What happened on 8 March?
8 March is International Women’s Day. Amidst the coronavirus outbreak, many women’s day events in Asia were either cancelled or postponed until further notice. Nevertheless, tens of thousands continued to march in solidarity in other parts of the world. In France, countless of Femen activists go topless with protective glasses and masks to denounce “the patriarchal pandemic”. In Malaysia, some protestors have even creatively decorated their masks with feminist art to show support for the movement.
Why is this significant?
This year, the women’s march in Mexico struck a particularly bitter and rebellious tone. This is because the country has endured decades of gender-targeted violence known as femicides, where an estimate of 10 women gets killed each day. In a sign of defiance, demonstrators from its capital city of Guadalajara protested against the spill of women’s blood by dyeing their public fountain red. Names of victims who have fallen under the hands of gender-based violence were also stenciled on the city pavements.
However, many women marchers are facing violent backlash from their local communities. Marchers in Paris, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan were subjected to police violence, as the police attempted to fire tear gas and detain protestors “for their safety”. Especially in more conservative societies, women in countries like Pakistan were brutally attacked with sticks and stones, revealing the modern movement’s tension with its tradition of “honour killing”.
Apart from the physical violence, the significance of the day also risks being undermined by commercial agendas. Around 8 March, many big companies and online stores often slash prices and provide discounts in hopes of capitalizing on the movement. Retailers’ effort to drum up “feminist” messages through advertising has been met with protests slamming it as ingenuine and distracting us from the true acknowledgment and celebration of women’s achievements.
In response, the co-founder of the women’s rights NGO Equality in China, Yuan Feng, has declared that “For women’s day, we don’t need flowery words of praise, but more women-friendly and gender-equal policies, giving women an equal position and opportunity in family, career and public lives.”