International Women’s Day 2018: Beyond #MeToo, With Pride, Protests and Pressure

By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO, RAPHAEL MINDER and CHOE SANG-HUN (*) – The New York Times

ROME — In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, International Women’s Day arrived on Thursday with a sense of urgency and determination.

For many women, there was a keen awareness that there had been a major shift in the firmament when it came to gender parity, the treatment of women in the workplace and sexual dynamics.

But others — scratching out lives in developing countries in Africa, toiling away at jobs with little pay in Latin America or scrambling to raise children without help in the Middle East — most likely had little time left over to reflect on the one day of the year designated to celebrate “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women,” as the website says.

Nonetheless, Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, said on Twitter: “There is a lot to fight for: Engage! Women and men alike. We need power to make equality a reality.”

Some women, fueled by impatience over the long-running fight for equality and the sense that the glacial pace of change would just not do, found large and small ways to protest — with pots and pans, raised fists and howls of rage.

A ‘domestic strike’ and a discount

To highlight gender inequality, feminist groups in Spain asked women to spend no money and to ignore chores for the day — to go on a “domestic” strike.

The actress and mother Penélope Cruz said she was on board. Joining several left-wing politicians, two prominent members of Spain’s governing conservative party, Agriculture Minister Isabel García Tejerina and Cristina Cifuentes, the head of the regional government in Madrid, announced that they would observe a day of work-to-rule, in which one works exactly the hours assigned and no more.

The newspaper El País posted a video explaining why it was not fully staffed: The women were away.

Hundreds of women gathered at midnight in Puerta del Sol, in the heart of Madrid, to kick off a day of protests across the country, with about 120 street demonstrations scheduled later on Thursday. Women banged pots and pans and shouted slogans during the protest.

The mobilization in Spain had the backing of most trade unions. Ten unions called for a 24-hour strike, while others called for two-hour work stoppages. Service on Madrid’s metro system was significantly disrupted after the Transport Ministry announced that 300 trains would not be operating. Renfe, the national railways company, canceled more than 100 long-distance trains because of the strike.

The women’s strike was covered extensively on Spain’s morning television and radio shows, but not by the country’s most famous female presenters, who stayed away from work.

“If women stop, it has to be noticed,” Ana Rosa Quintana, a TV presenter, wrote on Twitter.

The issue also generated some political controversy. The regional Parliament of Valencia was split on Thursday, as right-leaning female lawmakers took part in a session while their left-wing counterparts left the assembly and hung signs on their chairs that read, “I’m stopping.”

The leader in Valencia of the conservative Popular Party, Isabel Bonig, argued that striking lawmakers ridiculed the sacrifice made by other women because they could leave the parliamentary session for a few hours without suffering any financial consequences — unlike other women in other professions.

Data from the European Union’s statistical provider Eurostat show that women in Spain were paid 13 percent less in the public sector and 19 percent less in the private sector than their male counterparts. In 2016, women’s gross hourly earnings in the European Union were on average 16.2 percent below those of men.

The call for a strike went out in England, too, where it was organized on social media by a group called the Women’s Strike Assembly UK: “Today #WeStrike! Wear red, bring an umbrella & join us.” And in France, where the gender pay gap is 25 percent, according to one paper, Libération, Thursday’s edition was sold with two prices: 2 euros for women, and €2.50 for men.

In Italy, marches were held in dozens of cities and women were also encouraged to strike. The Italian post office issued four stamps dedicated to the “Italian female genius.” Countless mimosa tree branches were felled so that women could receive gifts of small bouquets of the odorous yellow flowers.

Representatives of a project called 100 Women against Stereotypes met in Rome to promote an online platform that sponsors female experts in a variety of areas.

And after being held inside Vatican City for years, the Voices of Faith conference, which champions women’s leadership in the global Catholic community, moved to the headquarters of the Jesuit order. The venue was moved after the Vatican expressed disapproval of the choice of three speakers on the schedule, including a former president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, who has championed women’s ordination.

As thousands of students marched in Milan on Thursday morning, one group broke off to chant slogans in front of a hospital, protesting the majority of Italian doctors who refuse to perform abortions, even though it is legal.

In Rome, the actress Asia Argento, who has received criticism in Italy for accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, was among the women who marched.

Defying Duterte in Manila

In the Philippine capital, women took to the streets and denounced President Rodrigo Duterte as among the worst violators of women’s rights in Asia.

Hundreds of activists sang and danced in a boisterous rally in Plaza Miranda, in central Manila, while handing red and white roses to the mothers, sisters and widows of those suspected of drug offenses who have been slain under Mr. Duterte’s brutal crackdown.

The protesters noted the thousands of people they say have died in extrajudicial killings — accusations the police have denied. One protest leader, Jean Enriquez, condemned Mr. Duterte’s remarks against women, including one in which he asked troops to shoot female communist rebels in the genitals.

“We’re so alarmed,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “We have seen his direct attacks on women under his iron-hand rule, and it’s now time to heighten our resistance.”

In India, where the gang rape of women and sexual assaults on young girls have brought anguish and soul searching, students, teachers and workers in the sex industry marched toward Parliament, demanding their rights and action against domestic violence, sexual attacks and discrimination in jobs and wages.

“Unite against violence against women,” one placard read. “Man enough to say no to domestic abuse,” said another. “My body, My choice.”

In China, the forever boyfriend

Students at Tsinghua University celebrated International Women’s Day with banners making light of a proposed constitutional amendment to scrap term limits and allow President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely, according to news reports.

One banner said that a boyfriend’s term should also have no limits, while another said, “A country cannot exist without a Constitution, as we cannot exist without you!”

Photographs of the banners were shared on Chinese social media before, according to online commenters, the posters were swiftly removed — most likely by censors.

‘A revolution afoot’ in South Korea

More than 500 women’s rights leaders gathered in Seoul on Thursday, vowing to keep up a #MeToo campaign that has gained steam in South Korea in recent weeks. Political leaders raced to join them to voice their support ahead of elections scheduled for June to select mayors and provincial governors.

In central Seoul, feminist activists handed out white roses as a symbol of support for the movement. Nearby, hundreds of labor activists rallied and waved #MeToo signs.

Another group of female workers held a rally holding signs that said, “Stop at 3 p.m.” The wage gap between men and women was so wide in South Korea that women should stop working at that time to break even, they said.

The Korean Women’s Associations United called for reform in the country’s “patriarchal social structure that breeds gender discrimination.”

“We see a revolution afoot,” it said. “And the leader of this revolution is women.”

Marching, despite the Taliban

When the Taliban ruled parts of Afghanistan, many women were too afraid to leave their homes. But on Thursday, hundreds marched in Kabul, the capital, to remind their leaders that much work needed to be done to give Afghan woman a voice, ensure their education and protect them from often brutal violence and an oppressive patriarchic system.

The head of the Independent Human Rights Commission, Sima Samar, speaking about women in the country’s security forces, declared, “Your safety represents the safety of all Afghan women.”

The state of women, by the numbers

Many organizations showed support for the day by tweeting reminders of all that women have accomplished.

But that great work still needed to be done is clear. A report released on Thursday by the Economic Policy Institute showed that when it came to wages, American women with graduate degrees made less money than men with only college degrees. In a cradle of gender equality, Denmark, women spent far more time than male partners on household chores, according to a study by the Danish Employers’ Association for the Financial Sector.

A report unveiled on Thursday by Open Society Foundations in Brussels and titled “An End to Manels,” or all-male panels, showed that female speakers are outnumbered by men by three to one at Europe’s top 23 international policy events — including the Davos conference and the Munich Security Conference.

Christal Morehouse, the report’s author, said in a statement, “The policies being debated affect women and men equally — it’s perplexing that in 2018 women still don’t have an equal opportunity to shape them.”

And in Central African Republic, women are still fighting for their daughters to get a good education and to start their own businesses in a country with the world’s second-highest rate of child marriage.

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*Elisabetta Povoledo reported from Rome, Raphael Minder from Madrid and Choe Sang-hun from Seoul, South Korea. Reporting was contributed by Yonette Joseph, Mike Wolgelenter and Iliana Magra from London; and Motoko Rich from Tokyo. MARCH 8, 2018

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