Why International Women’s Day Is More Important Than Ever This Year

More than a century after it started, IWD has taken on new meaning in 2017.

Herstory is complicated.

The origins of International Women’s Day are not clear—historians have found different claims from all over the world—but its ties to economic rights have always been evident.

One historian traced IWD back to February 28, 1909, when members of the Socialist Party of America organized an event honoring a garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against horrendous working conditions. Organizers offered speeches calling for women to get the vote, something that wouldn’t happen for another ten years. (They also insisted the event should always be held on a Sunday, “so that working women could participate.”)

Another tale comes from Russia, where, on March 8, 1917, A Women’s Day demonstration in Petrograd sparked the Russian Revolution.

Despite its questionable birthdate and country of origin, the sentiment behind International Women’s Day has remained the same: Women were fed up with poor working conditions and minimal pay.

Striking workers protesting with placards

In 2017, there’s still a major imbalance for women in the workplace, and researchers say the pay gap isn’t likely to close until 2152. That gap, of course, is worse for women of color, mothers, and women in certain states (most notably Wyoming, Louisiana and West Virginia).

That slow timetable has a lot to do with Congress and its indifference toward economic parity between the sexes. And with the Trump administration in place, it’s likely to slow down even more. Which is why we need International Women’s Day more now than ever.

In recent years, IWD has been more of a celebration—a day to honor ourselves and other women, remember those who helped us get where we are, and recognize the work we still have left to do. But this year is different: This year, women are abstaining from work (unpaid or paid) and avoiding spending any money unless it’s from a woman-owned business (should she still be open).

Started by the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, A Day Without a Woman was created to highlight the economic power that women have, while calling attention to the economic inequality women and gender-nonconforming people still face.

Womens March in New York Holding Signs

While many women support the idea of a general strike, and may be participating themselves, for some (women of color, trans women and poor women, especially), not working just isn’t an option. Some can’t afford it, and some can’t get the support of their employers. LGBT women, especially, can be fired in many states just for who they are or who they love, so striking puts them at further risk.

“It is possible that some women may be fired, as there were about a dozen instances of firings over the Day Without Immigrants strike,” reads the A Day Without a Woman FAQ. “Nothing comes without a sacrifice, yet we also recognize that women of color, women with disabilities, LGBTQIA and gender-nonconforming individuals, Muslims and other vulnerable groups are at a much greater risk of employer retaliation. We must be diligent and look out for each other, using our privilege on behalf of others when it is called for.”

Women who cannot participate are being asked to wear red today in solidarity. The women who can call in “woman” to work and attend marches, rallies or protests will strike for them.

NYPD 94TH PRECINCT, BROOKLYN, NY, UNITED STATES - 2017/01/10: The National Organization for Women NYC denounced comments made by NYPD Captain Peter Rose, trivializing rape cases in which the perpetrators identity is known to the victim. In response, NOW-NYC organized a press conference and protest outside of the 94th Precinct held at 1pm on January 10th to call for all rapes to be taken seriously and to issue a series of demands to the NYPD. (Photo by Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket

The reclamation of International Women’s Day will hopefully continue to inspire those who marched in January and others who are incensed by the unequal treatment of more than 50% of humanity. It’s also a reminder of the power women have to use the money they make to support businesses and organizations that support them back.

As LGBT women, we should be actively supporting community-owned places and those with inclusive policies and employee resource groups. When lesbian bars or other women-owned spaces close down, it’s because they’re not receiving the support they need to thrive. Our collective spending power is the only thing that can change that.

The theme for this year’s IWD is “Be Bold for Change,” a call to arms that asks women and allies to take “groundbreaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women.” That might sound like a big lift, but organizers offer some everyday acts that can help make the world feel more egalitarian: “Query all-male speaking panels, pull people up on exclusive language, challenge stereotypes, call it out when women are excluded, monitor the gender pay gap, point out bias and highlight alternatives, call for diverse candidate shortlists, embrace inclusive leadership, and redefine the status quo.”

There are also encouragements for women to campaign against violence by educating youth about positive relationships and challenging those who blame victims or otherwise justify attacks; mentoring, sponsoring or inviting other women into opportunities for career advancement; honoring women’s achievements by creating opportunities for them to be celebrated and reinforcing how important their triumphs are; and championing education for women by funding a women-focused scholarship and supporting women inventors and researchers.

International Women’s Day is not just a celebration, or even a protest. It is a yearly call-and-response; one that could have a major impact should enough participate. Even if you can’t take the day off, even if you’re not a woman, you can make the choice to hold women up in a world that seeks to keep them down.

Not just today, but especially today.

Trish Bendix is a Los Angeles-based writer.