International Women’s Day: Inspiring Change Since 1909

by Jessica West

Practicum Student at Battered Women’s Support Services

As a young woman new to the anti-violence movement, I confess that I was ignorant about the origins and purpose of International Women’s Day. This International Women’s Day (IWD) I made a commitment to rectify my ignorance by delving into the history of International Women’s Day, to find out where it came from, how it became such an important day for the women’s movement and why we continue to commemorate it every year. At Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), I have the opportunity to learn and share my knowledge with others. This week I interviewed three of the many women who have contributed towards the successful organization of International Women’s Day over the years; Jackie Larkin, who started organizing IWD in Toronto in the early 1970’s, Miriam Palacios from Oxfam, who has organized IWD in Vancouver since 1988, and Rosa Elena Arteaga, BWSS Manager of Direct Services and Clinical Practice, who has been on the IWD Organizing Committee for the last 12 years. All three women shared their perspectives on why International Women’s Day is important to them, how the event can be used to create change and how they hope the event will develop in the future.

womens-day(photo credit

International Women’s Day has been and continues to be an important vehicle for inspiring social change and advancing women’s equality. The day has its roots in early 20th century efforts by working class women to fight for their rights in a parallel movement to the efforts of upper class women working for women’s suffrage. In the United States (US), the US Socialist Party established a National Women’s Day in 1909 that was celebrated by a cross-class coalition of socialists, working class women and middle class women. At the same time in Germany, prominent socialist Clara Zetkin promoted the idea of a national women’s day where women could voice their concerns about labour conditions, suffrage and women’s representation in government. She and other delegates of the 1910 Second International Conference of Socialist Women created a National Women’s Day for that purpose.  The following year, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 19th by Germany, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland. It later spread to Russia, where it stood for women’s sacrifices in the Bolshevik revolution and their efforts to protest for “bread and peace”.

            International Women’s Day was later revived by the second wave feminists in the 1970’s as a way to voice women’s concerns about issues of reproductive rights, gay and lesbian rights, equal pay and women’s right to unionize. 1975, International Women’s Year, was the year that the United Nations sanctioned March 8th as International Women’s Day.


           The historical link between International Women’s Day and the women’s movement is what makes IWD an expression of the strength of the consciousness of the women’s movement. That the day has survived for over one hundred years and continues to thrive is a testament to not only the achievements of women of the first and second waves of feminism, but also to the new leadership of racialized and Indigenous women as the event has evolved over time. It is these new layers of women involved in organizing IWD to which Jackie Larkin attributes the success of maintaining the public profile of the women’s movement. The continuation of the women’s movement and women’s struggle for equality has the potential to benefit people of all genders, as Rosa Arteaga believes that women are at the centre of families and communities, and equality for them will create positive changes for men too.

             International Women’s Day is a space for simultaneous celebration and struggle. Although we continue to fight for systemic change, we must take the time to celebrate our successes in the middle of that struggle. We celebrate women’s existence, we celebrate our achievements, and at the same time we recognize that there is more work to be done. Rosa explains that celebrating the specific achievements of women will inspire other women still engaged in a similar struggle to continue to fight for the same thing. Rosa invokes the common feminist saying that “I am not free until all women are free” to illustrate how we speak out about the barriers still facing us and draw parallels between the issues we experience locally with the problems women are engaged in globally. The international recognition of the event is one aspect that makes IWD unique in Rosa’s eyes, as she envisions the event as a day where women around the world join hands in unity and in the fight to improve their lives.

            This vision highlights IWD’s strength as it lies in its capacity to bring together as many women as possible and to educate and mobilize the public to join the movement. As a space for different women’s groups to come together in conversation and make their work visible, it offers citizens a means to connect with different groups and get involved in the work they are doing, something Miriam Palacios believes is crucial for the fight against inequality to advance in the future. The conversations that take place between different groups also produce common themes and understandings of women’s issues that can then be used to lobby the government for change. Jackie observes that the opportunity for education exists outside of the event itself as women have been able to capitalize on the international legitimacy of IWD to encourage large organizations like governments and unions to commit to IWD and use it as a time to educate their members and promote consciousness of women’s issues.

            The expansion of IWD’s influence means that more and more men and young people are becoming involved with the event each year and as social media becomes more popular, Rosa is optimistic that young people will use their access to social media to promote the event and increase participation. Miriam sees potential growth in the form of greater involvement of diverse organizations, not just women’s organizations, working collaboratively on a common agenda to create change. Jackie also hopes for IWD to grow and be widely promoted in all communities, rural and urban. As IWD grows, her dream is for the event to take on the issues of the most marginalized women and that women will amplify their passion and energy around these issues.

            Hearing about these women’s hopes for the future of International Women’s Day, as activists who have been involved in organizing the event for many years, I feel inspired to take on these hopes myself and consider what contributions I can make to ensure that the legacy and potential of International Women’s Day continues. I also reflect on this year’s theme, Inspiring Change: Women Leading the Way. As a current organizer of IWD in Vancouver, Miriam explains that this year’s theme is meant to draw attention to the work of women leaders whose contributions are not recognized and to bring to the forefront how important their leadership is for creating change.

I wish to recognize the leadership of these three amazing women and all of the women who have contributed to the organization of International Women’s Day events around the world. Thank you for creating and sustaining March 8th as a day for all of us to celebrate and fight for women’s equality together.



Introduction. In What were the Origins of International Women’s Day, 1886-1920?, by Kathryn Kish Sklar and Lauren Kryzak. (Binghamton, NY: State University of New York at Binghamton, 2000).

Last year, Battered Women’s Support Services responded to over 10,000 crisis calls from women and girls to get help and end violence. We could not provide this essential support without your contribution. images

Inspiring Change: Women Leading the Way

Join BWSS on International Women’s Day Celebration

Every year people around the globe commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD) to honour and celebrate the social, political and economic achievements of women and to challenge the status quo for women’s equality and to work for positive change.

2014 IWD theme Inspiring Change encourages advocacy for women’s advancement everywhere in every way.

Each day at Battered Women’s Support Services (BWSS), we advocate for women and continue to strengthen the collaborations in the community, bring awareness and organize others to join the efforts of ending violence against girls and women.

We invite you to join us for International Women’s Day celebration events to honour women and to inspire positive change!

West Coast LEAF’s Annual 27th Equality Breakfast

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 equality banner corrected date

Honour our collective achievements, inspire and be inspired, catch up with old friends and meet new ones, and raise money for West Coast LEAF’s upcoming projects in the areas of legal education, law reform, and litigation.

This year, West Coast LEAF is thrilled to welcome Dr. Samantha Nutt as keynote speaker. Dr. Nutt’s experiences as a medical doctor in Somalia led her to found War Child Canada, which has restored childhood to thousands of children in war-torn areas since its inception in 1999. She is also a bestselling author and accomplished physician in Toronto, and was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2011.

Dr. Nutt is a fierce and outspoken advocate for the rights of women and girls all over the world. While each of our struggles for gender equality may be vastly different in nature, they all deserve our dedication and resolve. Her speech is sure to reflect the characteristic passion that fuels her work.

For more information about 2014 Equality Breakfast, please visit here.


BWSS Annual Volunteer Recognition Party

Thursday, March 6th, 2014


We at Battered Women’s Support Services are so fortunate and appreciative to have the support from a team of amazing volunteers.

Thank you to…

58 Crisis Line Volunteers who make a difference in our community by working directly with survivors of violence.  They are on the frontline, answering our intake and crisis lines, providing information to women and the community, facilitating women’s support groups. Our Crisis Line and Program is led by Emma Ellison, Crisis and Intake Line Co-ordinator.

39 Retail Volunteers who engage with our community and support our ending violence work, present the best quality of thrift, vintage, & eco fashion in town, and generate funds for our critical prevention & intervention services & programs. BWSS Retail Volunteers Program is led by Samantha Kearney, Manager of Retail Services & Programs.

10 Office Volunteers who answer the business line, create a welcoming safe environment for women who access BWSS, and support our staff members through administrative tasks. Office Volunteer Program is led by Ela Esra Gunad, Manager of Communications and Resource Development.

Women’s Safety and Outreach Program Volunteers work in our women assault and sexual assault program based in the Downtown Eastside including crisis intervention, hospital accompaniments, and advocacy. Women’s Safety and Outreach Program is led by Terriea Harris, Manager of Women’s Safety and Outreach.

Youth Ending Violence Program Volunteers who facilitate workshops for youth, provide youth with knowledge on the difference between healthy and abusive relationships, understand the dynamics of abuse; learn where and how to obtain help and how to be an empowered bystander. Youth Ending Violence Program is led by Rona Amiri, Violence Prevention Coordinator.

Indigenous Women’s Program Volunteers who are on the frontline, answering our intake and crisis lines, providing information to women and the community, facilitating women’s support groups. BWSS Indigenous Women’s Program is led by Brandy Kane, Manager of Indigenous Women’s Program.

Our volunteers’ dedication and passion in working toward ending violence against women is inspiring. Every year we organize a party to recognize and celebrate their commitment, contributions and actions. BWSS simply could not have supported over 10,000 women last year without their work and support and we are truly grateful for the essential work that they do.

All BWSS volunteers are invited to join us for a dinner and dance night on Thursday, March 6.  Hip hop artist JB The First Lady will be performing at the event.

To get more information and/or RSVP, please contact us at


International Women’s Day 2014 Event

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Canadian Centre for Elder Law is once again hosting an International Women’s Day event focused on the experiences.

Older Women’s Dialogue Project: Stories of Strength & Resilience

Older women contribute so much to our communities and yet face many barriers to their well-being.

  • Hear stories of how women’s experiences at a younger age shape their experience of aging
  • Listen to ideas for how law reform and policy changes can improve older women’s lives
  • Identify gaps in services for older women


  • Donna Dickison, Stl’atl’mc Nation, Elder & Residential School Survivor
  • Gertrude Pierre, Seashelt Nation, Elder & Residential School Survivor
  • Janine Benedet, Associate Professor, UBC Faculty of Law
  • Elsie Dean, President, 411 Seniors Centre Society

Additional Speakers to be confirmed

Free Event! Women and men are all welcome!

Email to register in advance and reserve a space.

Advance registration is recommended but not required. Onsite registration at 8:30 am

Date & Time: Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 1:00 – 2:30 pm

Location: University of BC, Downtown Campus
800 Robson St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 3B7

Check Out UBC Map
The theatre is wheelchair accessible via the elevators located at the Robson & Hornby Street entrance.


Panel: Portrayals of Violence Against Women in Film and Television

Friday, March 7, 2014

VIWIFF_Logo_Red_Transparent Portrayals of violence against women are so ubiquitous on the small and silver screen–but where does creative license cross the line? Does the industry have a responsibility to give a more nuanced portrayal*?

Our ED Angela Marie MacDougall will moderate a panel discussion on ‘Portrayals of Violence Against Women in Film and Television’. Join us for the panel featuring Jarrah Hodge, Gender Focus founder; Hilla Kerner, front line worker at Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter; Anna Crow, Atira Shelter and Metis artist; Ariana, Women Against Violence Against Women; industry professionals, and speakers from anti-violence centres across the city to discuss this timely and thought-provoking issue.

Date & Time: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 1:00 – 2:30 pm

Location: VIFF’s Vancity Theatre

Details are here:


Inspiring Change: Women Leading the Way

Friday, March 7, 2014


Battered Women’s Support Services is collaborating with Oxfam Canada, Justice Education Society of BC, Amnesty International, and UBC Economic to celebrate the social, political, and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on the areas requiring further action.

It will be an evening of lively music, interactive panel presentations, and engaging round table discussions.

Opening: Brandy Kane, BWSS Manager, Indigenous Women’s Program


– Rumana Monzur

– JB The First Lady, Aboriginal youth educator & hip hop artist

– Ellaine Corpus, Canadian Filipino Advocacy Network

– The Raging Grannies will sing at the event

Date & Time: Friday, March 7, 2014 at 7 – 9:30 pm

Location: Vancouver Public Library, Alice MacKay Room

All are welcome. Admission is free. Light refreshments will be provided.

Space is limited. Please pre-register on Eventbrite.


Remarkable Women 2014: Honouring Women in the Year of Reconciliation

International Women’s Day and the Remarkable Women Celebration

Saturday, March 8, 2014


A presentation ceremony to honour 12 local women selected as the 2014 Remarkable Women by the City of Vancouver and the Parks Board on Saturday, March 8th.  At BWSS, we have the honor of working with one of those remarkable women, Angela Marie MacDougall, our fearless Executive Director.

The Ceremony and Reception are open to the public. Join us to celebrate the achievements of these remarkable women!

Date & Time: Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 12:30-4:00 pm

Location: Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre

The event program:

Ceremony: 2:00 – 3:00 pm – Performance Centre

Reception: 3:00 – 4:00 pm – Exhibition Hall

Light refreshments will be served.


International Women’s Day Rally & March

Towards Our Liberation ~ Women Struggle For Social and Economic Justice  

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

IWD Rally Poster-page-001Date & Time: March 8th at 1 pm

Location:  Vancouver Art Gallery – Robson Street Side

Join us at the International Women’s Day Rally & March as we raise our voices for liberation and justice for all women!

Terriea Harris, BWSS Manager, Women’s Safety and Outreach will speak at the Rally.

International Women’s Day Organizing Committee also invites you to join:

Towards Our Liberation: Women Leading Anti-Imperialist Struggles

with Coni Ledesma, Leila Khaled, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Nahla Abdo

Date & Time: March 7th at 7 pm
Location: SFU Harbour Centre
515 W. Hastings St – Vancouver

“Defining Success” ~ International Women’s Day Conference

Saturday, 8 March 2014


Every year on March 8, women from around the world, from all cultures, religion and location, come together in unison to celebrate women’s achievements and to remind one another of what has yet to be accomplished.

This year, YWiB SFU will be hosting its fourth annual Women’s Day Conference with the theme of “Defining Success”. Our social enterprise, My Sister’s Closet, takes part in the conference to celebrate the achievements of the last year and to share in the future steps with young women and professionals at the conference.

Our conference this year is built with the goal to empower young emerging female leaders to pursue the paths they are truly passionate about.”

With the many inspirational speaker presentations and networking opportunities, this year’s conference creates a space for young women and professionals to inspire and be inspired by remarkable stories

Date & Time: Saturday, 8 March 2014 at 9:00 am – 4:00 pm

Location: Century Plaza Hotel in Downtown Vancouver

1015 Burrard St, Vancouver, British Columbia V6Z 1Y5

You can purchase tickets here.

Last year, Battered Women’s Support Services responded to over 10,000 crisis calls from women and girls to get help and end violence. We could not provide this essential support without your contribution.