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The 8th of March International Women's Day, originally called International Working Women's Day, is marked on March 8 every year. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women's economic, political, and social achievements.

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  • Info
  • History
  • Official Recognition
  • Controversies
  • Gender Equality Index
  • In modern culture
  • Resources




International Women's Day, originally called International Working Women's Day, is marked on March 8 every year. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women to a celebration for women's economic, political, and social achievements. Started as a Socialist political event, the holiday blended in the culture of many countries, primarily Eastern Europe, Russia, and the former Soviet bloc. In some regions, the day lost its political flavor, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. In other regions, however, the political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner. This is a day which some people celebrate by wearing purple ribbons.


International Women’s Day came about due to several historical occurrences. It is the symbolic culmination of both the long public struggle for women’s rights and the more private struggle waged everyday by women that have made the celebration of this day possible.

Over the years, International Women's Day (IWD) has taken to the streets, sparked off a revolution, met cosily at luncheons and concerts, rubbed shoulders with Premiers, Prime Ministers and Mayors, demonstrated at the doors of newspapers and welfare institutions, occupied empty houses intent on gaining shelter for homeless women and has ushered in reform legislation.

On 8 March 1857, women working in clothing and textile factories (called 'garment workers') in New York City, in the United States, staged a protest. They were fighting against inhumane working conditions and low wages. The police attacked the protestors and dispersed them. Two years later, again in March, these women formed their first labour union to try and protect themselves and gain some basic rights in the workplace.

On 25 March 1911, the tragic Triangle Fire in New York City took place. Over 140 workers, mostly young Italian and Jewish immigrant girls working at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company, lost their lives because of the lack of safety measures. The Women's Trade Union League and the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union led many of the protests against this avoidable tragedy, including the silent funeral march which brought together a crowd of over 100,000 people. The Triangle Fire had a significant impact on labour legislation and the horrible working conditions leading up to the disaster were invoked during subsequent observances of International Women's Day.

The first IWD was held on March 19, 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and some other European countries. This date was chosen by German women because, on that date in 1848, the Prussian king, faced with an armed uprising, had promised many reforms, including an unfulfilled one of votes for women. A million leaflets calling for action on the right to vote were distributed throughout Germany before IWD in 1911.

From its official adoption in Russia following the Soviet Revolution in 1917 the holiday was predominantly celebrated in communist and socialist countries. It was celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and by Spanish communists from 1936. After the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949 the state council proclaimed on December 23 that March 8 would be made an official holiday with women in China given a half-day off.

In the West, International Women's Day was first observed as a popular event after 1977 when the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women's rights and world peace.

Official Recognition

Actress and human right's activist Beata Pozniak worked with the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Governor of California, and members of the U.S. Congress to achieve official recognition of the holiday. In 1994 Pozniak spearheaded introduction of the first bill in the history of the U.S. Congress (H.J. Res. 316) to recognize International Women's Day in the United States.


In some cases International Women's Day has led to questionable practices that discriminated against men. For example Tower Hamlets Council closed off one of its libraries to all males to "celebrate" the occasion, forcing them to travel elsewhere, going as far as even banning male staff from the premises.

In Communist Czechoslovakia, huge Soviet-style celebrations were held annually. After the fall of Communism, the holiday, generally considered to be one of the major symbols of the old regime, fell into obscurity. International Women's Day was re-established as an official "important day" by the Parliament of the Czech Republic only recently, on the proposal of the Social Democrats and Communists. This has provoked some controversy as a large part of the public as well as the political right see the holiday as a relic of the nation's Communist past. In 2008, the Christian conservative Czechoslovak People's Party's deputies unsuccessfully proposed the abolition of the holiday. However, some non-government organizations consider the official recognition of International Women's Day as an important reminder of women's role in the society.

International Women's Day sparked violence in Tehran, Iran on March 4, 2007, when police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. Police arrested dozens of women and some were released after several days of solitary confinement and interrogation. Shadi Sadr, Mahbubeh Abbasgholizadeh and several more community activists were released on March 19, 2007, ending a fifteen day hunger strike.

In modern culture

In many countries, such as in Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine the custom of giving women flowers still prevails [within these regions only]. Women also sometimes get gifts from their employers. Schoolchildren often bring gifts for their female teachers, too.

In countries like Portugal groups of women usually celebrate on the night of March 8 in "women-only" dinners and parties.



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