As the world celebrated women's achievements and looked for ways to improve women's lot in the workplace, a key global organization urged governments to toughen and enforce their anti-trafficking laws.
``Trafficking is growing in scale and complexity. This new slave trade has become a global business generating billions of dollars for organized criminal networks,'' said the International Organization for Migration in a statement to mark the day.
The intergovernmental agency estimates that some 700,000 women and children each year are caught up in sex trafficking networks from which there is little or no escape.
Many do not know what they are getting into; others take the risk because their living conditions are so poor they believe they have nothing to lose, it said.
The organization offers protection and assistance to migrants who escape from gangs, but says it cannot be the world's enforcement agency.
``We rely on governments to put strict laws in place to punish the perpetrators. Only when these laws are in place and strictly enforced will we make significant headway,'' said Deputy Director-General Ndioro Ndiaye.
European Union officials said in Brussels that criminal gangs are selling tens of thousands of women and children from poor nations into prostitution and sweatshops in Western Europe every year.
They urged governments to crack down on this ``stain on our culture.''
``Women are considered to have a lower value. So men can even allow themselves to buy women, as if we were shoelaces,'' said Margareta Winberg, Swedish minister for gender equality.
In a U.N.-organized event in Geneva, women who have reached the top of their careers described what females should do when they hit a ``glass ceiling'' when they tried to make progress.
``Study the pecking order. Work out who to call Bob, who to call Mr. Smith and who to call Sir,'' said feminist writer and academic Germaine Greer. ``You also have to work out very quickly that you never answer your own phone.''
French broadcaster Christine Ockrent, the only western journalist to interview Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, said some women's reluctance to enter politics was because they did not want to take part in the ``masculine rituals and theatricality'' that go with it.
Around the world, women took the opportunity to call for peace, prosperity and equality.
In Colombo, Sri Lanka, more than 1,000 women demonstrated to demand an end to the 17-year civil war and to protest a hike in taxes and utility prices. Hundreds of women marched through the Indian capital, New Delhi, to demand equal rights, better health care and education.
Tens of thousands of women dressed in brightly colored, traditional veils joined a rally in Mogadishu, Somalia, to support the end of a decade of killing and banditry in the troubled Horn of Africa.
In Turkey, thousands of Kurdish women held a minute of silence for victims of rape and ``honor'' killings, in which young women suspected of immoral behavior are murdered by relatives for shaming the family.
London Mayor Ken Livingstone announced a series of measures to crack down on domestic violence, including the possible eviction of offenders from public housing.
``For too long this issue has been viewed as a private matter, which women themselves must cope with. It is the responsibility of the state and the wider community to hold violent and abusive men accountable and to provide effective protection for abused women and children,'' said Livingstone.
Sweden's Industry Minister Bjoern Rosengren challenged trade and industry to increase women's representation in the higher echelons of companies. He said he wanted state-owned companies to recruit at least 40 percent women to their boards in coming years.
Italians traditionally mark the day by giving bunches of yellow mimosas to women. In the small northern town of Mandello del Lario, traffic police have been ordered by the mayor to give mimosas instead of fines to female offenders.
In Germany, the mass circulation Bild substituted its usual photograph of a naked female model with a picture of a man wearing briefs under a bathrobe.