The Day They Stood Up to Be Heard

Women's March Washington
April 2017

* Image courtesy of Ted Eytan

The sound of 5 million people defending women’s rights

Women's fight for equal rights has been fought for generations. In that time, achievements have been made, laws have been created to protect women, and growing respect has offset offensive and prejudiced treatment. At least, in many cases. However, in a world where gender equality is widely endorsed, newly elected U.S. President Donald Trump’s shameful behaviour towards women has led not only one group or nation, but the whole world to stand up and prepare for war.

With comments such as "grab them (women) by the pussy" and numerous sexist declarations against Hillary Clinton on the record, Trump has demonstrated blatant disdain for gender equality. In response to Trump’s frequent objectification of women and trivialisation of sexual harassment, more than five million people – including men, women and children – mobilised to show that the world won't tolerate any kind of regress. On 21 January 2017, protestors flocked to the American capital for the Women's March on Washington, and major streets in 151 cities across 58 countries were taken over by a chain of peaceful protests.

Women's March Washington DC

A war cry from the women of the world

"A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE RESISTANCE", "FEMINISM IS MY TRUMP CARD", "PRINCESS AGAINST PATRIARCHY", "FIGHT LIKE A GIRL" and "WOMEN OF WORLD RESIST" were among the signs carried by protesters around the world. It was Trump's regressive conduct that ignited popular anger. However, it was his subsequent hate speech that triggered a worldwide wave of protest.

Trump’s divisive message of acquiescence to sexual assault, and gender and race inequality had the unintended effect of uniting people. According to the Women's March on Washington organisers, "We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”

In Australia, marches in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra attracted around 18 thousand people. Together, they called for an end to hatred, bigotry and misogyny.

Women's March Sydney

Organiser of the Melbourne SlutWalk March, Jessamy Gleeson said, "The fact that [these protests] took place across the globe was, to me, one of the major facts in sending a clear message regarding Trump's words and attitudes towards women."

Gleeson is a PhD student of feminism and social media. During the march in Melbourne, she felt directly connected to the "U.S. sisters".

"As a country, we are not that far behind the U.S. We still have levels of institutionalised racism, and problems with ready access to abortion,” she said. “We have an existing pay gap, and our first female Prime Minister endured years of sexism whilst leading our country."

U.S. activist Shanon Lee claimed that the high attendance at the marches was a historic show of support, representing the power of women. "If there was any doubt about our power, it should be eliminated now", she said.

Lee is an official member of the Speakers Bureau for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) and the Director of Marital Rape Is Real.  She is producing a special series for a community radio show about the Women's March On Washington and she expects a continuation of organised protests.  Lee said, "I believe we will learn from past movements, like the African-American civil rights movement, and get better.”

Women's March Melbourne

 

#Why I march...

Whilst millions of people were raising the voice for women’s rights, there were some questions about the real point of the marches. The numbers established by World Health Organization (WHO), however, leave no doubts. Worldwide, 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. The index reaches 71 per cent in Ethiopia. In Australia, it’s estimated that more than 240 thousand Australian adult women are physically assaulted each year, an average of 633 cases of domestic violence per day. And 2 in 5 murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.

According to Gleeson, social media played an essential role in the Women's March organisation, as it provided a platform for sharing experiences women may have had relating to sexism and misogyny. The hashtag #whyimarch was used to share protesters’ motivations. Sexual assault, gender pay gap and the right to abortion were among the main reasons. Nevertheless, the protests touched on many other themes, such as racial discrimination, refugees ban and immigrants' rights.

 

Women's rights are human rights

Protestors used this historical quote – made by Hillary Clinton in 1995 during a UN speech – to involve all the marginalised groups threatened by Trump. Lee suggested that the millions of protesters were roused by both political and personal motivations. “People from different races and backgrounds, with various gender identities are also under threat because of Trump's presidency,” Gleeson added.

In Sydney, the Women's March protested against all transgressions of human rights, including the detention of refugee children in Australia. The Melbourne organisation called on defenders of human rights for women, immigrants, religious diversity, the LGBTQIA community, Indigenous people, black and brown people, people living with disability, economically disadvantaged people and survivors of sexual assault or abuse.

Women's March Calgary

The unfinished fight

It seems that Trump's "war against women" is far from over. Two days after the marches, he reinstated the global gag rule that bans groups around the world from discussing and advocating abortion. The Women's March on Washington and other organisations around the globe are planning strategies and actions to keep the flame burning. On 6 February 2017, the Women's March on Washington announced via Twitter a strike – a day without women - as the next protest action. The date is yet to be determined.