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WORLD | 08-03-2019 12:00

International Women's Day: Strikes, protests and holidays across world

Marches and protests are held Friday across the globe to mark International Women's Day under the slogan #BalanceforBetter, with calls for a more gender-balanced world.

Marches and protests are held Friday across the globe to mark International Women's Day under the slogan #BalanceforBetter, with calls for a more gender-balanced world.

The day, sponsored by the United Nations since 1975, celebrates women's achievements and aims to further their rights.

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EUROPE

Police in the Ukrainian capital Kiev detained three people as far-right demonstrators tried to provoke activists protesting domestic and sexual violence.

About 300 people gathered on Mykhailivska Square in central Kiev on Friday for the women's rights demonstration. Several dozen far-right demonstrators stood nearby, holding placards reading "God! Homeland! Patriarchy!" and "Feminism is destroying Ukrainian families."

Thousands of women walked off the job in Spain, joining millions more around the world demanding equality amid a persistent salary gap, violence and widespread inequality. In Spain, where women's rights have become one of the hot topics in the run-up to a general election next month, many female employees didn't show up to work Friday. Others also halted domestic work or left to men the care of children and ill or elderly people. 

In neighbouring Portugal, the Cabinet observed a minute of silence Thursday as part of a day of national mourning it decreed for victims of domestic violence. Portuguese police say 12 women have died this year in domestic violence incidents — the highest number over the same period in 10 years.

"The violence must end and this is a collective challenge for every society and everyone among us," Prime Minister Antonio Costa wrote on Twitter. "Remembering the victims is the first step towards action."

Pope Francis hailed the "irreplaceable contribution of women" to fostering peace.

"Women make the world beautiful, they protect it and keep it alive," the Argentine Jesuit said. "They bring the grace of renewal, the embrace of inclusion, and the courage to give of oneself."

"Peace, then, is born of women, it arises and is rekindled by the tenderness of mothers," he said during an audience with the American Jewish Committee. "Thus the dream of peace becomes a reality when we look towards women." 

"If we take to heart the importance of the future, if we dream of a future peace, we need to give space to women," he said.

Francis has vowed to give more decision-making roles to women in the Catholic Church, where the priesthood —and therefore the highest ranks of authority— is reserved for men. Some feminists bristle at Francis' frequent use of the term "feminine genius" and his focus on women as mothers.

In Germany, topless feminist protesters went to one of the country's most famous red-light districts in Hamburg and pulled down a metal barrier wall intended to keep out women — other than prostitutes.

A half-dozen women belonging to the Femen activist group had the slogan "No brothels for women" written on their bare back in black lettering.

Legally, all women are allowed to enter the street, but in reality most women obey the signs saying, "Entry only for men 18+."

In Britain, the new book Invisible Women drew attention. Women's lives are impacted every day by a built-in "gender data gap" that touches everything from urban life to design, its author argues.

Caroline Criado Perez says it is the story of "what happens when we forget to account for half of humanity", citing examples which range from slight irritations to life-threatening situations. 

From cars designed using crash-test dummies based on the average male, to doctors misdiagnosing women suffering a heart attack because their symptoms differ from those of men, the bias pervades modern society, and can have fatal consequences, she says. 

Even consumer products are often male-centric with voice recognition software far more likely to accurately recognise men's speech, and mobile phones often too large for women's hands. "Designers may believe they are making products for everyone, but in reality they are mainly making them for men."

In France, the first Simone Veil prize went Friday to a Cameroonian activist who has worked against forced marriages and other violence against girls and women. Aissa Doumara Ngatansou was married against her will at age 15 but insisted upon continuing her studies as a young wife. She has since turned her attention to victims of Boko Haram extremists.

The French award is named for the trailblazing French politician and Holocaust survivor Veil, who spearheaded the fight to legalise abortion.

On receiving the 100,000-euro prize (US$112,000) Doumara dedicated it to "all women victims of violence and forced marriages" and to those who had escaped the clutches of Boko Haram, the jihadist movement which emerged in Nigeria a decade ago and has terrorised the region. 

Meanwhile in Russia, International Women's Day is a public holiday but it mostly lauds gender roles that are now outdated. As is his custom every year, President Vladimir Putin gave a speech thanking women for their patience, good grace and support.

"You manage to do everything: both at work and at home and at the same time you remain beautiful, charismatic, charming, the center of gravity for the whole family, uniting it with your love," Putin said.

In Turkey, four female members of Turkey's gendarmerie units found an unusual way of marking the day: rappelling down from Istanbul's 15 July Martyrs' Bridge connecting the city's European and Asian sides and into the waters of the iconic Bosporus.

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ASIA

In India, hundreds of women marched on the streets of New Delhi demanding an end to domestic violence, sexual attacks and discrimination in jobs.

Boys are prized more than girls in India. Thousands of Indian women are killed — often doused in gasoline and burned to death — every year because the groom or his family feel the dowry she brought to the wedding was inadequate.

Political parties in India have for years been promising 33 percent of seats for women in the country's Parliament, but they have yet to enact legislation to that effect.

In Indonesia's capital Jakarta, several hundred men and women carried colorful placards calling for an end to discriminative practices such as the termination of employment for pregnancy and exploitative work contracts.

"Our action today is to urge [the government] for our right to a society that's democratic, prosperous, equal and free from violence," said Dian Trisnanti, a labor activist. Girls and women in Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous country, have equal access to education but face higher unemployment, lower wages and poorer working conditions than men.

Both Koreas marked the day. In the South, women wearing black cloaks and pointed hats marched against what they describe as a "witch hunt" of feminists in a deeply conservative society.

College student Noh Seo-young said that South Korea struggles to accept that women are "also humans" and that women have to fight until they can "walk around safely."

In the North, where Women's Day is one of the few national holidays that is not explicitly political in nature, people dressed up for family photo shoots or bought roses for their mothers or wives at the many small, bright orange street stalls in central Pyongyang that sell flowers. The stalls normally do most of their business selling flowers to be placed at the feet of statues to the country's leaders.

As the North's founder Kim Il Sung once said: "In our country, women are in charge of one of the wheels of the revolution". 

His attitude has even found expression in the dictionary which features sample phrases like "an indomitable revolutionary woman fighter" or "If women are confined to their homes and remain away from labour and organisational life they cannot be revolutionised."

In the Philippines, hundreds of women in purple shirts used a noisy march and protest in Manila to call for the ouster of President Rodrigo Duterte, whom they rebuked for the often sexist jokes he cracks and authoritarian moves they say are threatening one of Asia's liveliest democracies.

About 4,000 demonstrators marched through Manila chanting slogans against President Duterte, who has repeatedly made jokes about rape and last year admitted indecently touching the family maid when he was a teenager. They toppled an ugly head effigy of Duterte from atop paper blocks with slogans depicting him as a US lapdog.

Aides have brushed off his comments as jokes, but activists have denounced his "misogynistic" statements as "unacceptable, pointing to statistics showing a 153 percent increase in rape from the decade before he was elected. 

With one woman or child is raped in the Philippines every hour, activists aiming to raise awareness about gender-based violence staged an exhibition of clothes worn by victims, called 'Don't tell me how to Dress'.

Meanwhile, Australia's government used International Women's Day to take aim at Wicked Campers, a "misogynistic" campervan firm known for its fleet of vehicles spray-painted with crude, sexist graffiti and slogans which years have sparked outrage. 

"We have no tolerance for sexist, misogynistic and offensive slogans on campervans," said Minister for Women Kelly O'Dwyer, while Transport Minister Michael McCormack said they "belong in a junkyard, not on Australian roads."

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NORTH AMERICA

On the eve of International Women's Day, US First Lady Melania Trump saluted women from 10 countries for their courage.

The recipients of the International Women of Courage Award included human rights activists, police officers and an investigative journalist. They came from Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Ireland, Jordan, Montenegro, Myanmar, Peru, Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

"Courage is what divides those who only talk about change from those who actually act to change," Mrs. Trump said at a ceremony Thursday that was also attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo separately recognised women in Iran for protesting the requirement that they wear a head covering known as a hijab in public and a Ukrainian activist who died in 2018 after she was attacked with sulfuric acid.

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AFRICA

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who named one of the world's few "gender-balanced" Cabinets last year, told a gathering that "women are the pillars of the nation and the least recognized for their sacrifices."

In Nigeria, the U.S. Embassy hosted talks on sexual harassment that included a founder of the recent #ArewaMeToo campaign among women in the country's conservative, largely Muslim north. And in Niger, first lady Aissata Issoufou Mahamadou oversaw the awards in the Miss Intellect Niger contest.

Women protested against gender-based violence in Kenya's capital.

"We haven't gotten to a stage where women are comfortable to come out and say, 'I was sexually abused,'" said protester Esther Passaris. "So what we need to do is slowly, slowly grow."

 

 

 Do more at home, UN tells men -

 

Of all the factors blocking equality in employment, the biggest is the heavy burden of caregiving borne by women, a UN report has found, saying the pace of change will only change if men take on far more unpaid tasks at home. 

"In the last 20 years, the amount of time women spent on unpaid care and domestic work has hardly fallen, and men's has increased by just eight minutes a day," said Manuela Tomei of the UN's International Labour Organization. 

Globally, women perform more than three-quarters of the total time spent on unpaid care work, averaging four hours and 25 minutes per day, while men only do one hour and 23 minutes.

"The imbalanced division of work within the household between men and women is one of the most resilient features of gender inequality," the report said. 

 

- TIMES/AFP/AP

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