The last decade has been eventful for women in many ways. Women from across borders and intersectionalities raised their voices against injustice, be it sexual harassment of women by men in powerful positions, or the inefficiencies of the government, be it harmful beauty standards or equal access to opportunities, 2010-19 saw large numbers of women and men join voices and break gender roles to call out inequality.
As the year comes to an end, here’s taking a look at some of the most memorable times that women took to the streets in the past decade and smashed the patriarchy.
Indecent Dressing Bill, Nigeria (2010)
In 2008, Nigerian government managed to reach the pinnacle of policing women’s clothing in the name of safeguarding women’s safety by introducing the Indecent Dressing Bill which criminalised nudity. The parochial definition of nudity and the obvious attempt to control women’s bodies and clothes through legislation outraged Nigerian women’s rights activists who took to the streets to protest against the vicious Bill. Situations took a turn for the worse when the next year, a young Ngerian woman was raped and murdered allegedly because she was wearing khaki pants. By 2010, the public outrage reached such a peak that the government was forced to shove the Bill under the carpet.
Women to Drive, Saudi Arabia (2011)
Though Saudi Women’s rights activists have for decades been fighting for the right to drive - Saudi Arabia being the only country until 2018 that banned women from driving - the activism against the ban took off from May 2011 onward when a group of women activists led by Manal al-Sharif started a social media campaign called ‘Women 2 Drive’ to mobilise women against the sexist ban. Women started courting arrest and detention in large numbers by wilfully breaking the law and driving cars. Finally, in 2018, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ordered in a decree that the law be changed.
Nirbhaya protests, India, (2012)
In December 2012, a young medical student was brutalised and raped in a moving bus in New Delhi and thrown out to die on the streets. The incident outraged the nation and resulted in unprecedented protests. The mass protest proved to be a watershed moment for India’s attitude toward the victims and survivors of sexual violence. It led to many more voices coming out to protest against rape culture, victim shaming and the lack of regulations that can provide women safety at home and outside. The protests also led to a change in rape laws and the setting up of fast track courts to try rape cases.
The Rise of FEMEN, Ukraine (2013)
A group of Ukrainian women went viral across the globe in 2013 when they protested topless at the 43rd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That same year other members of the group ran topless toward Russian President President Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in protest of their polictices. The radical feminist group decibed itself as “fighting patriarchy in its three manifestations – sexual exploitation of women, dictatorship and religion". Their protests grabbed eyeballs across the world and encouraged and championed the causes the women spoke against including sexism, inequality, and gender pay gap, sex tourism, homophobia and a host of other national and international issues.
Chibok Schoolgirls Kidnapping, Nigeria (2014)
In April 2016, 279 secondary schoolgirls from the Chibok village in Nigeria’s Borno State were abducted, allegedly by the Boko Haram. The abduction gained international attention and protests broke out not only in Nigeria but across the world. The social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls created a lot of traction and even then United States First Lady Michelle Obama endorsed and even included it in her speeches. Over the years, many of the girls have been rescued, found, some have escaped, some have reportedly died and some still remain missing. The incident drew international attention toward the strife of women in communities caught between constant armed conflict.
Not One Less, Argentina (2015)
Driven by a spate of femicide, women in Argentina started a campaign called ‘Not One Less’ to protest against gender based violence. The protests intensified after a 14-year-old pregnant girl force fed medication and beaten to death by her boyfriend which led thousands to take to the streets against lax laws against gender based violence. In Argentina, as per a 2015 report in The Guardian, a woman was killed every 30 hours because of gender violence and that over 1800 women had lost their lives to gender violence in the past seven years. Argentinian femicide was an internally neglected and internationally unknown matter. Following the protests, the issue was widely reported on by international agencies and Argentina’s Supreme Court was compelled to mandate the setting up of s registry for recording femicide cases.
Anti-abortion protests, Poland (2016)
In 2015, Poland, the country with one of the toughest abortion laws, sought to strengthen them by bringing in a blanket ban on abortion and punishing women who attempted it with five years in prison. Thousands of women a across Poland took to the streets and campaigned on social media against the draconian law that forced women to have children even when they are born out of rape or even in case of teenage pregnancies. Women quit their jobs and as many as 30,000 women ascended on the streets of Warsaw with a vehemence that forced Parliament to roll back the ban in 2016.
Women’s March, United States (2017)
On the first day after the inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of the United States in January 2017, over 4 million women marched across the country, mostly in Washington to show their disapproval of Trump. The 2016 Presidential campaign was marred by the sexist undertones in Trump’s statements such as the ones passed on journalist Megyn Kelly or his previous “grab ’em by the p***y video that was dug up during the campaign, outraged women and men across the world. The fact that he won and not Hillary Clinton, the first woman to contest Presidential elections in US, were alarming for many. So on January 21, over 3 lakh women across the world took to the streets to protest against President Trump’s sexism.
Me Too, United States (2017)
From being a phrase that US activists Tarana Burke came up with to support survivors of sexual assault and harassment, ‘Me Too’ became the war cry of a global women’s movement when in 2017, actress Alyssa Milano used it as hashtag on social media to accuse Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. The accusations opened up a wave of accusations by women across fields who had been harassed, assaulted, raped or solicited by men in powerful positions. The wave reached India in 2018 with many such as actor Nana Patekar and politicians MJ Akbar among the accused. While the accused are currently fighting cases in court, the movement showed the power of solidarity and social media in a contemporary women’s movement and established conversations about inclement patriarchy in seemingly progressive spaces. It also led to further conversations about consent.
Strike for Climate Change, Sweden (2018)
In 2018, a 15-year-old girl with a Stern face and a yellow jacket started a solo protest outside the Swedish Parliament with w solitary placards in Swedish “School Strike for Climate Change". As photos of her went viral on social media, more and more people started arriving at her protests. A year on, Thunberg is one of the global faces of the climate crisis. Her campaign has received the world’s attention and Thunberg has managed tick off powerful men such as Donald Trump with her first speech at the recent United Nations.
Hyderabad Rape, India (2019)
2019 saw a large number of cases of sexual violence against women in India. But the brutality of the rape and murder once again brought to light the lack of safety facilities and redressal systems for victims of rape and thousands of men and women protested on streets. As pressure from the public refused to die down, the four accused in the encounter were killed in a mysterious “encounter". The case got widespread media coverage for a week.
While the women’s movement is an ongoing process, it is heartening to see so much progress in just a decade. However, there still remains a long way to go in terms of women’s rights and equality across the world. One of the weapons that women acquired in the meantime was social media. I’m most cases of protest, women used social media to organise and mobilise as well as to spread information. It allowed them to coordinate with groups from across the world. In the digital age, the fourth wave of feminism seems to have shifted heavily to the digital space. But that does not mean they have forgotten the streets. Be it in Hong Kong or Chile in India or Sudan, women have been at the forefront of public protests. This decade has truly been the decade of the woman.
(This story first appeared on December 31, 2019)