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International Women's Day 2016

Tuesday 8 March is International Women’s Day, a day that has now been commemorated for over 100 years in recognition of women’s economic, social and cultural achievements. International Women’s Day was officially recognised by the United Nations in 1975 during International Women’s Year. It arose from early North American and European labour, suffrage and peace movements, and was first celebrated informally in Australia in the 1920s.


Originally marked with rallies to promote greater economic and social participation of women through fundamental reforms, the United Nations (UN) organisation for gender equality, UN Women, has noted that:


International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension for women in developed and developing countries alike. The growing international women’s movement, which has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences, has helped make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and participation in the political and economic arenas. Increasingly, International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities.


The UN Women website includes a useful summary of how the day has evolved.

2016 theme: Step It Up for Gender Equality

The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is ‘Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality.’ This connects with the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which sets out to replace the Millennium Development Goals with 17 Sustainable Development Goals to achieve by 2030. It will also focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, the global campaign to close the gender equality gap.


Significantly, one of the Sustainable Development Goals is a ‘stand-alone gender goal’ recognising gender equality and women’s empowerment as a pre-condition for achieving all Sustainable Development Goals in less than two decades. The Agenda was adopted by 193 UN Member States in 2015, including Australia.


The Step it Up initiative calls on governments worldwide to make national commitments that will address gaps in gender equality. On 27 September 2015, Australia submitted its Commitment Statement to the Global Leader’s Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. This statement, made alongside commitments from some 89 other countries, outlines concrete actions to tackle a broad range of factors that perpetuate gender inequality in the Asia–Pacific region.


Australia’s domestic commitments are designed to increase women’s workforce participation in line with G20 targets and to decrease dramatically the incidence of violence against women and children. Australia has also committed to being at the forefront of regional initiatives, allocating funding to promote women’s economic and leadership participation, focused on Indo-Pacific neighbours.

A continuing focus on gender-based violence

UN Women views the existence of gender-based violence as an impediment to realising gender equality more broadly. Revisiting the 2013 theme, International Women’s Day events this year in Australia will highlight the persistent scale of the problem in the Asia–Pacific region.


In 2015, there was an increased focus on the issue of domestic family violence in Australia, which included the announcement by the Turnbull Government of a Women’s Safety Package in addition to funds committed under the Second Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010–2022. The Parliamentary Library has recently released a number of publications on this topic, including a research paper, Domestic violence: issues and policy challenges and a blog post to mark White Ribbon Day 2015.


If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault or family violence, visit ANROWS Get Support website or call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), the 24 hour, National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line.