2012 International Women's Day: 101st edition on Thursday, March 8

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This Thursday marks the 101st International Women’s Day, highlighting the contributions women make around the world; this year’s focus is women’s involvement in the political process.

Thousands of events are being planned around the world to commemorate the political and economic contribution women make to the world. Each year highlights a particular theme: last year focused on the still-pervasive wage gap between men and women workers; this year examines the strides women have made in the participatory politics.

Currently, there are only 17 countries with women as head of government, head of state or both. As paltry as that seems, the number has more than doubled since 2005.

The world average for women in parliament stood at 19.5% in 2011, which was a 0.5 percentage point increase from the previous year. The European average stood at 22.3%, with Nordic countries leading the pack at 42%. Sweden and Finland in particular consistently outranked all the others.

International Women’s Day is an official holiday in some countries, including Afghanistan, Armenia, China, Nepal, Russia, Ukraine and Vietnam.

In Armenia, the holiday was abandoned shortly after the fall of the Soviet bloc as it was associated with the communist regime; however, the day was brought back to life as a day celebrating ‘Beauty and Motherhood’ on April 7. It became immensely popular as it coincides with the Armenian Church’s major holy day, the Annunciation. Some Armenians continued to celebrate a Women’s Day on March 8, however, resulting in the recognition of the so-called ‘Women’s Month’ which is the period between March 8 and April 7.

In many countries, it is traditional for men to give flowers to women on Woman’s Day. Women also receive gifts.

Woman’s Day is generally not observed in the U.S. in the way it is celebrated in other parts of the world. This may be due to the association of the day with socialism and communism. In the U.S., the first national Woman’s Day was proclaimed by the Socialist Party of America on February 28, 1909. This expanded into an international, yet still socialist, conference. Following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the day was made into an official state holiday, a move that was repeated in Communist-controlled China in 1949 – although Chinese women were only given a half-day off for it.

Thereafter, Woman’s Day tended to be celebrated predominantly in socialist and communist countries, until 1977, when the United Nations invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for Women's Rights and International Peace.

Since the decline of communism across the globe, the day has increasingly become associated with the UN. In many regions, the day lost its political flavor, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love for women in gestures similar to those during Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day.

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