International Women's Day

On Friday 8 March women around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD had its genesis in events of the early 1900s, when women in places such as Europe, North America and Australia began demanding an end to inequality, and access to equal pay, better working conditions and voting rights. As outlined by UN Women Australia:

In 1910, Clara Zetkin, the leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day at the second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. The proposal received unanimous assent from over one hundred women representing seventeen countries.
The very first International Women’s day was held the following year on March 19th. Meetings and protests were held across Europe with the largest street demonstration attracting 30,000 women. The day sparked great public debate, and advocates drew attention to the absolute necessity of extending the right to vote to women to make parliament more democratic. In 1913, IWD was transferred to March 8th and has been held on this day ever since.
In 1975 the United Nations celebrated International Women’s Year, and officially adopted 8 March as International Women’s Day. In December 1977 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions.
IWD is now an official holiday in Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China (for women only), Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar (for women only), Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal (for women only), Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zambia.
IWD in Australia
In Australia, International Women’s Day has been informally celebrated since the early 1920s. The first Australian IWD rally, organised by the Militant Women’s Movement of the Communist Party of Australia, took place on March 25 1928 in the Sydney Domain. IWD marches in Sydney and Melbourne occurred in 1931.
IWD gained momentum in Australia around the time of the Second World War. Activists such as Jessie Street campaigned for women’s rights as workers, as women at the time were often paid only 54 per cent of men’s wages. During International Women’s Year in 1975 large marches marked International Women’s Day. The Whitlam government supported a series of events throughout the year including the Women and Politics Conference in September which examined how women were represented in Australian politics.
These days, International Women’s Day is marked in Australia with a diverse array of events including marches, rallies and fundraising events.
Ending violence against women
The theme for IWD 2013 is ‘A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women’. Violence against women continues to be an issue of significant concern around the world. A World Health Organization multi-country study found that:
  • between 15 per cent of women in Japan and 71 per cent of women in Ethiopia reported physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime;
  • between 0.3–11.5 per cent of women reported experiencing sexual violence by a non-partner since the age of 15 years;
  • the first sexual experience for many women was reported as forced – 17 per cent in rural Tanzania, 24 per cent in rural Peru, and 30 per cent in rural Bangladesh.
In an Australian survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 2005 it was estimated that one in three women had experienced physical violence and almost one in five had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. In an effort to address this alarming statistic, governments across Australia have agreed on a National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children which sets out a framework for action over a 12 year period from 2010 to 2022. More information on efforts to address violence against women in Australia can be found in the Parliamentary Library background note Domestic violence in Australia–an overview of the issues.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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