.'s theme this year is "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality." The topic highlights how technology is crucial to advancing rights but a growing digital gender gap is impacting everything from women's job opportunities to safety online.

According to the U.N., 259 million fewer women have access to the internet than men, and women are largely underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.

"Bringing women into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality," says the U.N.'s website. "Their lack of inclusion, by contrast, comes with massive costs."

Previous U.N. themes have included climate change, rural women and HIV/AIDS.


While the U.N.'s theme this year underscores how the fight for gender equality has evolved in the 21st century, celebrations around the world are also focused on longstanding issues including poverty and violence.

A World Health Organization report in 2021 found that nearly one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime, an issue that ties in with women's economic opportunities, access to sex education and reproductive rights.

In recent years, there has also been a push to make IWD more inclusive of racialized women as well as of transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people, since the early movement was largely focused on cisgender white women fighting for voting rights.

While IWD is a chance to raise awareness on rights gaps, organizers also use the day to celebrate progress and the achievements of individual women.

(Reporting by Josie Kao in Toronto; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)