Global protests and pressure mark International Women’s Day

People march holding a banner reading "We stop to change everything" in Madrid, on March 8, 2018 during a one day strike to defend women's rights on International Women's Day. Spain celebrated International Women's Day today with an unprecedented general strike in defence of their rights that saw hundreds of trains cancelled and countless protests scheduled throughout the day. / AFP PHOTO / OSCAR DEL POZOOSCAR DEL POZO/AFP/Getty Images
Oscar del Pozo/AFP/Getty Images
People marched holding a banner reading "We stop to change everything" in Madrid, on Thursday during a one day strike to defend women's rights on International Women's Day.

ROME — In the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, International Women’s Day was observed Thursday with a sense of urgency and determination.

For many women, there was a keen awareness that there had been a major shift in the firmament when it came to gender parity, the treatment of women in the workplace, and sexual dynamics.

But others — scratching out lives in developing countries in Africa, toiling away at jobs with little pay in Latin America, or scrambling to raise children without help in the Middle East — most probably had little time left over to reflect on the one day of the year designated to celebrate the social, economic, and political achievements of women.


Nonetheless, Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, said on Twitter: “There is a lot to fight for: Engage! Women and men alike. We need power to make equality a reality.”

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Some women, fueled by impatience over the long-running fight for equality and the sense that the glacial pace of change would just not do, found large and small ways to protest — with pots and pans, raised fists, and howls of rage.

Farida Nabourema, a rights advocate from the West African nation of Togo, tweeted: “Today I celebrate all the female activists that are being abusively detained by dictatorial governments all over the world and in #Africa more particularly. Your courage, dedication, and empathy shall not be forgotten, and we will keep fighting with you and for you.”

To highlight gender inequality, feminist groups in Spain asked women to spend no money and to ignore chores for the day — to go on a “domestic” strike.

Hundreds of women gathered at midnight in Puerta del Sol, in the heart of Madrid, to kick off the first of about 120 protests across the country, at which women banged pots and pans and shouted slogans. In Barcelona, protesters disrupting traffic into the city center were pushed back by riot police, the Associated Press reported.


Ten Spanish trade unions called for a 24-hour strike, while others called for two-hour work stoppages. Service on Madrid’s metro system slowed after hundreds of trains stopped running.

Chanting ‘‘Women power!’’ and ‘‘We are defending women’s lives!’’ thousands of women marched through downtown Warsaw to mark the day. The demonstrators were protesting violence against women and demanding equal pay with men.

In France, where the pay gap is 25 percent, the paper Libération sold the day’s issue with two prices: 2 euros for women, and 2.50 euros for men.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his government would name and shame companies that don’t respect the law on gender equality. He said that pointing the finger at companies that don’t comply with the law ‘‘will make them change, because no one wants to be the worst student in the class.’’

In Italy, marches were held in dozens of cities and women were encouraged to strike. As thousands of students marched in Milan, one group broke off to chant slogans in front of a hospital, protesting against the majority of Italian doctors who refuse to perform abortions, even though it is legal.


In Rome, actress Asia Argento, who has received criticism in Italy for accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, was among those who marched.

New York City officials said the ‘‘Fearless Girl’’ statue that has been a tourist attraction at the New York Stock Exchange since it was installed to mark International Women’s Day a year ago will stay put for now while city officials figure out where to move it. A steady stream of tourists posed for pictures with it Thursday.

Women’s Day found little support from Iran’s leaders. The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, sent out a series of Twitter messages praising Islam for keeping women ‘‘modest’’ and in their ‘‘defined roles’’ such as educators and mothers. He also lashed out at the West for, in his view, leading its own women astray.

‘‘By promoting modest dress . . . Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle,’’ Khamenei said. He did not mention the fact that women have been at the forefront of reformist activism in Iran, including rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003.

In Kabul, hundreds of women marched to remind their leaders that much work needed to be done to give Afghan women a voice, ensure their education and protect them from often brutal violence and an oppressive patriarchal system.

In the Philippine capital, women took to the streets and denounced President Rodrigo Duterte as among the worst violators of women’s rights in Asia.

Hundreds of activists sang and danced in a boisterous rally in Plaza Miranda, in central Manila, while handing red and white roses to the mothers, sisters, and widows of those suspected of drug offenses who have been slain under Duterte’s brutal crackdown.

In India, where the gang rape of women and sexual assaults on young girls have brought anguish and soul searching, students, teachers, and workers in the sex industry marched toward Parliament, demanding action against domestic violence, sexual attacks, and discrimination in jobs and wages.

More than 500 women’s rights leaders gathered in Seoul, vowing to keep up a #MeToo campaign that has gained steam in South Korea. Political leaders raced to join them to voice their support before elections scheduled for June to select mayors and provincial governors.