International Women's Day, Women's History Month 101: What you need to know about the celebration
You know it’s almost March when brands and organizations are announcing events, campaigns, and promos leading up to International Women’s Month.
Although women–whether they're queer, trans, or cisgender—deserve to be celebrated throughout the year, March is officially the perfect opportunity to put the spotlight on women and their contributions across several disciplines. It’s also the time to reflect on the ongoing injustices they go through.
To truly understand the essence of Women’s Month, here are the things that you should know about the historic celebration.
International Women's Day roots
Everything started in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a point in time when women weren't allowed to vote and the majority of them were hired as domestic servants. While there were opportunities for women in the business and industrial sector, working conditions and better wages have always favored men.
In 1908, some 15,000 working women marched through New York, demanding shorter work hours, better pay, and voting rights.
Years after that, many parties followed, hosting international conferences for women all over the world including America, Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland. The inaugural National Women's Day, however, was celebrated every February 28, and February 23 in Russia. According to the Gregorian calendar, however, the date should've been March 8.
Future discussions agreed to make March 8 the official International Women's Day worldwide, and it was in 1975 that the event gained ground when the United Nations officially recognized its celebration.
From Women's History Week to Women's History Month
During the International Women's Day centenary in 2011, then United States president Barack Obama announced that that year's March should be known as Women's History Month, calling on Americans to reflect on the "extraordinary accomplishments" of women in shaping their history.
But according to History's website, Women's History Month emerged from a 1978 weeklong celebration of dozens of schools in Sonoma in California, where it honored women's contributions to culture, history, and society. The schools held presentations, hosted essay contests, and organized a parade.
The idea, then, propagated across communities in the U.S. and held their respective celebrations.
Things were made official in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter issued the first presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women's History Week. The U.S. Congress also passed a resolution for the celebration next year.
The National Women's History Alliance has been organizing annual activities for the week-long celebration. Since the dates of the week of March 8 were changing every year, proposals were made to just expand the celebration to the entire month.
By 1986, 14 states already declared March as Women’s History Month. This prompted the U.S. Congress to declare March as the National Women's History Month in 1987.
Legal mandate in the Philippines
The late president Cory Aquino signed three laws to serve as legal bases for the celebration, known locally as the National Women's Month.
She has signed a few proclamations between 1988 and 1990, including one where Aquino declared the first week of March every year as Women's Week and March 8 as Women's Rights and International Peace Day.
Colors also play a role in this celebration. Purple, green, and white have been the traditional colors for International Women's Day, originating from the Women's Social and Political Union in the United Kingdom in 1908.
"Purple signifies justice and dignity. Green symbolizes hope," the IWD website said. "White represents purity, albeit a controversial concept," pertaining to chastity.
Each year’s celebration is centered on a theme. For 2023, the International Women's Day website is using the hashtag #EmbraceEquity for its campaign.
It pointed out how equity often used interchangeably with equality though have different meanings.
"Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities," the website noted. "Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances, and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome."
The United Nations meanwhile, announced this year's theme, "DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality." The UN said 37% of women worldwide don't use the internet. This means 259 million fewer women have internet access than men, though women account for nearly half the world's population.
The UN aims to increase gender equality in the tech, pointing out that if women cannot access the internet, more so feel safe online, they're unable to develop the necessary digital skills to engage in digital spaces.
"Bringing women into technology results in more creative solutions and has greater potential for innovations that meet women’s needs and promote gender equality," it said. "Their lack of inclusion, by contrast, comes with massive costs."
For its part, the Philippine Commission on Women Board Members and Inter-Agency Technical Working Group set the local theme "WE for gender equality and inclusive society" for National Women's Month celebration for the year 2023 up to 2028.
The theme, according to the PCW website, "sparks a renewed commitment to the advocacy and banks on the gains achieved during the 2016 to 2022 theme, WE Make CHANGE Work for Women." The latter emphasized the need for compassionate and harmonized networks toward gender equality and women empowerment.
This year's celebration, the PCW said, is a testament to the milestones achieved in closing gender gaps in the country and in gathering more support for the advocacy.
In line with the UN's set theme, the PCW will hold a day-long conference gathering advocacy partners, policymakers, information and communications technology experts, government workers, and the private sector.
It said it will also hold online lectures like "ChatGE: Talk about Gender Equality" (March 15), "Safe in Tech, Innovation, and Cyberspace" (March 22), and "KasamaALL: Inclusivity in Innovation and Technology" (March 29).