International Women’s Day: Eight moments that make it the year of the woman

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez speaks at a rally for gun control at the Broward County Federal Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on February 17, 2018.Image copyrightAFP

The #MeToo movement against male harassment has empowered women in the US and elsewhere, but it is not the only women’s movement to have an impact over the last year. We asked BBC journalists to choose other key triumphs that have made this a momentous year for women around the world.

A rice bunny rebellion: Lara Owen, East Asia Women’s Affairs Journalist

The #MeToo movement to expose harassment has become a worldwide phenomenon, but in a country like China – a one-party state with strict censorship – women have fewer ways to challenge the status quo.

That hasn’t stopped them from using a combination of two emojis – a bowl of rice and a rabbit – to get round the authorities.

International Women’s Day: Eight moments that make it the year of the woman
International Women’s Day: Eight moments that make it the year of the woman

In early January, Luo Xixi, a female graduate of a well-known Beijing university wrote an open letter on Chinese social media platform Weibo describing her former professor had tried to pressure her into sex.

The university launched an investigation which found Chen Xiaowu guilty of sexual harassment and removed him from his post.

While this has happened in China before, the issue has for the most part been ignored in public discourse. This time it was different.

What followed was a movement spearheaded by Chinese feminists, university students and alumni across China, but soon some universities warned students to tone down their activism. There were reports of open letters being deleted and hashtags censored.

“Rice bunny” – which in Mandarin Chinese is pronounced “mi tu” – became a nickname for the movement. Rice bunnies might sound cute, but they have given Chinese women a tool to discuss their experience of sexual harassment without fear of censorship.

A cabin size coup: Nina Nazarova, Russia Women’s Affairs Journalist

Two female flight attendants sued the major Russian airline Aeroflot for alleged discrimination in September, saying they had been shifted to less lucrative routes because of their body size.

While more young female activists talk about the importance of body positive attitude, a lot of people in Russia still believe that in order to be successful a woman should be young, thin and conventionally sexually attractive.

Evgenia Magurina and Irina Ierusalimskaya learned this the hard way when, after six and 19 years respectively of working for Aeroflot, their salaries dropped by 30% in summer 2016. When they confronted their bosses they were told they didn’t meet the size limit Aeroflot had set for its cabin crew. This was a Russian size 48 – about a UK 14 or US 12. That’s why, instead of long-haul flights – to Miami for example – they had been relegated to shorter night trips around Russia, “so no-one will see us” they told the BBC.

The two flight attendants lost their first case in court, which angered many on social media, but later won on appeal. The judge ruled that Aeroflot had to pay them their full salaries and also awarded both women compensation for emotional distress.

Although the compensation was purely symbolic – 5,000 roubles (£65) each – Ms Magurina and Ms Ierusalimskaya were pleased with the outcome as the court also told the airline to eliminate the article in its regulations concerning body size.

Sharing vital statistics: Vanessa Buschschluter, Latin America and Caribbean editor, BBC News website

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionMiss Peru contestants highlight violence against women

Beauty pageants continue to draw huge audiences in Latin America. That’s probably not surprising given that Latin American candidates have won more than 20 of the Miss Universe pageants since they started in 1952. Traditional ideas of female beauty are still held high in Latin American societies where machismo rules and women are meant to, above all, look pretty. That’s also why plastic surgery is so popular, not just with the rich, but across society.

Pageants are also seen as a chance for young women, who may lack other opportunities, to get highly paid jobs as models, in advertising or in TV – as well as to travel, if not the world, than at least the country.

There has been some criticism of their prevalence in the region. In 2012 the then-governor of the Colombian province of Antioquia banned pageants from schools. “School is for studying, not for runways,” he said, and promoted science competitions instead.

But even so beauty pageants in the region have generally remained politics-free zones, except for the often-expressed desire of contestants for “world peace”.

So it came as a total surprise when participants in Peru’s Miss Universe pageant came on stage one by one in October reciting not their bust, waist and hip measurements but statistics of gender violence.

“My measurements are: 2,202 cases of reported murders of women in the last year in my country,” one contestant said.

“My measurements are: 70% of women have been harassed in the street,” said another.

While the statements had been planned with the organisers of the event, the statistics came as a surprise to viewers, many of whom had tuned in for an evening of light entertainment.

Some said that the pageant was not the right forum, but many more supported the move and expressed their solidarity on social media under the hashtag #MisMedidasSon (#MyMeasurementsAre).

The poster girl of change: Sarah Buckley, 100 Women Journalist

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionStudent Emma Gonzalez to lawmakers: “Shame on you!”

In the terrible aftermath of the Valentine’s Day fatal shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida, a young woman emerged to spit out the collective fury of her fellow students. Tearful but impassioned, 18-year-old Emma Gonzalez crystallised the indignation and grief of her community in an eloquent and rhetorical address.

“I am going to happily ask [US President Trump] how much money he received from the National Rifle Association [NRA],” she said, adding, “OK. You want to know something? It doesn’t matter because I already know,” she proclaimed.

“$30 million!”, she went on. “And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States, in the one and one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800 [per victim]. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump?”

As a Latina, bisexual woman Ms Gonzalez represents many of the communities who have felt victimised ever since President Trump came to power, but her speech was anything but disempowered.

“This is the movement that you’re going to read about in a text book one day,” she told the BBC. “You’re either killing the children or you are saving them.”

First name terms: Faranak Amidi, Middle East Women’s Affairs Journalist

Image copyrightAFP

In Afghanistan’s largely conservative society, calling and identifying a woman in public by her first name is taboo. Indeed in many parts of Afghanistan it is considered a disgrace for men if their mother, sister, wife or daughter’s first name is known to men outside their family. It is not a legal ban, but rather a cultural barrier.

On everything from wedding invitations to gravestones, women’s names are left off – they are usually referred to simply as ‘the daughter of Mr X’, or simply, ‘Miss’. In public women are simply referred to as ‘the wife of’, ‘the mother of’, or ‘the daughter of’, a man.

Last year Afghan women started an online campaign called #WhereIsMyName, aimed at breaking this taboo and reclaiming women’s identities.

Laleh Osmani, one of the campaign organisers, was motivated to start the campaign when she came across the death notice of the wife of a famous poet on Facebook. In the notice there was no mention of the name of the deceased, or her female relatives. She realised that even among the intellectual elite, who might be expected to be more open minded, this tradition was being upheld.

The women behind the campaign urged clerics and mullahs to help change the culture surrounding women’s identities.

A lipstick up to the patriarchy: Divya Arya, South Asia Women’s Affairs Journalist

Image copyrightBalaji Motion Pictures

An unusual rebellion took centre stage in India during the hot summer, featuring hundreds of selfies using the middle finger. The Hindi-language film Lipstick Under My Burkha was finally released in India, examining the lives and desires of four women from small-town India, after a six-month legal tussle with the film censors. It had initially been refused certification for being too “lady oriented” with “continuous sex scenes”, “abusive words” and “audio pornography”.

The Censor Board did not elaborate on these objections but it is not unusual for it to suggest cuts or ban films altogether, and film makers often have to approach higher tribunals to get their films passed. In the recent past, the board has been criticised by the film industry for being irrational and making decisions on an inconsistent basis. It has been asked to edit out scenes involving sex and violence, swear words or even a kiss.

The director of Lipstick Under My Burkha, Alankrita Shrivastava, told the BBC, “The Central Board of Film Certification is outdated and illogical. Its members have no idea about gender issues and gender politics.”

Bollywood has traditionally shied away from being very confrontational, but that is changing. For Ms Shrivastava and the makers of her film, just getting the certification (with some cuts) was not enough. They launched a new poster that used lipstick as the middle finger of a woman’s hand. The female leads of the film then all posted similar photos, using the hashtag #LipstickRebellion, and the trend caught on. For more than a month, as the film was being shown, both actors and the public – both men and women – posted selfies giving the middle finger to patriarchy.

No more ‘marry your rapist’: Alma Hassoun, Arabic Women’s Affairs Journalist

Image copyrightAFP

In many communities in Arabic cultures, women who have been raped are seen as a source of shame for their families and so the crime is hidden to avoid a scandal. Women are neither socially nor legally supported to speak up and the rapists who are identified are legally exempt from punishment if they marry their victims.

It is not easy to explain how powerful this patriarchal mindset is, but it lives in a context in which sex outside of marriage is not acceptable for women. Indeed in many cultures, being a virgin is a prerequisite for future wives.

Last summer, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan scrapped the laws which saved rapists from jail if they married their victims. This is something local activists have been pushing for for years. In Lebanon, for example, in one of the campaigns more than 30 white wedding dresses were hung from nooses between the palm trees. Earlier, women dressed in wedding dresses made from bandages to protest against the law.

Similarly, Jordanians launched an e-campaign to stress their demands.

Egypt was the first Arabic country to scrap the law in 1999, but change is slow, and three countries in one year feels like a watershed moment.

A full stop to bus stop violence: Abigail Ony Nwaohuocha, Africa Women’s Affairs Journalist

Image copyrightAFP

On 19 July 2017 three men were sentenced to death for robbing, stripping, and sexually assaulting a female passenger for wearing a miniskirt at a public bus stop in Kenya’s Githurai district. The case ruling was momentous for women not only in Kenya but all over Africa. This was one of two landmark cases involving the sexual assault and violent robbery of women on public transport in a country where women make up the majority of commuters.

For many Kenyan women like Naomi Mwaura, a reproductive health and gender rights activist who helped organise the protest, “this ruling is the strong message needed to criminalise violence against women and reaffirm the rights of women to live free of violence in public spaces, especially the transport industry”.

Three years earlier, in November 2014, hundreds of people came together on the Nairobi streets for a historic march to protest the sexual violence of women in the capital, after a video of the attack surfaced online. The protest was later coined #MyDressMyChoice and influenced the court’s decision and became a global movement.

The Kenyan’s court pronouncement sent a clear signal to the rest of Africa that women’s rights are not to be tampered with.

“I feel honoured to have supported the cause,” said Ms Mwaura who helped organize the protest, “and most importantly, to see justice in my lifetime.”

What is 100 Women?

BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year. We create documentaries, features and interviews about their lives, giving more space for stories that put women at the centre.

On 8 March, BBC 100 Women will be showcasing inspirational stories from women in the UK and across the world.

Follow BBC 100 Women on Instagram and Facebook and join the conversation.

Similar Posts