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On 8 March 1857, women working in clothing and textile factories 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 8 March 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter work hours, better pay, voting rights and an end to child labour.

They adopted the slogan "Bread and Roses", with bread symbolizing economic security and roses a better quality of life.

In May, the Socialist Party of America designated the last Sunday in February for the observance of National Women's Day.

Following the declaration of the Socialist Party of America, the first ever National Woman's Day was celebrated in the United States on 28 February 1909. Women continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of that month through 1913. An international conference, held by socialist organizations from around the world, met in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1910. The conference of the Socialist International proposed a Women's Day which was designed to be international in character. The proposal initially came from Clara Zetkin, a German socialist, who suggested an International Day to mark the strike of garment workers in the United States. The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, including the first three women elected to the parliament of Finland.

The Day was established to honour the movement for women's rights, including the right to vote.

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.

The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”.

The United Nations observance on 8 March will reflect on how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals.

It will equally focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative and other existing commitments on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights.

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