What is International Women’s Day and Why Does It Matter?

February 28, 2023

International Women’s Day (IWD) is an annual event on March 8th, which celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world. This day not only honours the progress that has been made towards achieving gender equality and equity, but also serves as a call to action for further progress.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘Embrace Equity’. Gender equality and gender equity are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Unlike the concept of equality, embracing equity doesn’t mean treating everyone the same; it’s about recognising the distinct needs of individuals and supporting them equally.

The history of International Women’s Day

The first International Women’s Day was held in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. It was designed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848.

The day was first proposed by the German socialist Clara Zetkin, who believed that it should be a day dedicated to recognizing the struggle of women for equal rights and opportunities. The day was widely observed in Europe until the First World War, when it was temporarily suspended.

After the war, the event was revived and grew in popularity, becoming a global celebration of women’s rights and achievements. In 1975, the United Nations officially recognized International Women’s Day as an official event and began calling for a global commitment to achieving gender equality.

Why we need International Women’s Day

Despite immense progress over the years, the reality is that women all over the world still face inequality. International Women’s Day provides us with an opportunity to applaud the achievements of women and reflect on more we can do. 

For example, in some countries, women are excluded from certain basic rights, like having a bank account or being able to vote. Needless to say, gender inequality is far from being solved. 

The need for Gender Equity in the workplace

Equity is about recognising distinct differences and supporting them equally. In the workplace, gender equity is about creating a work environment that is free from discrimination and harassment, and that recognises the distinct needs of women and supports them equally to those of men.

However, women and men still face very different experiences in their career journeys. Just take the biological differences between men and women as an example. If a female employee chooses to become a parent, she will find her career disproportionately affected from taking time out to have a baby and care for an infant. In fact, research shows that the gender pay gap opens when a woman has her first child and never closes again. 

This is just one example. Trying to conceive and going through the fertility journey can cause huge disruption to any individual in their home and work life, but again, women are often disproportionately impacted. 

And even before this, painful periods and symptoms related to women’s health conditions like PCOS and Endometriosis are shown to be not only more prevalent than you might think, but also have a severe impact on a female colleague’s ability to perform their role.

Then later in life, every person with a uterus will experience menopause. While individuals may not all have the same experiences, some symptoms can be severe. In fact, research has shown that some women even opt to leave the workforce altogether due to symptoms, especially when workplace menopause support isn’t available . 

This constant battle between biological health and balancing work creates a very specific set of needs for women that, if not truly supported, make it impossible to achieve true gender equality in the workplace.

What can we do to make sure that International Women’s Day creates change for women?

As we celebrate International Women’s Day 2023, it is important to recognise the role that HR teams can play in supporting women in the workplace. By commemorating International Women’s Day in your organisation, you can take the first step in creating greater awareness of the inequalities and encourage yourselves and others to think about what more you can do.

HR professionals can help create a workplace environment that is equitable and inclusive by:

  • Developing policies and procedures to ensure equal pay for equal work.
  • Ensuring that women are adequately represented in leadership and decision-making roles.
  • Implementing training programs to address unconscious bias.
  • Encouraging diversity and inclusion through education and awareness.
  • Supporting the advancement of women in the workplace through mentorship and networking opportunities.
  • Listening to the needs of female colleagues more and understanding what you need to do to support them as individuals.
  • Show your support and commitment to getting it right. Support women’s charities and organisations and celebrate global female achievements.

Why International Women’s Day is important for businesses

Businesses have an important role to play in addressing some of the major areas in which women fall behind. Providing appropriate support for women in the workplace to ensure women aren’t disproportionately impacted by matters related to biological health is a big step forward to creating gender equity in the workplace. 

Of course, this makes for a supportive work environment for the employee, but the business benefits, too. As employers continue to grapple with objectives around recruiting, retaining and developing female talent, it’s clear to see how providing this kind of gender-specific support can help the business to retain important demographics. As such, preventing some women from feeling they have no other choice than to leave as result of struggling with health concerns, and who stay because they’re proud to work for an employer who is truly focussed on gender equity.

To find out more about how Peppy can help you create a culture of gender equity in your workplace, download our latest toolkit:  International Women’s Day 2023: A Toolkit for Women’s Health and Equity

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