Celebrating Herstory:

International Women’s Day in Amsterdam

By Oleksandra Onyshchenko | News | April 16, 2024

Cover Illustration: March 8, 2024, Open Mic Night for Women’s Empowerment by Consent at UvA & HeforShe x UvA, Bar Lellebel, Amsterdam, by Oleksandra Onyshchenko/the Amsterdammer

In light of International Women’s Day, Reporter Oleksandra Onyshchenko takes a look at its history, events across Amsterdam and the UvA, and the work yet to be done.

The origins of International Women’s Day (IWD) can be traced back to a remarkable event in New York City, where 15,000 women marched through the city in 1908 demanding better wages, improved working conditions and the right to vote. Two years later, at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin proposed creating an annual women’s day dedicated to fighting for universal women’s suffrage. The decision was reached unanimously by over 100 women representing 17 different countries. In March 1911, the first International Women’s Day was celebrated across various European countries, with thousands of women joining demonstrations and expressing their demand for change. The Netherlands joined the movement a year later, with the IWD being organized for the first time by the Dutch Association of Social Democratic Women’s Clubs. Those historical events are, without a doubt, crucial to the development of female solidarity and empowerment. They symbolize the importance of coming together as a community and making the world hear your voice. 


Jumping forward 112 years, this day still holds important value worldwide. The UN has announced that the theme for International Women’s Day in 2024 is “Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress.” The theme is meant to remind us that gender equality remains a relevant topic, constituting an important step for achieving a healthy and functional society. However, some would argue that the emancipation of women is a political concern of the past. The Netherlands, for instance, has truly made noteworthy progress in the fight for gender equality in the past decades. According to the European Institute of Gender Equality, in 2023 the Netherlands was marked 2nd in the EU on the Gender Equality Index, receiving a score of 77.9. While that is an accomplishment to be proud of, numerous experts, feminist organizations and certain governmental parties in the country continue to emphasize the challenges faced by women nowadays, such as underrepresentation in positions of power. According to the Female Board Index, in 2023 only 15% of CEOs in the 88 listed Dutch companies were women. Over 60 of those companies did not have a single woman in an executive role. Such numbers point to persistent gender disparities in leadership positions and highlight that there is room for improvement. 

It is worth noting that the Dutch government has taken a firm stance on its commitment to achieving gender equality. In 2022, for instance, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that they were to embrace a Feminist Foreign Policy that entailed active protection of the human rights of women and LGBTIQ+ minorities worldwide. The Ministry justifies this direction by citing a lack of safe abortions for around 1.2 billion women worldwide, the disproportionate burden of unpaid work that affects their labor market participation, and the heightened risk of sexual violence, especially in regions of disaster and conflict. Overall, a budget of €510 million was allocated for the period of 2021-2025, making it one of the biggest governmental funds for women’s rights and gender equality in the world.

March 8, 2024, Open Mic Night for Women’s Empowerment by Consent at UvA & HeforShe x UvA, Bar Lellebel, Amsterdam, by Oleksandra Onyshchenko/the Amsterdammer

This year, several events were set up across Amsterdam by various organizations to commemorate the fight for gender equality. The volunteer-driven non-profit organization “Feminist March” scheduled their annual protest on March 10. The march was to span from Dam Square to Museumplein, symbolizing a collective journey for change. However, the event was canceled a couple of hours before its start due to alleged safety concerns for its participants arising from uncertainties surrounding the police response to the pro-Palestinian protest held earlier that day. The organizers of the Feminist March shared the following statement on their social media: “We feel the police have created an unsafe situation for marginalized people to let their voices be heard. We are especially worried about the safety of the Palestine bloc that was supposed to walk at the front of the Feminist March.” The volunteer group has repeatedly expressed their solidarity with Palestine and Palestinian women, asserting that such a stance is an important aspect of intersectionality in feminism. 

Students of the University of Amsterdam showed great involvement in the celebration of International Women’s Day. The student association Consent at UvA, in collaboration with HeforShe x UvA, organized an Open Mic Night dedicated to women’s empowerment on March 8. The attendees were given an opportunity to share their experiences through poetry, stories or songs in front of a supportive crowd. The event took place at bar Lellebel, as the organizers hoped it would offer a safe, inclusive queer-friendly space, highlighting the intersectional perspective that both HeForShe and Consent at UvA embrace. Tori Anneke, the owner of Lellebel, also mentioned during her speech that she is the first trans woman in the Netherlands to run her own bar. Her achievement, especially on an occasion like International Women’s Day, underscores ongoing efforts to challenge societal norms and break gender stereotypes in various fields, including entrepreneurship. A central theme for this event was the discussion surrounding consent and respect for boundaries. It was highlighted that issues like catcalling and other forms of harassment are still shaping the female experience in the Netherlands. In a brief interview, the board members of HeForShe, Anh and Marianna, highlighted the importance of taking a global perspective on feminism. They mentioned that it is essential to acknowledge our privileges and recognize the struggles of women worldwide. Such a perspective signals the interconnectedness of the current feminist movement, perceiving global female solidarity as an inherent feminist issue.

The topics of global solidarity and intersectionality were further discussed with Shadi Nikshomar, 21,  who is a member of the Neighbourhood Feminists, a city councilor at the municipality of Almere, and a PPE student at Vrije University. Shadi mentioned that “when we talk about systematic oppression or oppression in general, we tend to think in specific categories: you are a woman so you are oppressed, or you are a person of color, so you are oppressed. Intersectionality takes a holistic approach where you are not just one social status, there are multiple social dimensions to a person…” Shadi elaborates that only by considering various aspects of a person’s social identity,  can you achieve a deeper understanding of systemic inequalities and promote genuine inclusivity and justice. She adds that currently, in the Netherlands, “we do have a lot of equality…but there is not so much on equity..”.

March 8, 2024, Open Mic Night for Women’s Empowerment by Consent at UvA & HeforShe x UvA, Bar Lellebel, Amsterdam, by Oleksandra Onyshchenko/the Amsterdammer

Shadi highlights that although the law may offer equal opportunities to everyone, in practice, these opportunities are often out of reach for individuals facing different circumstances, like not having a full-fledged educational background or having responsibilities such as caring for family members or sick loved ones without pay. Shadi also has a firm stance on global solidarity and believes it should be an integral part of feminist conversation. She mentions that injustices that are taking place worldwide can also have a direct effect on our local community. She elaborates on that by saying: “We cannot say that we solve anything if this ideology (ideologies oppressive to women) is still present anywhere else…the thing with ideology is that it can spread. And women’s rights are always, always, even in the Netherlands – under pressure…”.


Generally, as we reflect on the history and ongoing struggles for gender equality, it becomes evident that International Women’s Day serves as both a celebration of progress and a reminder of the work yet to be done. Remarkably, you find initiatives for progress across different levels, ranging from university organizations to governmental institutions. Moreover, most of them seem to agree that intersectionality and a global perspective are the central themes of the current feminist discourse in Amsterdam and beyond.

Oleksandra Onyshchenko is a university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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