Given the course of natural and manufactured events, it’s easy to get the sense that there have been more setbacks recently than there have been encouraging developments for women around the world. While it’s important to stay focused on the many issues — domestic and state-sponsored violence, human trafficking, income inequality, climate change, transphobia, homophobia and reproductive rights — that require urgent global attention to make International Women’s Day a true celebration rather than an annual observation, it’s also useful to watch for signs of progress in whichever form they take.

Here’s one: As the Associated Press reported, women showed up en masse to march around the world Sunday. From Cambodia to Pakistan, Chile to Kyrgyzstan, their group actions were not just about commemorating International Women’s Day but also to use the occasion to draw worldwide attention to specific causes, some facing forceful push-back from their governments:

But tensions marred some celebrations, with police reportedly using tear gas to break up a demonstration by thousands of women in Turkey and security forces arresting demonstrators at a rally in Kyrgyzstan.

“In many different ways or forms, women are being exploited and taken advantage of,” Arlene Brosas, the representative of a Filipino advocacy group said during a rally that drew hundreds to the area near the presidential palace. Protesters called for higher pay and job security, and demanded that President Rodrigo Duterte respect women’s rights.

[…] In Pakistan, however, women managed to rally in cities across the country, despite petitions filed in court seeking to stop them. The opposition was stirred in part by controversy over a slogan used in last year’s march: “My Body, My Choice.”

Some conservative groups had threatened to stop this year’s marches by force. But Pakistani officials pledged to protect the marchers. The rallies are notable in a conservative country where women often do not feel safe in public places because of open harassment. The main Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, organized its own rallies to counter the march.

In countries such as Chile and France, femicide and rape were taken up as common themes among marchers. In Santiago, Chile, attempts by police forces to tamp down the mass action through the use of tear gas and water hoses met with resistance from protesters who came equipped for the occasion.

It’s not only the tenor of the time that made this particular day so charged with defiance and focused activism. Though International Women’s Day has predictably been co-opted by greeting card companies and florists as another call to consumers to plunk down currency of all denominations, the BBC and other sources recalled the holiday’s activist origins:

International Women’s Day grew out of the labour movement to become a UN-recognised annual event.

The seeds of it were planted in 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. It was the Socialist Party of America who declared the first National Woman’s Day, a year later.

The idea to make the day international came from a woman called Clara Zetkin. She suggested the idea in 1910 at an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. There were 100 women there, from 17 countries, and they agreed on her suggestion unanimously.

It was first celebrated in 1911, in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

[…] In China, many women are given a half-day off work on 8 March, as advised by the State Council, although many employers don’t always pass the half-day on to their female employees.

Since the 109th International Women’s Day took place in a hyper-mediated world, it only follows that the event came complete with its own hashtag, #EachForEqual, reflecting the day’s official theme.

#IWD2020 was another, catch-all hashtag making the rounds on social media and showing up in posts featuring news coverage of crowded streets in various hotspots for activism, as in Chile:

Other posts highlighted efforts to organize at the local level:

Still others paid tribute to women’s professional accomplishments:

The United Nations pointed out both the gains that have been made and those that still need to be made for women to be full-fledged participants in their respective societies:

What was that about commodification again? Oh, right:

An IWD marcher in Pakistan wasn’t buying the line that corporations like Disney were selling:

The media-ready Dalai Lama weighed in on Twitter, too, in a manner that conflated gender with qualities like “love and compassion”:

More nuanced and inclusive, and less essentializing, takes appeared in posts like these:

Last but not least, in two dedicated series focusing on women’s experiences and struggles, Countering Violence Against Women and Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, Truthdig has featured the work of women writers from countries including, but not limited to: India, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Sweden, Thailand, Lesotho, Pakistan, France and Nigeria. Just this past week, we offered our international audience two important pieces by Raksha Kumar and Zubeida Mustafa as part of the ongoing Global Voices series. Truthdig’s commitment to women writers and the stories they work every day to tell, not infrequently at considerable personal risk, will continue through and beyond these series in 2020 — regardless of the occasion.

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