The last year of incredible women-led movements around the world
07 March 2019
(Gaudiramone, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Last year on International Women’s Day, more than 5 million women took part in Spain’s first national women’s strike in an unprecedented mobilisation to highlight the invisible labour done by women in all walks of life. Under the slogan “If we stop, the world stops,” protesters from schoolgirls to executives downed tools to demonstrate how vital women’s work is, and to call for an end to misogyny and devaluing of women.
As tens of thousands globally take part in this year’s Women’s Strike, we look back on some of the many incredible movements led by and for women around the world since 8 March 2018.
Brazilian activists protest in memory of Marielle Franco (Bernado G//Flickr//CC BY-2.0)
For women in Brazil, especially queer and Black women, 2018 was a year of great turmoil. The assassination of Marielle Franco in March, the Black lesbian councilwoman and “voice of the favela”, brought the nation’s growing feminist, leftist and LGBT+ movements out in force. Thousands gathered in Rio de Janeiro to mourn her death and to continue her fight against state violence and poverty. Chanting ‘not one step backwards’, many women held signs condemning the epidemic of rape and femicide which has made Brazil one of the most dangerous places in the world for women.
In November, the presidency was taken by Jair Bolsonaro, who once said of a country where 4,500 women were killed in 2018 that feminists should “stop whining” about femicide. But throughout his campaign women have been at the forefront of the ele nao movement against him, and have been tireless in fighting against his persecution of women, Black and indigenous people and the queer community.
In a ray of hope this year, Brazil elected its first transgender woman to state government. Érica Malunguinho, a Black activist and vocal socialist, said that Marielle Franco’s murder was what led her to run and win the seat. “It was a message to us that we should not have to be fighting over our bodies and resisting genocide and racism. I had so much hate in me. At the same time, I knew I needed to take this hate and do something positive with it.”
Women from across Kerala formed a human chain to protest inequality (photo Sai K Shanmugam,CC BY-SA 4.0)
In January this year, women in Kerala made a 385 mile human chain to protest gender inequality. The “women’s wall” made headlines around the world, with around 5 million women forming a line across the state. The protest centred on the exclusion of women from the Sabarimala Hindu shrine – the shrine’s ban on women of menstruating age was overturned in September, but women trying to enter the temple have been attacked by mobs, pelted with stones, and even arrested under spurious charges. The right-wing Indian government have called attempts to give women access to all praying spaces ‘an attack on Hindu values’. In a country where women are rightly furious at the misogyny peddled by conservative Hindu nationalists, and where gendered violence is epidemic, the Sabarimala protest was an incredible reminder of the power and conviction of Indian feminists.
Women in Dublin call for a change in the constitutional ban on abortion (MTMS Photos//CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The Eighth Amendment, which rendered abortion illegal in Ireland unless the life of the mother was in imminent danger, was overturned by a landslide in the May 2018 referendum, with 66% voting to repeal the amendment, granting the Irish government powers to legislate for safe legal abortion. Abortion has been a sore spot for decades in Ireland, where inducing miscarriage has been legally tantamount to murder since 1860 and the last Magdalene Laundry only closed in 1996. Women were at the forefront of social change, working to build an Ireland where reproductive rights can become a reality.
Women from Glasgow took part in an unprecedented strike for equal pay (Public Services International//CC BY-SA 2.0)
In October, more than 8,000 women in Glasgow took part in the biggest strike for equal pay in British history. For more than a decade, Glasgow council employees have been protesting rulings which they say ensure female-dominated roles will always be less valued and worse-paid than roles dominated by men. Following the mass strike, the rules on job evaluation are being changed, and thousands of women will receive paybacks for their unequal wages, totalling over £500 million.
Nigerian women protested against harassment in Yaba street market (Twitter//@MarketMarch)
In December, Lagos women coordinated a Market March, facing insults, threats, and even people throwing stones and bottles as they carried placards through Yaba Market calling for an end to harassment. They have been hailed by Nigerian feminists for giving a voice to the everyday struggles so many West African women face, and many women report that after the march, men in the markets began to stop each other from touching or catcalling female customers.
A record number of women were elected to the US Government in 2018
Despite the rising tide of far-right misogyny and racism in the United States, the November midterm elections saw the highest ever number of women elected as senators and state representatives. To celebrate, dozens of female lawmakers attended the January State of the Union address wearing white, homaging the white dresses of American suffragettes. They formed a bloc that was hard to ignore, with many women wearing badges bearing quotes by Sojourner Truth and Shirley Chisholm to pay tribute to the women of colour excluded by the original Suffrage movement.
But women’s representation isn’t just a numbers game, and it wouldn’t be progress to elect women with regressive policies. Lucky then that the most prominent of the new representatives include names like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who are already making waves by openly advocating for affordable housing and healthcare, migrant rights, anti-apartheid action, and giving a platform to the Green New Deal. It’s incredible to watch these young women of colour already making huge strides in changing the conversation across American politics.
A protester at the August protests in Buenos Aires (Fotografias Emergente// Flickr//CCBYNC2.0)
Over the summer, Argentina brought forward a bill to decriminalise abortion, and over a million women turned out in Buenos Aires to call on lawmakers to vote it through, wearing the green scarves that have become the emblem of the pro-choice movement. The ‘Green Wave’ hitting Buenos Aires was just a small part of the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) movement campaigning against violence against women. Although the bill was voted down, the massive outpouring of support for abortion rights across Argentina has fundamentally changed the face of the debate, with many politicians, including former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, coming around to supporting legal abortion. And the fight continues - just last month there were protests in cities around the country pushing for abortion rights, and we can expect to see a lot more green scarves in months to come.
Greta Thunberg speaks on climate change at COP24 (UN Climate Change//Flickr//CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Perhaps one of the defining movements of our times, School Strikes 4 Climate Action, was begun in September by then-15-year-old Greta Thunberg’s protest outside the Swedish parliament. This movement has done nothing but grow since then, with tens of thousands of children participating in weekly school strikes across the world to call for radical action on climate change, as well as mass youth mobilisation on an unprecedented scale in the form of marches and occupations. Thunberg herself has spoken around the world at events like COP 2019, calling for radical and immediate action to stop climate change before there’s no future at all.
From the mass walkout at Google offices across three continents to today’s global strike, whether in political office or grassroots action, radical progress around the world is led by women and cannot continue without us. On International Women’s Day 2019 and beyond, we must stay radical, and uphold the women across the world leading movements for real change.