Women’s Day: origin, history and curiosities

What does the Gregorian calendar have to do with the celebration of International Women's Day on March 8? Did you know that this day has been officially commemorated since the 1970s, when it was made official by the UN? Don't miss this and other curiosities about 8M in this article.

8m día mujer
Communication Team

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Origin of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day has been commemorated on 8 March by the United Nations since 1975, which had been declared International Women’s Year by this supranational organisation.

However, its historical origins can be found in various focal points in different years and in different countries, with women’s suffrage and improved working conditions being some of the great achievements that were sought when this day of protest began to be established.

Historical evolution of Women’s Day

Although it is not strictly linked to the commemoration of the day (which, as we shall see later, began in the 20th century), we should point to the relevance of the Declaration of Women’s and Citizens’ Rights.

In the context of the French Revolution, the French writer and philosopher Olympe de Gouges was inspired by the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in her adaptation, a plea in favour of women’s demands and for the real universalisation of human rights.

This declaration was a milestone in that it was one of the first historical documents advocating the legal and juridical equality of women with men.

Throughout the 19th century, and especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, the suffragette movement made progress in the struggle for women’s suffrage, as its name suggests. As we shall see below, this right was largely achieved throughout the 20th century.

Commemorations prior to the official UN declaration

According to the UN website, the first celebration of Women’s Day took place on 28 February 1909, when the Socialist Party of America designated this day in memory of the textile workers’ strike in New York the previous year.

Precisely in that period of time, specifically on 25 March 1911, and also in the Big Apple, another milestone of relevance for this day took place: the fire in a shirt-making factory in which almost 150 workers died, the vast majority of them women, who were unable to leave the place because the doors were locked.

This tragedy is one of the possible reasons for the purple colour as a symbol, as smoke of this colour was allegedly generated by the fabrics that burned. This has not been confirmed, although it does seem that lilac was the main colour of the fabrics used in the factory.

Whether the colour of the smoke is a legend or not, what is clear is that the magnitude of the tragedy marked a turning point in the struggle for the improvement of women’s labour rights and it is an event closely related to the demands related to Women’s Day.

Why is 23 February the 8th of March?

Although this may seem confusing, let us try to explain it.

Also in the decade of the 1910s, specifically in 1917 and within the framework of the Russian Revolution, the revolts against the Tsars and in favour of the end of World War I, led to a women’s strike which, under the slogan Bread and Peace, took place between the 23rd and 27th February… according to the Julian calendar.

That is, between 8 and 12 March in the Gregorian calendar used in the rest of Europe. A calendar that the USSR adopted in 1918, but that is a different story…

For this reason, and at the proposal of Alexandra Kollontai, the Soviet Union began to consider 8 March as an official holiday, albeit a working holiday, going one step further in 1965: the day also became a non-working day.

Evolution of women’s suffrage

One of the great historical demands linked to Women’s Day, as well as one of the symptoms of progress towards greater equality in society, is women’s suffrage.

In fact, in Copenhagen in 1910, hundreds of participants met at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women (the first had been in 1907) and decided to organise this day on an annual basis to reinforce the struggle for women’s suffrage.

A right that women had won for the first time in history in New Zealand at the end of the 19th century, specifically in 1893. However, it was not until 1919 that women were banned from being elected to public office.

In 1906, Finland became the first country in the world where women could be elected to parliament. In addition, by also allowing women to vote, the Nordic country (then part of the Russian Empire) became the first European country where women could vote.

In 1929, Ecuador made history by becoming the first Latin American country to allow women to vote.

Women’s suffrage in Spain

In Spain, women’s suffrage did not arrive until the 1933 elections, having been approved in 1931.

In 1933, women’s suffrage in Spain was granted to Clara Campoamor, Victoria Kent and Margarita Nelken, which highlighted the paradox that women could be elected, but could not vote.

Equality in the Telefónica Group

At Telefónica, as stated on our website, “we are committed to equal opportunities and firmly oppose any form of discrimination”.

Our Equality Policy expresses our desire to promote equality and reject discrimination based on gender in all areas of our activity.


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