Women Around the World Unite: a Century of Voices

A look at women who changed the world, from around the world.

Existentialist philosopher, Simone de Beauvoir once referred to women as the “second sex” in a not-so-silent protest on paper against the views which have shaped women for centuries. “What is a woman?” she asks herself.

We may find the answer to Beauvoir’s question in some of history's epic women’s protests throughout the world.

Simone de Beauvoir (From the collection of Sound and Music)

THE TWO "FOUNDING MOTHERS" OF FREEDOM
USA

It may not reach the caliber (in size) of the protests we are used to nowadays, but Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott are two women who really knew how to throw a gathering. In 1848, these women single-handedly pioneered the suffragette movement in the USA when they, together with 300 others, met in Seneca Falls to sign the “Declaration of Sentiments”. Well, not all 300 signed, but 68 women and 32 men had their signatures go down in history, protesting the lack of vote, property, education and self respect of women.

Want a peek at what the sentiments talked about? Here’s one for a gander.
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Library of Congress (From the collection of National Women's Hall of Fame)
Lucretia Coffin Mott, by Joseph Kyle, 1842 (From the Collection of Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery)

SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT MAKES THE EVENING NEWS
USA

Women demanding equal rights didn’t exactly make for palatable news at the turn of the century… that is until March 3, 1913. The day before President Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration, 500,000 women and men gathered to march along Pennsylvania Avenue. Coincidence or just great PR? Well, let’s just say that this suffrage movement was a well-planned protest designed to latch onto the presidential media attention to come. And the plan worked perfectly. This soon came to be known as one of the most powerful catalysts towards modern women’s rights.

[Hedwig Reicher as Columbia] in Suffrage Parade/Library of Congress, by George Grantham Bain, 1913-03-03 (From the Collection of National Women's History Museum)

WHERE THERE'S A WILL, THERE'S A WAY
Britain

The women suffragette movement was furiously brewing over in Britain, but unfortunately so was political tension that sparked the outbreak of World War I. While men were being drafted into war, women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, decided to shift their focus to a more prevalent societal need: work.

Pankhurst and countless other women wanted to show allegiance to the war effort by taking on jobs that men had left behind. This created an urgent need to fill the ever-growing demand for factory jobs, making it almost impossible to deny a woman's worth, and a woman's work. In 1915, Emmeline, and her daughter Christabel led the movement that gathered thousands of women from all around to voice their demand for equal jobs and equal pay. And their voice was heard. Women were given the right to work in factories, setting a precedent for the future of women at work.

Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, 1914-05-21 (From the collection of the British Film Institute)

YOU STRIKE THE WOMEN, YOU STRIKE THE ROCK
South Africa

On August 9, 1956 over 20,000 women gathered on Pretoria from all over South Africa to deliver letters to the Prime Minister, J.G. Strijdom, and a petition entitled What Women Demand, which laid out all the basic rights their male counterparts were privy to. The prime minister wasn’t having it, and what happened next was an experience that went down in history books. All 20,000 women remained in complete silence and unity for one hour, standing by mountainous piles of ignored letters. The women then used their energy and began singing a freedom song appropriately titled: ‘Wathint’ abafazi Strijdom, wathint’ imbokodo, uza kufa’ which translates as ‘You strike the women, you strike the rock’.

Women's March – 1956, 1956-09-09 (From the Collection of Africa Media Online)

THE DAY WOMEN TOOK A DAY OFF FROM SOCIETY
Iceland

What’s the most you’ve ever achieved by having a day off? Ask Icelandic women. In 1975, in an unprecedented march for gender equality, over 90% of the country’s women “took the day off”. The Woman’s Day Off was a radical, well-organized concept—women simply didn’t go to work and didn’t attend to family life. This day of "me time", turned a normal Friday into what would later become known as “the long Friday”. Five years later, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was elected President of Iceland. She was the first female European president to be democratically elected. You definitely can get a lot more than you think done on a day off.

POWER TO THE PEOPLE, AND TO THE PEOPLE, POWER!
USA

In 1997, an unprecedented number of women organized what would be described as “The Million Woman March”. Through a day of prayer, speeches and song, women highlighted issues that pertained to the marginalization of African Women’s rights, including pay inequality. The scale and success of this march demonstrated for the first time the potential of modern movements to organize effectively, paving the way for all kinds of groups, from Stop the War to Black Lives Matter. What struck a chord with equal rights leaders, such as Maxine Waters, is how many younger people came to protest. This is the young generation who perhaps followed in US Representative Waters’ footsteps to hold their rightful place in lawmaking.

Maxine Waters, original watercolor by Juan Ramos, 2007 (From the Collection of California State Archives)

MODERN DAY SUFFRAGETTES
Global

Women marching for a better world is not just part of the past, and like the suffragettes more than a century before them, women have taken to the streets of Washington, D.C. in huge numbers for the last 2 years - their message amplified all around the world to millions more through social media and news networks—in protest, but also to celebrate all that has been achieved so far, on the long march to women’s equality.

PussyHat, 2017 (From the collection of The Strong National Museum of Play)
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