EXPLAINER: What is International Women's Day, and why we absolutely still need it.

Last year was another big year in the push for gender equality, but of course, we’re still not there.

Which is why the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, on Friday March 8, 2019, is so important.

This years’ IWD theme is BalanceforBetter because a balanced world – a gender-balanced world – is a better world.

What is International Women’s Day?

Held annually on March 8, IWD is a global campaign dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s also used as a catalyst for accelerating gender equality, which is promoted each year via a central theme – IWD 2019’s slogan, for example, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”.

No one government, group or organisation is solely responsible for implementing IWD, meaning it’s marked in a variety of different ways in different parts of the world; from marches to exhibitions, conferences to concerts. In some countries, including Afghanistan, China and Uganda, it’s even observed as a national holiday.

How did International Women’s Day begin?

The roots of IWD stretch back over 100 years to the start of the era of protest.

Industrialisation had seen record numbers of women make the leap the paid workforce, where they were met with segregated jobs, woeful working conditions and even worse pay. On top of this, only three countries had granted women the right to vote in federal elections – New Zealand, Australia (presuming the voter wasn’t Indigenous) and Finland – and only the latter had any female representatives sitting in parliament.

With growing discontent and no one to represent their interests, women took to the streets to have their voices heard. Among them, 15,000 female garment workers who went on strike in New York in 1908 demanding equity in the workplace; an event that inspired a dedicated day for American women’s causes in 1909.


The following year 100-plus representatives attending the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference pledged at their meeting in Cophenhagen to establish a worldwide equivalent, a day devoted to honouring the push for equal rights and universal suffrage.

On March 19, 1911, one million men and women rallied in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland to mark the first “International Women’s Day”. And a movement was born.

That proactive, protesting spirit was revived during the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and ’70s. And it was in the thick of that, in 1975 – International Women’s Year – that March 8 was officially adopted by the United Nations and IWD went truly global.

Why do we need International Women’s Day now?

Because according to a report by the World Economic Forum, gender parity is still over 200 years away.

Because only 6.3 per cent of current world leaders and are women.

Because a CEO of an ASX200 company is more likely to be named Andrew than be a woman.

Because female Australian workers are paid 15.3 per cent less than their male counterparts.

Because one in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner at some point in their life.

Because 200 million women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilation.

Because every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. And 99 per cent of those deaths occur in developing countries.

Because less than 40 per cent of countries provide girls and boys with equal access to education.


Because of the world’s 774 million illiterate adults, 2/3 are women; despite research showing a child born to a mother who can read is 50 per cent more likely to survive past age five.

Because this list barely scrapes the surface.

This article was originally published on 8 March 2018 and was updated on March 7 2019. 

Through Dress for Success’ Empower Hour campaign, it takes just a few minutes to change a woman’s life forever. Donate an hour of your pay this International Women’s Day and set a woman on her path to success by visiting