With every passing year, International Women’s Day becomes a bigger celebration across the world. But how do different countries mark the day in their own way?
On Sunday 8 March, the world celebrates women everywhere. People across the globe will be celebrating women’s achievements for International Women’s Day – while calling for gender equality for all.
But International Women’s Day celebrations can look a little different from one nation to the next. In some countries, the occasion is marked by the giving of presents. In others, the day is spent taking to the streets to protest for women’s rights.
From China and Uganda to Armenia, this is how countries across the world celebrate International Women’s Day.
In Armenia, International Women’s 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 adopt 8 March as Women’s Day.
In China, International Women’s 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.
Communist China may have adopted International Women’s Day in 1949 from Russia (where Women’s Day began 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 on International Women’s Day. The year before, five women were arrested for planning a protest against sexual harassment.
By comparison, celebrations in previous years focused more on women’s health and wellbeing. In 1997, International Women’s Day was celebrated by offering women free medical examinations. And in 2003, women came together in Tiananmen Square to link arms as they marched to Communist Party meetings.
Throughout Russia, International Women’s Day looks 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.
International Women’s Day been a public holiday throughout Russia 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 blossoms, a tradition believed to have originated in Rome after World War II. The flower holds the same symbolic gesture of love as a red rose on Valentine’s Day.
International Women’s Day is not a public holiday in Italy, but in 2017 women got to enjoy free entry to museums and cultural sites across the country. 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 abortion remain severe in Poland. Since the country’s government imposed an all-out ban on the procedure in 2016, then backtracked after thousands of women took to the streets in protest, basic rights are still being fought for.
So in recent years, International Women’s Day has witnessed women taking to the streets of Poland to protest. Actress Jessica Chastain joined the women on the streets of Warsaw in 2017. Over 2,000 women marched in Warsaw in 2018, again protesting the country’s anti-abortion laws. Women also marched in cities across Poland on International Women’s Day 2019.
The kingdom of Saudia Arabia celebrated its first ever Women’s Day in 2017. Although it’s not celebrated on 8 March like much of the rest of the world, the country’s annual celebration looks similar to International Women’s Day. Falling on 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 gender equality.
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, International Women’s Day has been marked in recent years by women protesting on the streets. The governor of Istanbul tried to ban such demonstrations in 2017, but women went ahead despite his efforts. As hundreds of women gathered in Turkey’s capital two days before International Women’s Day, 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,” said demonstrator Guris Ozen. “You see the power of women. We are here despite every obstacle and we will continue to fight for our cause.”
In 2018, the authorities refused permission for people to hold International Women’s Day events across Turkey, citing security concerns – although they did allow a large demonstration to take place in Istanbul. More than 2,000 women marched in the centre of the city to protest growing violence and sexual abuse by men.
In Argentina, International Women’s Day 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, women gathered outside the Congress in Buenos Aires with slogans painted on their bodies, demanding the implementation of policies to prevent femicides. Women also took to the streets in 2017, 2018 and 2019 to fight for gender equality, social change, and equal pay – with a particular focus on reproductive rights, due to Argentina’s restrictive abortion laws.
On 1 March 2020, it was announced that abortion finally set to be legalised in Argentina – making it the first major Latin American country to do so.
International Women’s Day 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.
Women marched again in 2018 and 2019, some wearing all-white ensembles as they protested for women’s rights.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated in Uganda since 1984, with the country officially announcing it as a holiday in 1991. The government picks a theme to focus on every year: in 2017, the country turned its attention to encouraging women’s empowerment at work. And in 2018, they highlighted the work of female police officers in the Ugandan capital of Kampala by having them control the traffic.
Images: Unsplash / Twitter
Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.
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