Protesting is as fundamental a right as voting. In the last few years, many demonstrations have shown us that, indeed, protesting is a tool of bringing about change at the policy level. Marginalized communities across the world, from the United States to Sudan, are raising their voices against injustices - and women are joining, organizing, and leading these movements everywhere. Be it farmer protests in India or protests against femicide in Latin America, women are increasingly being seen at the forefront of the change.
It is no surprise that women are participating and leading mass movements. After all, history is full of examples of women leading demonstrations that impacted the politics in their time and continue to do so even today. The 1789 March on Versailles, also known as the October Days, was organized by women against bread’s high price. The march ended with women, numbered in thousands, along with some men, storming into the royal palace and demanding the royal family’s return to Paris to control grains’ supply and prices. The 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington DC was one of the many mass demonstrations organized by the Suffragette Movement. This Parade was organized a day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration and gained media traction for its demands to amend the constitution. This movement, and movements that followed, led to the historic amendment to the American Constitution that secured the right to vote for women in 1920. Korean Women's Democratic Party gathered together in 1946 to demonstrate independence without trusteeship from the Soviet Union, the US, and the Republic of China, who agreed to have a five-year trusteeship over Korea leading up to independence. These are only three of the many, many examples of women raising their voice against unjust governance. What we are seeing today is simply the continuation of a long tradition of women’s involvement in and impact on politics around the world.
Why does women’s participation matter?
Women’s representation in people’s movements matters for two major reasons. First, women are fifty percent of the population and thus their equal participation should not just be encouraged but also sought after. To bring about change for all the people, it is only fair that all people are getting a seat at the table. Secondly, as per a UN Women report, only 22 of 119 countries have a female leader - which means that women are already underrepresented in government and politics. Thus, achieving fair representation and gender parity is at the hands of female citizens. Raising their voices against unjust laws and unfair governance is the first step to achieving equal participation and representation in leadership roles.
What changes when women participate in protests?
According to the United Nations, protests organized by women or protests with female participants are more likely to remain non-violent. It is not rare for women to get injured, assaulted, and detained in protests, though. But that is no longer holding them back. Despite the risk to their safety, more and more women are taking it to the streets because they understand the critical role they play as organizers, supporters, and caregivers in protests. Since women’s struggles and gender-violence issues can only be rightly expressed by women, women must become a part of the demonstrations that directly affect policymaking.
Major protests led by women that are impact politics and policy right now
1. Farmer protests in India
Since November 2020, hundreds of thousands of farmers have engaged in protests against the farm laws that threaten the farmers’ livelihoods, at different sites around the national capital of Delhi. These protests have conquered the harsh North Indian winters and against the government’s advice, elderly farmers and women have continued to participate in large numbers despite the severe weather conditions. As the backbone of India, agriculture is an important occupation for a large population, and women form the backbone of agriculture. After the Shaheen Bagh protests against the citizenship bill in 2020, the farmer protests are yet another proof that women in India are challenging the patriarchal stereotypes that restrict them to households. Women’s continuous support for managing ration supplies, distribution of blankets and sweaters, and taking care of other essentials has ensured that the protests can continue for a longer period without any logistical difficulties.
2. Poland abortion protests
In October 2020, the Polish court ruled the 1993 law allowing abortion in cases of severe and irreversible fetal abnormalities as unconstitutional. Since most, if not all, abortions were carried out under this provision, ruling it out meant an effective ban on abortions in Poland. The ruling came without any public or parliamentary debate and provoked outrage from women all over Poland, and even internationally. This outrage led to country-wide protests and demonstrations led by Polish women. Women braved freezing winters and coronavirus restrictions to participate in the demonstrations that followed the ruling.
3. 2017 Women’s March
Over 7 million people worldwide participated in the Women’s March of 2017. This peaceful march that extended to even Antarctica, advocated for women’s rights, freedom, and equality. Because these protests were organized largely over social media, they gained international traction, and the women that organized the movement were able to mobilize demonstrators and unified them for a sustainable campaign.
These illustrations prove that modern protest sites are spaces, not only of resistance against injustice but also of women empowerment. Women’s continued participation, despite the pandemic, in these protests shows that women’s activism is continuing to gain momentum due to these demonstrations that not only empower women but also benefit the communities that women are increasingly supporting. Even the celebration of women’s month stems from a history of protests, starting with protests by garment workers in New York in March 1908, followed by movements in March in Denmark, Russia, and Europe in 1910, 1911, and 1913, respectively. Movements led by women against World War - I were held in and around the month of March, in several countries in 1915 and 1917. The continued struggle of women is represented by a rich history of protests that our history textbooks often choose to ignore.
It must be remembered that no movement can succeed if half the population remains silent on it. And thanks to women’s increased participation in movements against injustice, that is no longer a problem. The women that raised their voices against injustice centuries ago continue to inspire women everywhere today. As a woman, I both admire and take inspiration from the courage that every woman in history has shown to pave the way for me, and the women after me. From October Days to this day, women’s courage, women’s leadership, and women’s voices have led movements of resistance and there is no doubt that women will continue to run the world by being at the forefront of change.