As International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8 is celebrated around the world, Berlin is taking a new approach. The German capital has declared the day—known as Frauentag locally—an official holiday for the first time this year, giving workers and students the day off.
Earlier this year, Berlin’s local government, controlled by a coalition of the Social Democrats, Left Party and the Greens, was pushing International Women’s Day as the 10th official holiday for the city. More conservative parties, meanwhile, were advocating for the protestant Reformation Day to become Berlin’s next holiday, but the ruling coalition wanted to pick a nonreligious occasion to better reflect the city’s multicultural residents. Berlin’s parliament voted 87-60 in January to make International Women’s Day a permanent holiday.
“Today is a big sign that we are making progress on the road to equality between women and men,” Derya Caglar, a Social Democrat in the parliament, said after the vote.
Berlin had just nine public holidays until now—fewer than any other state. Many German states have 10 public holidays; Bavaria has 13. Schools, public agencies, banks and most businesses will be closed in Berlin on Friday; tourists attractions, restaurants and cafes are expected to remain open for the most part.
Local business leaders aren’t so excited about the new day off. It’s estimated that Berlin’s economy will lose 0.3% from the extra holiday, due in part to business closures. “Berlin cannot afford the additional holiday at all,” local business chamber leader Christian Amsinck told Tagesspiegel. Berlin will forgo €160 million ($180 million) in economic output unnecessarily, he said.
So how are Berliners planning to spend the day? With a feminist film festival and lots of protests—against the patriarchy, against fascism and for more bicycles. And that’s fitting, because International Women’s Day pays homage to World War I-era suffrage protests in Germany and northern Europe that occurred in March. The commemorative day was first introduced at the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen and was celebrated across communist and socialist countries through the 20th century.
The day’s revolutionary origins are apparent in the list of countries that observe International Women’s Day as a national holiday, including Russia, Cuba, Georgia, Cambodia, Vietnam and China (only for women). In communist East Germany, March 8 was a day to recognize the work of women, who would be given red carnations.
The United Nations adopted the holiday as its own in 1975, when it observed the International Women’s Year. In 1994, California Rep. Maxine Waters introduced a bill to make International Women’s Day an official holiday in the U.S., but it didn’t pass the House.