Protesting is a universal language. When people come together en masse to demonstrate their cause, no matter where they are in the world, it is a powerful expression of strength, unity, and a desire for change.
We take a look at a few examples from the long tradition of women's protests and marches, from the small, to the large, to the worldwide—but each as important as the next in the fight for human rights, fairness, and equality.
In 1949, 100 women cleaners protested their low wages by marching a third of a mile from London’s Temple Gardens to Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The women, who were members of the Civil Service Union, were being paid 34c an hour, and were protesting Sir Stafford Cripps, the Chancellor of Exchequer, for a raise to 40c. The sign they carried read “Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Women cleaners are next to starvation”. They also bought new mops to brandish for the occasion.
On August 9 1956, a group of South African women began a march to protest against the pass laws, which were a form of internal passport designed to segregate the population—and a dominant feature of the country’s apartheid system. Led by Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn, 20,000 women from all backgrounds marched to Pretoria’s Union Buildings to present the prime minister with a petition. The prime minister was not there to accept it, so it was handed over to his secretary as the women sang “wathint' abafazi, wathint' imbokodo”, meaning “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”. August 9 is now celebrated as National Women’s Day in South Africa, to commemorate their courage and strength.
The 2017 Women’s March was an example of a huge-scale international protest: an estimated 7 million people marched peacefully all over the world—even in Antarctica— to advocate human rights, freedom, and equality for all. Largely organized through social media, it became the biggest single-day protest in the United States, with around 1-1.6% of the population attending. One of the most iconic images of the march was the pink “pussyhat”, a project that encouraged crafters all over America to knit and sew over 1 million hats in order to create a lasting visual statement across the march.
AGIR, the Association of Female Indigenous Warriors from Rondônia, was formed to help combat the low participation of women in decision-making in the indigenous community of Brazil, which is made up of about 15,000 people across over 50 ethnic groups. Emerging in 2015, the members fight for their voices to be heard, holding meetings and participating in demonstrations. One of the issues that is of biggest concern is the mining of indigenous lands: mining leads to contamination of the environment that damages resources for food and handicrafts, and also has societal implications with the increase in alcohol, drugs, and prostitution it brings.
In 1981, prominent disability rights activist Lesley Hall and others from the Women With Feminist Disabilities Collective bought tickets to the 1981 Miss Australia Quest beauty pageant, which was a charitable event to raise funds for the Spastics Society (now known as Scope). They smuggled in placards, then stormed the stage to protest the sexist portrayal of women and the way the fundraiser contradicted itself by stigmatizing people with disabilities through promoting specific ideals of beauty. Hall opposed the fact that women with disabilities weren’t able to enter the beauty pageant as they were not considered beautiful, and brandished a sign that read “Spastic Society oppresses women.”
On March 25, 1911 the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, a producer of women's blouses in Greenwich Village, New York caught fire. It was the practice of its owners to lock the doorways to the stairways and exits to prevent workers from taking breaks or stealing, and this meant that due to lack of escape routes 146 employees died—123 of them women. Widespread outrage and protest against the poor working conditions led to 100,000 people marching to commemorate the victims. This ultimately resulted in a surge in membership of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union, one of the largest labour unions in the US and one of the first to have primarily female membership.
Protest marches against the Vietnam war were a frequent occurrence in London, as well as other major cities around the world, and often these ended violently as activists clashed with the police. One of the more peaceful protests took place on February 19, 1968, when over 400 women in London began a silent march from outside the American Embassy in Grosvenor Square to Downing Street.
After World War II leaders Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek declared that Korea, which had previously been annnexed by Japan in 1910, was to become free and independent. However, the Allies agreed that the Soviet Union, the US, and the Republic of China would have a trusteeship over Korea in the five years leading up to this independence. Brandishing signs, including ones reading "Give Me Liberty Or Death" and "Thanks For Liberation We Want Korean Gov't Without Trusteeship", members of the Korean Women's Democratic Party gathered together in 1946 to demonstrate for immediate independence.