What we're really celebrating on International Women's Day

Who run the world? GIRLS

First celebrated in New York, International Women’s Day has grown into a holiday that’s celebrated throughout the world. While it may carry different meanings and local connotations depending on what country you visit, at its heart, it’s a celebration of the obvious: The world is a better place when women and men are counted equally under the law, and valued equally by society.

Our generation sure sees it that way. A vast majority of Gen Z believe women’s equality is one of the defining issues of this era. International Women’s Day celebrates women who have defied the odds and expectations placed on their shoulders, starting with Eve (yep, of “Adam-and-Eve” fame) and continuing down through our own time with young women like Malala Yousafzai, Eva Maria Lewis and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova seeking to achieve similar equalities in their lives.

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That’s why on a day like this, it’s also important to remember that progress hasn’t ever been accomplished overnight. In our search for complete social and legal equality to men, Gen Z women like us join earlier generations of women who also dreamt of winning freedoms that once were counted as radical: The freedom to vote. The freedom to own property. The freedom to divorce. The freedom to choose whether or not to bare children. The freedom to have an education on par with men.

None of these freedoms were ever won without dogged opposition. Time and again, women (and their male allies) have had to make their voices heard in courtrooms, boardrooms, protest marches and ballot-boxes alike in order to progress one step further towards equality. It was only in 1919 when the United States Congress passed the 19th Amendment, granting women the same voting rights as men. It was only in 1928 when the United Kingdom granted women similar legal rights.

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But just as opposition to equality has been undeniable, so have its benefits. In today’s data-rich world, there’s almost nothing in the world that’s easier to prove.

Take the case of education: World Bank findings show that for every one percent of women newly educated, a nation’s GDP rises by three percent. A study by Project Drawdown (perhaps the most comprehensive research project ever done on ways to reverse climate change) shows how an increase in young women’s education throughout the world will be essential if we’re serious about stopping global warming and the billionfold harm it brings.

As author and feminist Gloria Steinem once wrote, "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights." In short, International Women’s Day is something everyone who cares about humanity’s past, present and future ought to celebrate.

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It’s amazing (and powerful) to think how an obscure festival, conceived and organized in 1911 in New York’s Lower East Side by a small group of women’s rights activists, has grown into a global sensation that’s gotten shout-outs from, well, the likes of Beyoncé. Now that it’s Gen Z’s turn to address the issue of gender equality, it’s a good thing to know how earlier generations stood -- and remain standing -- in solidarity with them.

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