International Women’s Day, celebrated every March 8, is typically seen as a day to celebrate the achievements of women and the progress made in terms of gender equity.
“International Women’s Day this year comes at a difficult time for the world and for gender equality, but at a perfect moment to fight for transformative action and to salute women and young people for their relentless drive for gender equality and human rights,” wrote Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, U.N. Women Executive Director in a statement.
“Our focus is on women’s leadership and on ramping up representation in all the areas where decisions are made—currently mainly by men—about the issues that affect women’s lives,” Mlambo-Ngcuka said. “The universal and catastrophic lack of representation of women’s interests has gone on too long.”
According to the IWD website, the 2021 International Women’s Day theme was “Choose to Challenge” and that is what women around the world chose to do. In addition to organizing celebrations, women-led protests drew large crowds in cities across the globe, often defying COVID-19 restrictions, according to Al Jazeera.
“India takes pride in the many accomplishments of the women of our nation,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. “It is our Government’s honour to be getting the opportunity to work towards furthering women empowerment across a wide range of sectors.” Meanwhile, thousands of women joined the ongoing farmer’s protest in India in protest of new agriculture laws, according to Reuters.
75% of the rural women in India who work full time are farmworkers, according to the anti-poverty group Oxfam India. “To celebrate women’s day, the stage will be managed by women, and the speakers too will be women,” said Senior Farmer Leader Kavita Kurugranthy.
Women across the country organized and held sit-ins and hunger strikes in protest. “Today Modi is sending wishes to women across the country on International Women’s Day,” said Babli Singh, a farm leader. “Who are these women he is sending wishes to? We are also like his daughters, but he clearly doesn’t care about us.”
Mandeep Kaur, a female farmer, traveled 680 miles to partake in the protest, according to Al Jazeera. “Women are sitting here, out in the open, in protest, but Modi doesn’t care,” Kaur said. “He doesn’t care about mothers, sisters, and daughters. He doesn’t care about women. That’s clear.”
Polish women’s rights activists took to the streets, spending Women’s Day continuing protests of the court decision in Jan. that lead to a near total ban on abortions, according to AP News.
The protests were led by lawyer Marta Lempart, who has become a recognizable leader in the Women’s Strike movement, according to The Telegraph. In addition to incidents with police, Lempart faces criminal charges that include “causing an epidemiological threat” for planning a protest after testing positive for COVID-19.
“We keep fighting. I don’t see a way to stop it,” said Klementyna Suchanow, a Women’s Strike leader. “We are under attack by religious radicals, and this is an international movement. so we women in different countries, we need to face it and fight against it,” she said. “It’s something that is happening to all of us: to Argentinians, to Americans, to Poles, to Croatians.”
Mexico City, Mexico
In a country with one of the highest rates of gender violence, a Women’s March turned violent leaving at least 62 officers and 19 civilians injured, according to The New York Times. Protestors gathered outside the National Palace, where President Andrés Manuel López Obrador resides, focused on a metal fence that was constructed to protect the building from being damaged by protesters.
Protesters spray painted the names of femicide victims along the wall before tearing down a section of it. “I have already seen it throughout history in the peaceful marches of women—they did not give any results,” said demonstrator Ivette Granados. “I think that these things make governments and people turn around. And even if I don’t agree, life has shown me that only then do they turn around to see these situations.”
In other parts of the country, marches were organized in protest of López Obrador’s support of a gubernatorial candidate accused of rape. According to Reuters, the President has called the movement for Felix Salgado to step down over the allegations politically motivated. Four days later, the ruling party approved Salgado’s candidacy.
Approximately 1000 demonstrators gathered in the Turkish capital to protest against the growing rates of femicide in Turkey and the seeming inaction of the government, according to Reuters. Many of the protesters were seen carrying purple and LGBTQ+ flags and wearing masks that read “we will win our freedom.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan issued a statement in support of International Women’s Day saying that, “Once again, I strongly condemn all kinds of physical and mental violence and discrimination against women, which I consider a crime against humanity. We will continue our struggle with determination and sensitivity to creating an environment where our women are not subjected to violence.”
However, many critics argue that his words are not enough, if they are not made in conjunction with tangible actions. Following the demonstrations, Istanbul’s prosecuting office ordered investigations on 18 women’s rights activists for insulting the president through shouts at the protests, a criminal offense punishable with a one- to four-year prison sentence, according to the Human Rights Watch.
Despite the challenges that women across the globe continue to face, the past year has also included large milestones in the fight toward gender equity: the decriminalizing of abortions in South Korea, the reformation of rape laws in Denmark and the outlaw of female genital mutilation in Sudan.
“This year it’s especially important to celebrate women’s achievements—not only because we’re all in need of some good news, but because there is plenty of cause for hope,” Amnesty International wrote.