Women march as their rights under threat across the world

Wednesday March 08 2023
International Women’s Day in Bangkok

Members of Thai labour unions, state enterprises and women’s rights activists prepare to march on International Women’s Day in Bangkok on March 8, 2023. PHOTO | LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA | AFP



Women were beginning to hit the streets en masse across the world on Wednesday to defend rights that are coming under increasing attack.

To mark International Women's Day, capitals across the world are hosting marches, rallies and demonstrations, including Madrid, where broad tree-lined boulevards are regularly packed with a sea of purple, a colour often associated with women's rights.

Marches took place on Wednesday in Thailand and Indonesia, where a few dozen women gathered in front of the country's parliament to urge lawmakers to pass a long-awaited bill to protect domestic workers and some chanted "long live Indonesian women".

Read: Taliban ban Afghan women from universities

With the Taliban government's banning of women from universities in Afghanistan, 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.

A woman decorates a clay jar

A woman decorates a clay jar at her craft workshop in San Juan de Oriente, Nicaragua on March 7, 2023 on the eve of the International Women's Day. PHOTO | OSWALDO RIVAS | AFP

‘Vanishing before our eyes’

Global progress on women's rights is "vanishing before our eyes," UN chief Antonio Guterres warned on Monday, saying gender equality would take another three centuries to achieve.

"Women's rights are being abused, threatened, and violated around the world," he added, pointing to Afghanistan, where "women and girls have been erased from public life".

Afghan universities reopened on Monday after a winter break, but only men returned to classes with the Taliban authorities' ban on women in higher education still in force some 18 months after they seized power.

Afghan women stage a protest in Kabul

Afghan women stage a protest in Kabul on March 8, 2023 for their rights to mark the International Women's Day. PHOTO | AFP


On the eve of International Women's Day, the European Union imposed sanctions on individuals and entities deemed to be responsible for violence and rights abuses against women.

The Taliban's higher education minister Neda Mohammad Nadeem was sanctioned for depriving women from university learning.

Read: Not in school, Afghan girls are married off

The sanctions also targeted officials from five other countries -- Iran, Russia, South Sudan, Myanmar and Syria.

In Europe, marches will take place in many countries, including France, where demonstrators will demand "equality both at work and in life" in around 150 towns and cities, a far higher number than in previous years, organisers say.

The protests will focus on the fight against France's deeply-unpopular pension reform which critics say is unfair to women.

International Women's Day in Jakarta

Policewomen secure an area next to the presidential palace as activists hold a rally on International Women's Day in Jakarta on March 8, 2023 demanding menstrual leave for women who work as labourers. PHOTO | BAY ISMOYO |/ AFP

Pankhurst waxwork

In London, the Madame Tussauds museum will mark the day by unveiling a new waxwork of suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, who began an intense struggle 120 years ago that won women's right to vote.

Elsewhere, demonstrations have been banned. 

In Pakistan, where marches are criticised for promoting liberal Western values and for not respecting religious and cultural sensitivities, organisers have had to fight multiple court challenges to press ahead with demonstrations.

Read: Women who lived as Indian goddess’ sex slaves

And in communist-run Cuba, activists seeking permission to demonstrate were arrested earlier this year, with feminist organisations instead urging people to join a "virtual march" on social media to raise awareness about gender violence and femicides.

Women guides celebrate International Women's Day

Women guides gather to celebrate International Women's Day at the Bharat Scouts and Guides training centre in Hyderabad, India on March 8, 2023. PHOTO | NOAH SEELAM | AFP

Abortion rights

Wednesday will see feminists mobilising 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.

In Europe, that right has also been undermined recently in Hungary and Poland.

"We are fighting against a patriarchy... that fights ad nauseam against rights — such as the right to abortion — that we have won through struggle," read the manifesto of the Madrid march, which is set to begin at 1800 GMT.