Women’s Movements Across the Globe

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Have you been thinking a lot about feminism recently? You’re not alone–from more women serving in U.S. Congress than ever before to John Oliver’s #feminism hashtag on Last Week Tonight, there’s a lot going on when it comes to discussing–and making real progress on–women’s empowerment.

If it feels like we’re at a unique time and place in women’s history, it’s because we are. But women’s movements still have a long and storied history spread across millennia, and that history isn’t limited to just one part of the globe. Women’s movements have blossomed around the world to fight for female empowerment and equal rights. Here are only a few of those movements:

Protesting Violence in Honduras

There are few places more dangerous to be a woman than Honduras. This Central American country experiences one of the world’s highest femicide rates, with a woman murdered on average every sixteen hours. Women report domestic violence 30,000 times per year and sexual violence an average of once every three hours–and figures including unreported incidents are likely much, much higher. But Honduran women are fighting back. The “#nomás” movement confronts sexual violence, victim-blaming, and government complacency. Prominent Honduran influencers Maria José Martínez Paz and Kassandra Mayorga have encouraged women to post about their experiences with gender violence under the #nomas tag on Instagram.

Striking for Equality in Spain

What does it look like when a country’s women don’t work for a day? The women of Spain showed the world in March 2018, when five million Spanish women went on strike to mark International Women’s Day. And then, in March 2019, they did it again. This second strike reportedly experienced even greater participation than the first, with rally crowds doubling from 170,000 in 2018 to over 350,000 in the national capital of Madrid. Comisión 8M, a coalition of women’s groups, labor unions, and other organizations helped plan the strike to protest a wide variety of issues in Spanish society that harm women, from wage inequality and street harassment to rape laws and environmental protections.

Pushing Forward in Saudi Arabia

Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia made headlines in mid-2018 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lifted a longstanding ban on female drivers. Saudi women celebrated their new abilities to run errands, visit family, or attend work and school–but they also knew the struggle was far from over. Restrictive guardianship laws still keep women from traveling, marrying, or having certain medical procedures without a male relative’s consent. Female activists are pushing back, often at great danger to themselves: activists such as Loujain al-Hathloul have been jailed and tortured for speaking out about the need for further reforms. The women of Saudi Arabia have leveraged creative strategies to make their voices heard: one anonymous group operates an underground radio station that discusses domestic violence and other women’s issues, while scores of female Saudi artists, musicians, and comedians use their work to counter stereotypes or express themselves.

Calling Out Harassment in China

In March 2015, police officers arrested ten Chinese women in Beijing. Five were detained for over a month. Their crime? Planning to pass out stickers with information about sexual harassment on International Women’s Day. The “Feminist Five” were eventually released thanks to national and international pressure, and the unique women’s movement of China has continued to gain momentum. While the ruling Communist Party theoretically espouses gender equality, in practice Chinese women have had to fight harassment, domestic violence, and disdain for “leftover” women who buck social norms by staying single and childless. China’s women’s movement must contend with a sensitive political environment where online protest and dissent–a crucial tool for many women’s movements–is highly restricted. To get around online suppression, activists have turned to innovative strategies such as wearable “human billboards.”

Toppling Dictatorships in Sudan

In late 2018, the people of Sudan took to the streets in cities and towns across the country. They protested a debilitating economic crisis and the decades-long militaristic rule of dictator Omar al-Bashir. And they were led by women drawing on the nation’s long history of female activism sounding the zaghareet, a traditional celebratory call used by women across the Middle East and Northern Africa. Women, who suffered Bashir-implemented laws restricting them from basic economic activities such as selling tea in public to support their families, continue to lead the call for change in Sudan. Since Bashir’s overthrow, women activists have been adamant that the transitional authority now in charge of implementing a more democratic government is half female and civilian-led.

Women’s movements are everywhere across the globe. There have even been female-led marches in Antarctica! The fight for empowerment has come a long way, but it’s far from over.

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