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International Women’s Day: Its History and Values

March 7, 2020

International Women's Day is celebrated on 8th March globally, is a day to recognise achievements of women in political, cultural, social and economic disciplines. It is a collective celebration of womanhood with an aim to campaign for women’s rights. The day calls for actions towards accelerating gender parity

Although there is a common consensus that every day is women’s day, let us briefly look at the history of International Women’s Day, the values that drive the celebration, and the theme for this year.

What’s the history of International Women’s Day?

A common version regarding the origin of International Women’s Day is that it was established in 1907 to mark the 50th anniversary of a protest by female garment and textile workers in New York. However, debunks this myth. According to them the protest in 1857 may have never happened, and the origin myth propagated in 1950s was an attempt to separate International Women’s Day from its socialist roots

In 1909, the first National Women’s Day took place on 28 February in New York in accordance with the declaration of Socialist Party of America. The party wanted it to be on a Sunday so that working women could participate.

The idea of celebrating women’s day spread across Europe. During a second International Conference of Working Women held in Copenhagen in 1910, the idea of celebrating women’s day on the same day in every country was proposed.

It was Russia who accidentally set the March 8 trend. Although International Women’s Day became a holiday in 1913, women in Russia continued to suffer during World War II. Their cries for food shortage were ignored by the government. On March 8th, 2017, women took to the streets demanding change in situation as well as for voting rights.

In 1975, the United Nations celebrated International Women’s Day for the first time.

What values guide International Women’s Day?

The global focus of International Women’s Day is equality. It is guided by values that provide direction for the type of action, behaviour and ethos associated with the globally celebrated day. The ten values are: justice, dignity, hope, equality, collaboration, tenacity, appreciation, respect, empathy, and forgiveness.

International Women’s Day calls for actions and campaigns across the world based on these values to achieve their goals. In 1996, the United Nations adopted an annual theme - Celebrating the past, Planning for the future - for the first time. Since then every year a theme was included to celebrate Women’s Day.

The campaign theme for 2020 is #EachForEqual. ‘An equal world is an enabled world.’ The current theme draws global attention towards problems of gender inequality that has thwarted socio-economic development of women. It states that gender inequality is not just women’s issue but affects economies too. It reiterates gender equality is paramount to sustainable economic progress.

A study released by the UN on 5th March, 2020 reveals 90% of people - both men and women - are biased against women. 40% of respondents believed men made better executives in the labour market.

Women are also paid much less compared to their men counterparts globally. However, in Singapore the gender pay has diminished over the years. According to a new study by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and National University of Singapore, the gender pay gap was 6% in 2018 compared to 8.8% in 2002 which is lower than the United States, Canada and China.

In its efforts towards achieving gender parity at the workplace, major corporations have committed to having 50% women in managerial and senior positions in years to come. While there is still a long way to go before parity is achieved in boardrooms, this is still a step forward in identifying the importance of a diverse workforce as well as removing barriers for women and providing equal opportunity. Technology platforms like Sendhelper in Singapore leverage on technology to empower women by providing job opportunities and earn on their own terms.

According to International Women’s Day, the race is not only for gender equal boardroom, but also “for gender equal government, gender equal media coverage, gender equal workplaces, gender equal sports coverage, more gender equality in health and wealth.”

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