International Women’s Day Honors Its Activist Roots
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:
Aerial footage of the massive and historic International Women's Day march in Chile.— redfish (@redfishstream) March 8, 2020
Over a million Chilean women have reportedly taken to the streets of Santiago to protest against sexual violence.
Footage via @esmifiestamag, @adnradiochile and @cortanews#IWD2020 pic.twitter.com/v0WvDvR6FS
Other posts highlighted efforts to organize at the local level:
In commemoration of International Women's Day today, I went on @xpressradio and spoke about the feminist movements happening in Mexico ?✊? give it a listen here??https://t.co/Fp2bEoitDH#Marcha8M #UnDiaSinNosotras #IWD2020 #SeVaACaer— Luisa De la Concha Montes (@L_D_C_M) March 8, 2020
Still others paid tribute to women’s professional accomplishments:
Yasmeen Lari’s barefoot architecture provides dignity to the marginalised while preventing damage to the planet ? On how Pakistan’s first female architect had to 'unlearn' what she was taught in the West and how she managed to 'lose her ego' https://t.co/BgM6aApgIX ? #IWD2020 pic.twitter.com/4aS4WQpdKY— Manon Mollard (@manonmollard) March 8, 2020
“I’ve never felt that being a women was a problem in my profession, but I did feel isolated in my field. So as a woman it’s an honour to receive this prize.”— The Nobel Prize (@NobelPrize) March 8, 2020
Esther Duflo became the second woman and youngest person to be awarded the Prize in Economic Sciences.#IWD2020 pic.twitter.com/0HiRW9C2Rn
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:
How many generations does it take before we achieve equality?— UN Women (@UN_Women) March 8, 2020
On #IWD2020, learn about the progress & the gaps we still need to close.
Join #GenerationEquality and be part of the generation that makes gender equality a reality. https://t.co/aqIbrsdya4
What was that about commodification again? Oh, right:
An IWD marcher in Pakistan wasn’t buying the line that corporations like Disney were selling:
I'm just so proud that #IWD2020 #InternationalWomensDay in Pakistan was about rights, representation & resisting the patriarchy, not about silly shopping discounts. WE DID IT, LADIES (& SOME WONDERFUL GENTLEMEN)!!! ??✌?♀️?? #AuratMarch2020 pic.twitter.com/xYT2deuijb— Laaleenلعلین ✒??????????????? (@laaleen) March 8, 2020
The media-ready Dalai Lama weighed in on Twitter, too, in a manner that conflated gender with qualities like “love and compassion”:
I urge young women to accept leadership roles. We need you to promote love and compassion. Realise my dream—that the 200 nations of the world be governed by women. There’ll be less war, violence, and economic and social injustice because strength is rooted in love and compassion— Dalai Lama (@DalaiLama) March 8, 2020
More nuanced and inclusive, and less essentializing, takes appeared in posts like these:
Don’t celebrate #IWD2020 if you don’t stand for the rights of all women.— Nath Gbikpi (@NathGbikpi) March 8, 2020
That includes trans women, migrant women, women sex workers, traveller women, fat women, women of colour, homeless women…you get the point.
To everyone else, Happy International Women Day!
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.Wait, before you go…
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