How International Women’s Day is celebrated differently around the world

Posted by
Susan Devaney

With every passing year, International Women’s Day is becoming a bigger celebration across the world. But how do different countries mark the day in their own way?

On Friday 8 March the world celebrates women everywhere.

From political to social, people across the world are marking women’s achievements for International Women’s Day – while calling for gender equality.

But from one country to the next, the celebrations can look a little different. In some, the giving of gifts is very significant like mimosa blossom in Italy. In others, the day is spent taking to the streets in protest for women’s freedom like in Poland where abortion rights are currently under threat.

As this year’s theme focuses on #BalanceForBetter, many parts of the world are marking the annual event with more protesting and a whole lot of love for feminism.

From China and Uganda to Armenia, this is how countries across the world celebrate IWD. 


In Armenia, in the Middle East, IWD day marks the start of an unofficial ‘Women’s Month’ running until ‘Motherhood and Beauty Day’ on 7 April. Up until 2011, the day was a holiday for all, but it became a working day after the National Assembly decided to adapt 8 March as Women’s Day. 


In China, the day is an official holiday. Women (not men) are granted a half-day off work (as advised by the State Council) to mark the celebration, but many employers fail to do so.

The day may have been adopted by Communist China in 1949 from Russia (the country instated Women’s Day in 1922), but in recent years the celebration has involved dresses and high heels – rather than focusing on women’s achievements. In 2016, men in the country’s Guangdong province wore dresses and stilettos to climb a mountain. The year before, five women were arrested for planning a protest against sexual harassment.

By comparison, in previous years celebrations have focused more on women’s health and well-being. Like in 1997, IWD was celebrated by offering women free medical examinations. And in 2003, women came together in Tiananmen Square to link arms as they marched to party meetings. 


Throughout Russia, IWD look a lot like Valentine’s Day. It’s not uncommon to witness men running around buying gifts for the women in their lives before 8 March. As such, the cost of a bouquet of flowers doubles the day before the holiday hits. 

It’s been a public holiday throughout the country since 1965, and many offices mark the day with a work party the day before. From team lunches to giving gifts, women throughout the workplace are celebrated.

And the act of hosting a celebration for women on this day starts from an early age in Russia, with schoolboys expected to throw celebrations for the girls in their class. 


International Women’s Day or La Festa Della Donna is celebrated throughout Italy by the giving of mimosa blossom. The flower holds the same symbolic gesture of love as a red rose on Valentine’s Day. How or why the tradition began is anybody’s guess, but it’s believed it originated in Rome after World War II. 

It’s not a public holiday, but women do get to enjoy free entry to museums and cultural sites across the country. Most art spaces and museums devote exhibitions about women, with art by women. In 2017, the official Instagram account for museums in cities across the country shared art by women from all walks of life, such as “saints and prostitutes, goddesses and commoners, intellectuals and artists, actresses and martyrs, writers and poets, mothers, Madonnas and revolutionaries.”


Attitudes towards abortions remain severe in Poland. Since the country’s government imposed an all-out ban on the procedure in 2016, and then backtracked after thousands of women took to the streets in protest, basic rights are still being fought for.

Which is why in recent years the day has witnessed women taking to the streets in protest. In 2017, actress Jessica Chastain joined the women on the streets of Warsaw. 

Saudia Arabia

In 2017, the kingdom of Saudia Arabia celebrated its first ever Women’s Day. Although it’s not celebrated on 8 March like the western world, the country’s annual celebration looks similar to IWD. Falling on the 1-3 February, the three-day event takes place in the capital of Riyadh and sees royalty and citizens coming together to discuss women’s rights. The kingdom, which was ranked 134 out of 145 for gender equality in the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap report, has been heavily criticised for its record on women’s rights.

Under current Saudi law a women must ask her male guardian for permission to marry, travel or study. According to Arab News, the introduction of the day hopes to “celebrate the Saudi woman and her successful role, and remind people of her achievements in education, culture, medicine, literature and other areas”. 


In Turkey, the day has been marked in recent years by women protesting on the streets. In 2017, the governor of Istanbul tried to ban protesting but women went ahead with it despite his efforts. As hundreds of women gathered in Turkey’s capital two days before IWD, riot police forcibly broke up the rally by firing rubber bullets into the crowd.

“We have always said that we would never leave the streets for the 8 March demonstrations and we never will. Neither the police nor the government can stop us,” one demonstrator, Guris Ozen said. “You see the power of women. We are here despite every obstacle and we will continue to fight for our cause.”


In Argentina, IWD has been celebrated since the early 1900s. Much like Russia and Italy, the country celebrates women by giving and receiving flowers and other gifts.

However, protests also take place. In 2016, outside the Congress in the country’s capital of Buenos Aires, women painted their bodies in slogans as they demanded the implementation of policies to prevent femicides. Similarly, in 2017 women took to the streets to fight for gender equality, social change, and equal pay. 


IWD in Nepal is marked as an official holiday, so women actually get the day off work. 

In 2017, the country’s capital of Kathmandu held a rally to “send a message that women can become what they want”. People took to the streets in their work uniforms to protest women earning on average 24% less than men across the country. 


International Women’s Day has been celebrated in Uganda since 1984, with the country officially announcing it as a holiday in 1991. Every year the government picks a theme to focus on, like in 2017 which saw the country turn its attention to encouraging women’s empowerment at work. And in 2015, the theme focused on demonstrating a commitment to women’s health. 

Images: Unsplash / Twitter      


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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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