Female protesters in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) on 8 March 1917. Photograph: Fototeca Storica Nazionale/Getty Images

The Surprising History of International Women’s Day

The Surprising History of International Women’s Day

At Different Kind, we’ve always been huge supporters of International Women’s Day. Even before we launched we knew that helping other people to celebrate the day would be a big part of who we were.

This year we’ve pulled together a celebratory round-up of gifts that are perfect to send to the women in your life.


But International Women’s Day has been going on for quite a bit longer than we expected. In fact, the first official Women’s Day took place in 1909. Campaigns for equal voting rights were picking up steam in many different countries. New Zealand had granted all women - regardless of class or ethnicity - the right to vote in 1893, followed by Finland in 1906.

But in many countries, the suffrage movement was dominated by the middle and upper classes - the right to vote was often dependent on literacy (such as in Argentina) or paying taxes and owning property (Sweden, The Austrian Empire, the United States). When British women won the vote in 1918, it was limited to property owners over 30: true equality only came in 1928.

The Women’s Day movement, however, came from the working classes. The 1909 day was organised by the Socialist Party of America - and deliberately held on a Sunday so that working women could attend rallies and marches without losing jobs or wages.

The idea spread. On March 19th in 1911, women in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland marched for equal rights, equal pay and the right to vote and hold office. The first March 8th Women’s Day happened in Russia in 1917 - women went on strike, demanding ‘bread and peace’ - an end to the First World War, food shortages and Czarist rule. It was a spark that fed the Russian Communist revolution.

That association muted interest in many parts of the world - the Communist governments of China and Spain being exceptions - until the 1960s when the feminist movement gave International Women’s Day new life - using it to amplify a variety or issues, including reproductive rights, the rights of gay women, accessible child care and safety at night.

In 1975, the United Nations recognised International Women’s Day. They now allocate a theme each year - this year’s is about digital and technological innovation. But women all over the world continue to celebrate by giving gifts - in Italy, mimosa flowers have become traditional - or using it as a day to focus political action.

However you choose to celebrate, we’re here with you - standing with our sisters from every part of the world.

IMAGE CREDIT: SOPA Images/LightRocket