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Expert Comment: International Women’s Day - An evolving history

Sonja Tiernan Tuesday 8 March 2016

Senior Lecturer in History and Politics Sonja Tiernan looks at the history of International Women’s Day and whether it remains as relevant now as when it was introduced. 

Is there really still a need for International Women’s Day? This worldwide event has been celebrated for over one hundred years. The reason why this annual event was established and how it has been marked has evolved greatly over the last century but until global gender equality is achieved there will still be a need for International Women’s Day.

The exact year of the first International Woman’s Day is heavily disputed. The celebrations have socialist roots, the first National Woman’s Day in the United States was held on 28 February in 1909 to honour the recent garment workers’ strike in New York. The following year the International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen called on delegates from 100 countries to establish an international Women’s Day to support the campaign for female suffrage. International Women’s Day changed focus with the onset of World War One, it was then used as a mechanism to protest against the hostilities.

Now International Women’s Day is observed on 8th March annually, taking time to ‘celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women.’ This year the theme is ‘Pledge for Parity’ to help women to advance equal to their numbers. This theme is particularly pertinent to women in Ireland this week. The results of the general election there has seen more women elected to the lower house of the Irish Parliament than ever before. Women took 22.3 per cent of the seats contested in the election. This percentage may not seem like a huge step towards parity in politics. However, this is actually 40 per cent more women elected than in the last Irish general election of 2011.

The figures for Ireland are now on the way to achieving the EU average. This direction towards parity is a result of gender quotas being introduced in Ireland in 2012. The quotas required political parties to ensure that a minimum of 30 per cent of candidates standing for election must be women, or the party would suffer financially. The results of the election show that if women candidates stand for election, they will receive votes not because they are women but because they are viable political representatives. This is a major step to be celebrated.

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