International Women’s Day is a celebration and call to action. Beware the flowers and candy

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice, decision-making jobs and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday.

Officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, International Women’s Day is commemorated in different ways and to varying degrees in places around the world. Protests are often political and, at times, violent, rooted in women’s efforts to improve their rights as workers.

Demonstrations are planned from Tokyo to Mexico City, and this year’s global theme is “Inspire Inclusion.”

Here is what to know about the March 8 global event:

WHAT IS INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY?

FILE - Women attend a protest marking International Women's Day, March 8, 2023, in Berlin, Germany. Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber, File)

International Women’s Day is a global celebration — and call to action — marked by demonstrations, mostly of women, around the world, ranging from combative protests to charity runs. Some celebrate the economic, social and political achievements of women, while others urge governments to guarantee equal pay, access to healthcare, justice for victims of gender-based violence and education for girls.

It is an official holiday in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Ukraine, Russia and Cuba, the only one in the Americas.

Like in other aspects of life, social media plays an important role during International Women’s Day, particularly by amplifying attention to demonstrations held in countries with repressive governments toward women and dissent in general.

WHEN DID IT START AND WHY DOES IT FALL ON MARCH 8?

FILE - Activists from the activist group "Women Democratic Front" take part in a rally to mark International Women's Day, March 8, 2023, in Islamabad, Pakistan. Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed, File)
FILE - A woman holds balloons and a poster to mark International Women's Day in central Kiev, Ukraine, March 8, 2018. Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

While the idea behind a women’s day originated in U.S. with the American Socialist Party in 1909, it was a German feminist who pushed for a global commemoration during an international conference of socialist women held in 1910 in Copenhagen. The following year, events across Europe marked the day, and during World War I, women used it to protest the armed conflict, which lasted from 1914 to 1918.

International Women’s Day is observed on March 8 after a massive protest in Russia on Feb. 23, 1917, that led to the country’s eventual withdrawal from the war. At the time, Russia had not adopted the Gregorian calendar — named after Pope Gregory XIII, who introduced it in 1582 – and still used the Julian calendar – the brainchild of Julius Caesar and still used by Orthodox churches for religious rites.

“On Feb. 23 in Russia, which was March 8 in Western Europe, women went out on the streets and protested for bread and peace,” said Kristen Ghodsee, professor and chair of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Demonstrators included widows, wives and mothers of men who died or were injured during the war. “The authorities weren’t able to stop them, and then, once the men saw that the women were out on the streets, all of the workers started coming and joining the women.”

The U.N. began commemorating the holiday in 1975, which was International Women’s Year, and its General Assembly officially recognized the day two years later.

ARE FLOWERS AND CHOCOLATES WELCOME?

FILE - Women talk during a demonstration as part of the International Women's Day, March 8, 2023 in Paris. Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

It depends on the time and place.

Women in Eastern Europe have long received flowers on March 8 — and sometimes even gotten the day off from work. But chocolates and candy can come across as a belittling gesture, showing a lack of understanding of the struggles driving women to protest, particularly in regions where protests have been combative.

In Turkey, women last year braved an official ban on an International Women’s Day march in Istanbul and protested for about two hours before police used tear gas to disperse the crowd and detain dozens of people. And in Mexico City dozens of people were injured during a March 8 demonstration in 2021, after protesters battled police in the main square with rocks, bottles, metal poles, spray paint and streams of flame from lit aerosol cans.

Online retailers, meanwhile, have long used International Women’s Day to sell sweatshirts, greeting cards, sticker packs, cloth totes, jeopardy games, cupcake toppers and myriad other March-8-themed, purple-heavy items for the event.

The internet also offers plenty of guides for businesses to tap into the occasion, from cupcakes and appreciation emails for employees to product bundles and social media offers for existing or future customers. Companies, however, have had varying degrees of success with these efforts.

McDonald’s in 2018 flipped its golden arches to a “W” on its social media accounts and even the sign at a store in California, a marketing ploy that was criticized online as an empty gesture and led to calls on the company to improve the working conditions of workers instead.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR MARCH 8?

FILE - An activist from the group "Women Democratic Front" takes part in a rally to mark International Women's Day, March 8, 2023, in Lahore, Pakistan. Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary, File)
An activist from the group “Women Democratic Front” takes part in a rally to mark International Women’s Day, March 8, 2023, in Lahore, Pakistan. Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary, File)
A demonstrator carries a sign reading in Spanish, "Mexico is not a country, it's a mass grave with a national anthem," as people march to protest violence against women on International Women's Day, March 8, 2021, in Mexico City. Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)
FILE – A demonstrator carries a sign reading in Spanish, “Mexico is not a country, it’s a mass grave with a national anthem,” as people march to protest violence against women on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2021, in Mexico City. Women across the world will demand equal pay, reproductive rights, education, justice and other essential needs during demonstrations marking International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell, File)

Ghodsee said commemorating International Women’s Day is now more important than ever, as women have lost gains made in the last century, chiefly among them the 2022 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a nationwide right to abortion, which ended constitutional protections that had been in place nearly 50 years.

“I think women around the world before (Donald) Trump became president, — when Hillary Clinton was running for president, Sheryl Sandberg was writing “Lean In” and it was all girlboss feminism – we didn’t know how quickly all of that could be taken away,” she said.

The U.S. decision on abortion has reverberated across Europe’s political landscape, forcing the issue back into public debate in some countries at a time when far-right nationalist parties are gaining influence.

France on Monday became the only country to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right, a historic move proposed by President Emmanuel Macron and hailed by women’s rights activists worldwide.

The vote during a special joint session of France’s parliament drew a long standing ovation among lawmakers.

“We have a moral debt to women,” French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told lawmakers in the lead-up to the vote Monday.

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