12th March 2020

International Women’s Day: now and then

Writer Serafina Kenny looks at the history of International Women’s Day, and how Manchester celebrated in 2020
International Women’s Day: now and then
International Women’s Day photo: Markéta Machová at Pixabay

International Women’s Day (IWD) is a worldwide celebration of women’s achievements held on the 8th of March every year. It consists of festivals, conferences, arts and culture shows, charity events, exhibitions, and, in some instances, protests.

All the events are intended to “Celebrate women’s achievement. Raise awareness against bias. Take action for equality”,  according to the official IWD website. It has become an important opportunity to raise awareness for women’s rights and equality, to raise funds for charities that focus on women’s issues, and to champion women.

It officially began in 1911, inspired by previous smaller scale events organised by socialist parties in New York City and Denmark. It was initially a Communist holiday, even merging with the first Bolshevik revolution in 1918.  IWD was used to push for female suffrage, with protests and demonstrations taking place all over the world to fight for votes for women. 

In the 1970s, a group of second-wave feminists took up the holiday and used it to protest for equal rights, equal pay and equal opportunities, making it into a day for activism in Europe and North America too. IWD grew in public awareness once the UN celebrated it for the first time in 1975, with the introduction of annual themes in 1996.

The celebrations have gotten bigger and bigger every year, with many governments and organisations making special arrangements for the day — Google produces a special Google Doodle each year, and in 2011 the Australian government released a commemorative coin.

Closer to home in Manchester, there were plenty of events to get involved with this year for IWD. 

The University of Manchester’s very own Feminist Collective put on live performances and a market of female artists and entrepreneurs at Hatch on Oxford Road. On the day after IWD, they also hosted an afternoon of guest speakers, tote bag making, and coffee in the SU’s Hive with a collection of sanitary products for Manchester Foodbank.

The Pankhurst Centre, located next to St. Mary’s Hospital, threw a variety of celebrations for the day in aid of the Pankhurst Trust, their parent charity. A book launch, flag making workshop and choir performance were all held in the house where the iconic Manchester suffragette family, the Pankhursts, lived.  

The Manchester Walk for Women was also a notable event for the third year in a row; hundreds turned out to march from Victoria Street to St. Peter’s Square to celebrate Manchester’s women. This was followed by pop-up performances and stalls in the Square hosted by Manchester Central Library for networking and further celebrations, and definitely something to look out for next IWD!

The fifth annual Women in Media Conference also happened over the weekend of 7th-8th March, with inspirational panels and workshops on all aspects of the media industry, such as ‘Women in Conflict Journalism’ and ‘Building Your Brand’. There were also some important speakers at the event, such as actress and feminist activist Nicola Thorp and Dorothy Byrne, head of news and affairs at Channel 4. 

It’s important to think about taking action for equality throughout the year, and SU Women’s Officer, Ayla Huseyinoglu, has asked people to sign a petition, to get better protection from Greater Manchester Police for students against gender based and sexual violence in honour of IWD, which you can do here:

With such a variety of inclusive and fun events in Manchester alone, International Women’s Day continues to be a positive and empowering celebration more than 100 years since it began.

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