International women’s day is celebrated on March 8th every year. The earliest Women’s Day observance, called “National Woman’s Day,” was held on February 28, 1909, in New York, organized by the Socialist Party of America at the suggestion of Theresa Malkiel. The 1910 International Socialist Woman’s Conference suggested a Women’s Day be held annually. After women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. The day was then predominantly celebrated by the socialist movement and communist countries until it was adopted in 1975 by the United Nations. Nowadays, International Women’s Day is a public holiday. In some countries, it is a day of protest; in others, it is a day to celebrate womanhood.
Women have made strides in gaining equalizing rights throughout history, from the right to vote to the current push for equal pay for equal work. Notably, Representative Jeannette Rankin was the first woman to serve in federal office, sworn into the 65th U.S. Congress in 1917. The 19th Amendment, stating “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” was passed in Congress in 1919 and ratified in 1920; this amendment ensured female suffrage.
Fast forward to the year 2018, when 131 women were elected to serve in the U.S. Congress. The 116th Congress is the most diverse in history, and women are represented now more than ever before. Current Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi from California’s 12th Congressional District, expressed, “It gives me pride to be the woman Speaker of the House of this Congress, which marks 100 years since women won the right to vote, and as we serve with more than 100 women.” With a total of 535 seats in the U.S. Congress (435 representatives and 100 senators), the number of 131 women in these seats is about 24%. From 1 seat to 131, our nation saw an immense increase in representation for women at the federal level.
Today, we celebrate the accolades of women throughout history along with the women who are making history in the present. This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is: “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. The focus of the theme is on innovative ways in which to advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.
Happy International Women’s Day!