In Depth Society, 08/03/2019

International Women’s Day: Breaking Stereotypes

Since April 2015, when decommunization law was adopted in Ukraine, some people, including politicians, have considered International Women’s Day, traditionally celebrated on March 8, as a Soviet holiday. However, researchers state that the holiday is not a legacy of Soviet rule.

Irena Virtsou, an expert of the Human Rights Information Center, journalist and coordinator of the“Violence: Silence not Talk” campaign believes that March 8 is not a holiday from a historical perspective.

According to Irena, it is that very day when it is important to speak aloud about women’s rights, the unacceptability of any justification of domestic violence and the pressure of gender stereotypes over who, where and what a woman should be.

Women’s Day dates back to 1908 when a protest initiated by Social Democrats saw more than 15,000 women in New York march across the city demanding protection of their rights, including a shorter working day, improvement of working conditions, a decent wage and women’s suffrage. The following year, the Socialist Party of America introduced a National Women’s Day, which was celebrated on the last Sunday of February until 1913. In 1910, Clara Zetkin, a politician, and peace and women’s rights activist, proposed the establishment of an International Women’s Day at the Second International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen. It was supposed that women would hold a meeting on this day to raise public awareness of their problems.

In the Russian Empire, on March 8, 1917 (February 23 according to contemporaneous Julian calendar), the Bolsheviks, taking advantage of International Women’s Day celebration, held mass revolutionary workers’ protests. According to some historians, these events gave rise to the February Revolution.

Subsequently, under the decision of the Second Communist Women’s Conference in 1921, the celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8 was adopted to honor the women who took part in the aforementioned Petrograd demonstration of 1917.

According to the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of May 8, 1965, Women’s Day was declared a day off work from 1966 onwards.

In 1975, in connection with the International Year of Women, the United Nations officially proclaimed International Women’s Day on March 8. In 1977, the UN General Assembly resolved to call on the countries to declare a day for the observance of the struggle for women’s rights and the international peace of the United Nations.

During the decline of the Soviet Union, Women’s Day lost its radical political overtones and was turned into a non-political, even family, holiday.

In fall 2017, Volodymyr Vyatrovich, the head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, suggested canceling International Women’s Day as a day off work. According to Vyatrovich, Ukrainian society was ready to abandon the traditional celebration of March 8. The suggestion was not to cancel the holiday but to change its idea and concept, highlighting that this is a day for recognizing the struggle for women’s rights and not “a day of cakes and bouquets.”

This law remains unadopted yet and Women’s Day is still a day off in Ukraine.

According to a national survey, about 50 percent of Ukrainian women expect to get flowers on March 8 and about 70 percent of men always buy bouquets for their lovers and colleagues. About 35 percent of women feel offended when they get domestic appliances as presents. In their opinion, men giving these things highlight that a woman’s place is only in the home.

This year a number of events aimed at breaking gender stereotypes and emphasizing women’s role in all spheres of life, from science to art, have been taking place in Kharkiv in March.

In particular, the annual project, Week of Women’s Solidarity, started in Kharkiv on March 1.

“The event’s goal is to return to the original essence International Women’s Day when women unite in the struggle for their rights. This is a day of female solidarity, not bouquets and sweets. The Week of Women’s Solidarity is primarily an educational project, and we are united not against something, but for the development of women, women’s communities and the whole of Ukrainian society,” states Anna Sharyhina, coordinator of Sphere Kharkiv women’s association.

The key event of the project traditionally will become the women’s march, which starts from Maidan Svobody (Freedom Square) at 12 p.m. on March 8. The participants will walk along Sumska Street to Maidan Konstytutsii (Constitution Square).

According to organizers, the march is an open platform where women can speak frankly about the issues that worry them, what they lack and violation of their rights.

During the whole month, various events are scheduled within the project, including a short film screening, interactive workshop and a concert based on the music of female composers.

For the third consecutive year, the Centre of Gender Culture carries out Month of Women’s History. The action takes place in a number of European countries, in some states of the USA and Australia. This initiative is also timed to coincide with International Women’s Day. The purpose of such an action is to draw public attention to the historical past when women fought for their rights and to showcase changing stereotypical gender roles and discrimination against women.

As a part of the event, various activities take place at the Centre of Gender Culture for the whole month. Among them, there are 365 Women’s Stories of Kharkiv and the Women Testify photo project, an exhibition of photos that show the activity of Italian women who fought for their rights for 40 years.

Women’s Day is still treated ambiguously in modern Ukraine but there are signs of growing understanding that its true meaning has to be recovered.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Edited by Peter Cribley,

Photo:,,, Center of Gender Culture

The material was prepared as a part of Gender Sensitive Space of Modern Journalism, implemented by the Volyn Press Club in partnership with the Volyn Gender Center, supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by Internews international organization.