Women march as rights under threat across the globe

By Marie Giffard with AFP bureaux around the world

MADRID – Women hit the streets from Bangkok to Barcelona on Wednesday (8) to mark International Women’s Day (IWD) and stand up for rights that are coming under increasing attack.

With the Taliban government’s banning women from Afghan universities, Iran’s repression of the Mahsa Amini protests, new US restrictions on abortion rights and the Ukraine war’s impact on women, there are many reasons to protest.

But as thousands raised banners and marched through cities across the world, others were forced to keep a low profile as authorities sought to block the demonstrations.

In Afghanistan, which the UN has denounced as the “most repressive country in the world” for women’s rights, AFP saw around 20 women holding a rare protest in the capital Kabul.

Thousands also joined rallies across Pakistan, despite efforts by the authorities to block them on grounds of their controversial slogans addressing subjects such as divorce, sexual harassment and menstruation.

Schoolteacher Rabail Akhtar, who joined some 2,000 protesters in Lahore, said she was marching to “demand the security and safety that women are not afforded in this country and society”.

“Why are they so afraid of women demanding their rights?” said fellow demonstrator Soheila Afzal of the Pakistani authorities.

Rallies also took place in Thailand, and in Indonesia, but march organizers in Hong Kong said they had called off a rare, authorized protest after activists were repeatedly summoned by the police.

Elsewhere, the focus was on raising the alarm about gender violence, especially in Turkey where on Wednesday, another three women were killed, local media said.

Their deaths raise to 328 the number killed in Turkey since last year’s Women’s Day, the Stop Feminicides platform said.

Activists have called for demonstrations in 15 Turkish cities, including one in Istanbul’s Taksim Square despite it being banned by the local authorities.

In Barcelona, several thousand female students marched through the city centre, many wearing purple and waving banners reading: ‘Feminism means fighting’ and ‘We’re brave and we want to be free’.

And in Madrid, demonstrators were readying for the main march at 1800 GMT under the slogan: ‘We are fighting against a patriarchy… that fights ad nauseam against rights — such as the right to abortion — that we have won through struggle’.

In France, demonstrators waved placards and chanted slogans in marches across the country to demand “equality both at work and in life”. Demonstrations were planned in around 150 towns and cities, a far higher number than in previous years, said organizers.

The protests there are focusing on the fight against France’s deeply unpopular pension reform, which critics say is unfair to women.

In Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised women for their central role in defending the nation against the Russian invasion. It was important to thank “all the women who teach, study, rescue, heal, fight — fight for Ukraine”, he said.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi, former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said there had been “slow but steady progress” on issues affecting women and girls but admitted the work had been “dramatically set back” by Covid and the “organized pushback to the advancement of women.

“But there are a lot of other conflicts, a lot of other challenges that we have to take into account as we look at gender apartheid in Afghanistan, the persecution and oppression of girls and women exercising their freedom of choice in Iran and so many other places.”

Raising the alarm about the women journalists covering global conflicts, media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said 73 were currently behind bars, calling for their “immediate and unconditional release”.

Women journalists had paid the price for being at the front line in recent crises, it said. Of the 12 women journalists detained in Iran, 11 had been arrested following the Amini protests, with two facing charges that could carry the death penalty, it added.

Earlier this week, the European Union imposed sanctions on individuals and entities responsible for violence and rights abuses against women in Afghanistan, Iran, Myanmar, Russia, South Sudan and Syria.

That move was echoed on Wednesday by London, which announced its own measures against individuals and institutions it says are responsible for gender-based violence in Iran, Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic.

Wednesday will see feminists mobilizing in particular over abortion rights following the US Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

-Agence France-Presse



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