International Women's Day: Seven ways women changed the face of the last decade


05 March 2020

The 2010s marked a period of mass protest and social upheaval. This week will mark the first International Women’s Day of a new decade, we look back at just a few of the thousands of women-led movements across the world challenging and toppling oppressive systems.

Fighting for all Black lives

Black Lives Matter might not be the first thing you think of when you think of women’s movements, but women have been the driving force behind the collective that’s become the emblem of anti-racist action in America. In 2013, community organisers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi began a network of liberation movements which puts the voices of young queer black women at the centre of the fight against racist violence and oppression.

Photo: TED conference/Flickr

The teenage girls leading the environmental movement

One of the defining movements of the 2010s, the youth climate movement is often laid at the feet of Greta Thunberg, the teenager whose 2018 school strike sparked the ongoing wave of mass school strikes. But Thunberg is not unique – in fact, teenage girls have been some of the biggest figures in environmental activism over the last ten years, and have coordinated many of the most successful national climate strikes. Indigenous women and girls in the Americas have consistently been among the most vital voices in the climate movement. One of the touchstone movements for ending fossil fuel companies’ theft and pollution of native land and water was #NoDAPL, which was kickstarted by teenage girls like Anna Lee Rain Yellowhammer, Jasilyn Charger, and Tokata Iron Eyes. In the Amazon, voices like Artemisa Xakriabá and Anita Juruna have led the charge speaking up against deforestation, extractivism and arson. And that’s just a glimpse of the role women and girls have been playing not just this decade but for the entire history of the environmental movement – see our blog to learn more about more of the fantastic women whose voices have defined the environmental movement.

Photo: David Patrick Valera/Flickr

Ni Una Menos and the women’s strikes

Ni Una Menos (Not One [Woman] Less) describes itself as a "collective scream against machista violence." Following the violent murder of a teenage girl in 2015, Argentine feminists organised mass actions outside Congress. The movement went viral across Latin America, and in the summer of 2016 they marched in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Chile. On 19 October 2016, Ni Una Menos led an international day of action, Black Wednesday. Inspired by pro-choice strikes in Poland, women across Latin America dressed in black in memory of the dead and went on strike, refusing to do paid work or domestic labour and picketing outside their workplaces. Since then, Ni Una Menos’ work has only grown bigger. Their strike inspired the now-annual International Women’s Day strikes, and they continue to challenge not only domestic violence and murder, but the economic and social policies that allow poverty and violence to continue against women in Latin America.

Photo: Faccion Latina/Flickr

The global fight for abortion rights

Across the world, as increasingly right-wing political parties push for restricting access to abortion, the pro-choice movement has fought back with incredible strength and courage. In Poland in 2016, thousands joined the first recorded mass women’s strike to prevent attempts to pass a total ban on abortion. Although Poland still has draconian abortion laws, the so-called Czarny Protest strikes prevented it becoming one of the worst countries in Europe for reproductive rights. More recently, in Ireland in 2018, the #RepealThe8th movement mobilised thousands across the Republic, speaking out about their experiences and building an incredible grassroots movement that eventually caused the constitutional ban on abortion to be overturned. Since 2010, 15 countries have reduced restrictions on abortion as a result of concerted campaigns by grassroots activists. São Tomé and Príncipe went from a total ban on abortion to full access, and laws restricting abortion were also removed in Mozambique, Uruguay, and the Maldives.

Photo: Shane Conneely/Flickr

Speaking up about sexual assault

In 2017, the hashtag #MeToo went viral on Twitter, designed to expose the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault against women. While the media storm around #MeToo opened up the conversation around sexual assault in an unprecedented way, it generally focused on the experiences of a smaller group of women – wealthy, usually white, usually American or British women. But around the world, the 2010s were a time of mass rebellion by women against the normalisation of sexual violence. Following the death of a young woman fatally assaulted in Delhi in 2012, thousands across India took to the streets to protest the normalisation and lack of consequences for rape and sexual assault. Mass protests, vigils and marches spread to Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh as activists called for rape reports to be taken seriously, and for an end to the culture of shame for victims. And in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (often called the “rape capital of the world”), activists have been steadily building networks and resources to push back against the prevalence of sexual violence, and end the stigma of talking about trauma. This activism has not only changed laws – both in India and in America, since these mass movements began the willingness of victims to report rape has improved measurably.

Photo: Susan Melkisethian/Flickr

Toppling dictatorships

Early in the 2010s, the Arab Spring set a tone of resistance. Women were heavily involved in early organising – leading protests in Tunisia and Bahrain, sparking off resistance in Yemen, and coordinating occupations in Cairo. As new regimes moved into power, many of these movements became once more dominated by male voices, but there is no denying that women were vital to these resistance efforts. More recently, in Sudan, women once again made up the majority of protesters who ultimately toppled Bashir, facing sexual violence, physical assault and murder to fight for a democratic Sudan where women had full rights.

Photo: Duncan C/Flickr

Combatting the rise of totalitarianism and far-right nationalism

Elsewhere in the world, the rise of recent far-right demagogues has been loudly and continuously opposed by women’s collectives. Donald Trump’s 2016 election was met with mass women’s marches in the US and beyond. Erdoğan’s targeting of Kurds in Turkey led Kurdish MP Leyla Güven to coordinate a mass hunger strike, beginning in November 2018. By the end of the strike in May 2019, over 250 Kurdish political prisoners had joined her strike. These protests against totalitarianism and repression continue. Right now in Shaheen Bagh, a primarily Muslim area of Delhi, Muslim women have been blockading main roads since December 2019 in a sit-in to protest anti-Muslim legislation brought in under Modi’s nationalist government.

Photo: Wikipedia

As we move into the 2020s, we’ll keep seeing women at the forefront of social change, as they have been throughout history. We must not let their contributions pass unnoticed, not only on International Women’s day, but every day of our lives.

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