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  • Mayowa Joseph

International Women's Day

Updated: Mar 17, 2021

What is IWD?

International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on 8th March annually, depending on the location, the whole of March can be used as a celebration. The aim of IWD is to celebrate the achievements of women and campaign for gender equality. It’s an official holiday in 27 countries including Afghanistan and Uganda [1].

The origin of the celebration can be traced back to a protest held in New York City in 1909 where 15,000 women campaigned for shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights [2]. This concerted effort for women’s rights was the beginning of their fight for equality in society. IWD is celebrated on the 8th March because of the ‘Bread and Peace’ protests held in Russia on the 8th March 1917 [3]. After WWII, there was discontentment amongst women on how they were being treated; 10,000s of women protested for equal treatment in society. Four days into the protest the Tsar was forced to abdicate and the temporary government that took over granted women the vote - a great achievement. The protests took place on February 23 on the Julian calendar which Russia was using at the time. In the Gregorian calendar that translated into 8th March [4].

The idea of internationalising IWD celebrations is credited to Clara Zetkin - the leader of the women’s office for the Social Democratic Party Germany. Zetkin suggested internationalising the festivities at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910. Of the 100 women in attendance from 17 countries they unanimously voted in favour of the idea [5]. The United Nations (UN) officially recognised IWD in 1976 [6].

Why do we celebrate IWD?

The short answer is because the aims of the celebrations have not been met. A gender inequality still exists in our society, evidenced across four areas:

  1. Global Gender Pay: In 2020 the global gender gap score was 68.4%, meaning the remaining gap to be closed is at 31.4%, this metric takes into account national gender gaps on economic, political and education and health based criteria [7].

  2. Lack of female representation: Only 22 countries have women as the head of state/government and only 119 countries have never had a woman leader [8]. If we continue to progress female leadership at this rate the UN predicts that we will reach gender equality amongst heads of government in 130 years [9].

  3. Violence against women: According to the UN Women Count Report over ⅓ of women that are intentionally killed are murdered by their current/former intimate partner. During the first few days of lockdown, the amount of domestic abuse calls to helplines in Tunisia increased fivefold. In some countries the amount of calls to helplines have decreased, but the report concludes this is likely due to increased barriers to women accessing help [10]

  4. Pandemic: A UN study has shown that the pandemic has worsened the gender inequality, which is pushing gender equality gains back 25 years. This is because women are taking up more of the domestic chores and family care during lockdown [11]

This year the IWD theme is #ChooseToChallenge; the focus of this year is challenging gender biases and inequalities against women. People are encouraged to post a picture on social media with their hand raised to symbolise a commitment to creating an inclusive environment with the #ChooseToChallenge. Participants are likely to feature on the IWD social media pages increase awareness of the holiday [12].

Ways to celebrate

The official colours of IWD are green (to signify hope), white (purity) and purple (justice and dignity). This is also the colour scheme for the famous suffrage group the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) [13]. Donning any one of these colours could serve as an ode to the campaign .

Donating to any course which seeks the furtherment of gender equality and celebrates women would show support. The IWD are supporting the World Association of Girl Guides & Girl Scouts (WAGGGS), Catalyst, WomanKind WorldWide, Equality Now, Nomi Network & Dress for success this year if you’re looking for charity inspiration [14]. If you’re looking to be more proactive, the IWD website provides great advice on how to host your own fundraiser.

With the pandemic keeping us in lockdown, IWD is mostly being celebrated virtually. There are a host of online events making information even more accessible. A few suggestions of events include the #March4Women events organised by CARE International or the Century of Music by British Women 1921 - 2021 livestream concerts.

How IWD is celebrated across the world

Russia: Giving flowers to notable females in your lives is commonplace, flower sales double in and around the 8th March [15]

China: Some women are given half the day off work as advised by the State Council, but not all employers pass this time on to their female employees. [15]

US: The president releases a proclamation about the achievements of notable American women. [15]

UN: This year the UN’s virtual conference is entitled Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID - 19 world [16]

Italy: Known as la Festa della Donna, IWD is celebrated by giving mimosa blossoms to honourable female [17]

Female Student Programme

Many firms have recognised the value of having a diverse workforce that is representative of our society. Therefore to rebalance the gender split of applicantants, it has become the industry norm to host diversity events. Below I have listed a few opportunities across different industries that could help female students gain an insight or experience in industry, bringing us closer to our goal for equality.


Nomura Immersion Programme (1st year of a 3 year or 2nd year of a 4 year course)

This is a 2 week paid insight programme specifically for female university students giving an insight into Nomura’s Investment Banking, Markets and Corporate Infrastructure divisions. After successful completion of this programme you can be fast tracked for an interview for a summer internship position the following summer.

This financial advisory programme gives female students the opportunity to hear from females in the business, develop their leadership skills and technical skills. After successful completion of the programme participants have the opportunity to interview for the corporate advisory position.


PwC Women in Business (1st year of a 3 year or 2nd year of a 4 year course)

A three day paid programme giving an insight into PwC diverse business, participants benefit from mentorship from a PwC employee and networking with female employees.

Bain & Co True North Scholarship (penultimate year students)

This programme gives female students an insight into strategy consulting, provides mentoring from a Bain employee, and equips participants with the necessary analytical skills to succeed as a consultant. After successful completion of the programme participants have the chance to interview for the Bain Associate Consultant position. One participant will be awarded the True North scholarship winning £10,000.


Bloomberg Women in Technology Insight Programme (Female computer science student)

An insight into software engineering for female students from a computer science degree background. The one week programme provides mentoring, shadowing opportunities and networking opportunities

KPMG Women in Tech Insight Programme (1st year of a 3 year or 2nd year of a 4 year course)

A three day paid insight programme introducing participants to AI, cloud technology and machine learning. Upon successful completion of the programme participants can convert the opportunity to a place on the KPMG technology and engineering vacation programme.


IWD is all about celebrating women’s achievements and striving for a more inclusive society. So, this IWD I urge you to uplift a woman you know making great strides, behave in an inclusive manner or reflect on your own practices. Happy International Women’s day!



















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