Macro insights

Celebrating International Women’s Day

Millions of people all around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, which not only marks the achievements of women but also calls for greater gender equality.

The first International Women’s Day took place more than a century ago in 1911, when on 19 March more than a million women and men in Austria, Denmark, Switzerland and Germany attended rallies demanding women’s right to vote, to hold public office and to end discrimination.

It was agreed in 1913 that International Women’s Day would take place on 8 March, and it has been held annually on this day ever since.

It was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Just over two decades later, in 1996, the UN began to introduce an annual theme, with ‘Celebrating the past, planning for the future’ its inaugural theme.

Recent themes have included, ‘A Promise is a Promise - Time for Action to End Violence Against Women’ and ‘Empower Rural Women, End Poverty & Hunger’.

This year’s campaign theme is ‘Balance for Better’ with the aim of building a gender-balanced world, including gender-balanced boardrooms, governments, workplaces and media coverage.


Progress so far

Although there is still a long way to go before gender equality is achieved, plenty of progress has been made, particularly in recent years.

For example, the UK government’s gender pay gap (GPG) transparency regulations, which came into force in April 2017, require large employers to report data on their gender pay gap. The aim of this is to encourage greater transparency and create pressure on companies to close any gap if one exists. The regulations apply to around 10,000 employers across the private, voluntary and public sectors in England, Scotland and Wales.

Recent research by the Government Equalities Office found that the proportion of employers that view closing the gender pay gap as either a high or medium priority rose to 69% in 2018, up from 61% in 2017, demonstrating that growing numbers are serious about tackling the issue.(1)

The benefits of greater equality are clear, and not just because it is fair to women. According to a study by the World Bank, total wealth could increase by 14% globally with gender equality in earnings. It estimates that the global economy would receive an estimated $160tn (£120tn) boost if women were earning as much as men.(2)

In addition, an analysis by McKinsey & Company concluded that corporations that embrace greater workplace diversity are far more likely to enjoy greater financial rewards than those who don’t.(3)

Many businesses globally are committed to working towards women’s empowerment and gender equality.

More than 2,000 of the world’s business leaders, including Thomas Buberl, Chief Executive Officer of AXA, have signed the UN Women and UN Global Compact’s Women’s Empowerment Principles, which are principles to promote gender equality within companies’ workforce. (4/5)

International Women’s Day is a time to reflect on these major strides which have been made towards gender equality, whilst at the same time providing an important reminder of what still needs to be done.


(1) Government Equalities Office, Employers' understanding of the Gender Pay Gap and how to tackle it, January 2019
(2) The World Bank, Unrealized potential: the high cost of gender inequality in earnings, May 2018
(3) McKinsey
(4) UN, Women's Empowerment Principles Forum
(5) AXA Group

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