Women protesting is not a new phenomenon. From the documented women’s march that took place in Versailles (1789), to the global suffragette movement, women protesting have impacted laws, changed policy, ousted political leaders and influenced societal change. What do we know of their advocacy efforts?
Globally and throughout history, women have engaged in protests to fight for their rights against oppressive regimes, misogyny, racism, homophobia, and patriarchy. Women have protested for liberty, democracy and religious freedom. Activism has been driven by the fight for the right to vote, drive and for equal access to education. Housing rights, land rights and access to politics have also been on women’s agenda. Protests have been peaceful and violent. They have taken place online, in-person, individually and collectively. Despite women’s historic contributions to protest, they still go largely unrecognised for their bravery and impact.
2. In 1985, Danuta Danielsson famously hit neo-nazis protesting with her handbag which was caught on camera in the iconic photograph, pictured left.
3. Years later, also in Sweden, Tess Asplund individually faced over 300 neo-nazis in the town of Borlange, pictured right.
Women-led protests happen on local, national, and international scales. Women have successfully organised across borders, taking a coordinated approach to highlight the gendered climate crisis, the effects of wars and the impacts of racism.
Alaa Salah famously led pro-democracy protests in Sudan, and was successful in overthrowing the authoritarian, Sudanese government. A famous picture of her standing on a car, speaking to fellow protestors went viral. Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawang, a nun residing in Myanmar was photographed protesting against armed police asking them to spare the lives of children and other protestors. A weekly demonstration takes place in Korea, known as the ‘Wednesday demonstration’, advocating for justice for Comfort Women. Comfort Women were enforced into slavery by the Japanese military, and 2011 marked its 1000th demonstration.
Images 4, 5 and 6 left to right*.
In recent decades, women have protested, successfully advancing access to reproductive rights. In countries such as Ireland and Brazil, bills have been passed for the right to access safe services, all due to pressure from protestors. Protests raged against the Mexico City Policy (also known as the Global Gag Rule) which restricts women’s access to abortion services related to US Aid. The recent wave of protests in solidarity with the ‘MeToo’ movement sees women protest for the right to be free from sexual harassment. The conviction of multiple perpetrators is largely attributed to the movements impact.
Locally, in Bristol, Jen Reid became a key symbol of hope amidst protests organised by the Black Lives Matter movement, a movement founded by three women. A statue of Jen Reid was installed on the plinth of the Colston statue, only for it to be removed less than twenty-four hours later. However, this has started conversations around the lack of statues of women protesters.
7. Jen Reid standing next to the statue created of her by Marc Quinn, June 2020.
Women protestors have shown immense courage in the face of resistance, to fight for their rights and others. In an era of globalisation, women are increasingly becoming a united front with transnational organisations fighting for women’s rights. With the recent decision to over-turn ‘Roe vs. Wade‘, what’s next for women who protest?
Grace Biddulph – Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity.
4. Taken 5 May 2010 in Quito. A woman protests a Water Privatization Law known for impacting indigenous people. [Description: A woman is arguing against police, with a photographer and on-lookers circling them both.]
5. Taken 9 July 2016. The protester pictured is Ieshia Evans, who was detained for protesting the shooting of Alton Sterling. [Description: The image includes a woman facing three police offers with a line of police offers behind]
6. Taken 11 September 2016 during pro-democracy protests in Santiago, Chile. [Description: a close-up of a woman staring directly into the face of the police]