ISLAMABAD: Thousands took to the streets across the globe to mark the International Women’s Day on Sunday despite the coronavirus outbreak forcing the cancellation of a slew of events in Asia, as violence marred some European gatherings.
In China — the epicentre of the epidemic that has killed more than 3,500 people and infected over 100,000 worldwide — state broadcaster CCTV highlighted the work of female medical workers on the frontlines in the fight against the virus.
Despite growing fears over the worsening epidemic, marches went ahead in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines while women also rallied in Pakistan demanding “freedom”.
A women’s marathon planned in India was postponed over virus concerns as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said prominent women would run his social media accounts for the day.
France saw a clutch of virus deaths take its virus toll to 16 Saturday but Paris hosted several rallies — one of which saw violence which organisers blamed on the police. A rally in Kyrgyzstan also turned violent as the police detained dozens of protesters — mainly women — after masked men attacked them and tore up their placards in the capital Bishkek. A police spokesman said they were detained for their own safety and because police had not been warned about the rally.
In South Korea, where more than 7,000 virus infections make it the hardest hit country outside China, several events were cancelled.
"Although we can´t be physically together, our minds for realising gender equality are stronger than ever," the country´s gender equality minister Lee Jung-Ok said in a video message.
Many feminist groups held online campaigns instead of street marches, using hashtags such as #FemaleStrike, #PowerUp and #38InternationalWomensDay to raise awareness of gender inequality.
In Bangkok, protesters called for improved labour protections amid the epidemic that has infected dozens in Thailand, and greater rights under a military-aligned government.
Organisers blamed virus fears for the fact that the turnout was lower than last year.
Hundreds of women and men rallied in Manila, burning a giant effigy of President Rodrigo Duterte — who they accuse of misogyny — to mark the day.
"Violence and poverty among women are getting worse," Joms Salvador of women´s group Gabriela told AFP.
"While we have 37 laws related to women´s rights, on the ground what is happening is a widespread violence in the forms of domestic abuse, sexual harassment and rape," he said.
A big crowd turned out in Melbourne to watch the women´s Twenty20 World Cup final between India and Australia. US singer Katy Perry, wearing an outfit emblazoned with the female symbol, performed her hit single "Roar" ahead of the game.
Rallies were smaller than usual in virus-hit Europe.
"Who´s doing the washing up?" they chanted. "We are making a revolution".
But rights groups and politicians denounced what they said was police violence at a women´s march in Paris the night before, after scuffles broke out and police arrested nine people.
Paris mayor Paris Anne Hidalgo, currently seeking re-election, said she was shocked at the "unacceptable and incomprehensible" violence and expressed her solidarity with the demonstrators.
Some women tweeted pictures of marchers left battered and bruised, prompting Europe Ecology-The Greens party secretary Julien Bayou to blast what he termed "absolutely unjustifiable police violence".
Elsewhere, women also turned out in force in Iraq and Lebanon, while Mexico, which has long battled deep-rooted gender violence, was to stage rallies, notably in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez.
Back in Europe, Italian President Sergio Mattarella recorded a video message with much of the country in coronavirus lockdown, regretting the need to avoid large-scale gatherings.
Instead, he elected to "express a grateful thought to the women -- and there are many -- who are working in hospitals... in the red (quarantine) zones to fight the spread of the virus that worries us today."
Up to 500 women took part in a sunrise swim at Portobello beach in Edinburgh for International Women's Day, braving the cold waters to celebrate.
In Australia supporters wore purple to mark International Women's Day during the Women's T20 World Cup final match between Australia and India at the MCG in Melbourne.
Members of the women's movement FEMEN have staged a protest on the Place de la Concorde in Paris, calling for an end to patriarchy.
Demonstrators from Extinction Rebellion protested in London today, arguing that the 'climate is a women's issue'. Thirty one women formed a topless chain on Waterloo Bridge in London, with the words 'Climate Rape' written on their bodies.
In Afghanistan, a handful of people took to the streets to mark Women´s Day.
University graduate Tahmina Ghoori said while urban Afghan women have seen some progress since the end of Taliban rule in 2001, they still face many challenges due to "gender inequality and the misogynistic views in our society".
She was especially worried about the possibility of the insurgents returning to power on the back of a US-Taliban deal signed last month.
"We have left a dark era behind, my concern is that if they make a comeback, we will go through the same situation, and women´s rights will be trampled again," she told AFP.
Protesters Sunday marched in Pakistani cities to mark the International Women´s Day.
In Islamabad, about 1,000 women and men gathered to call for greater reproductive and other rights.
The Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) police averted a possible clash between the participants of Aurat March and Haya March.
The participants of both the marches gathered in front of the National Press Club to express their sentiments. The police divided the participants of both the marches through ropes, barbed wires and tent sheets.
Women from the Jamaat-e-Islami, (JI), JUI-F, Lal Masjid and female students of different seminaries staged the Haya March.
The situation became tense when a boy wearing an 'Abbaya' and wielding a baton in his hands appeared among the participants of Aurat March.
Meanwhile, the participants of Haya March chanted slogans and some of them hurled stones and batons at the participants of the Aurat March; however the police dispersed them averting a possible violence.
"The women in Pakistan are considered property by their male counterparts," said Tahira Maryum, 55. "There is nothing vulgar in asking for your rights," she added.
At the Islamist counter-protest, dozens of women in burqas held their own placards including one saying "Anti-Feminist", while shouting "Our bodies, Allah´s choice".
Ismat Khan, a 33-year-old woman, said women´s rights activists were "naive" and being exploited by non-government groups and "the Jewish lobby".
"We are free and to live our lives are according to Sharia," she told AFP.
Condemning stone pelting at the participants of Aurat March in Islamabad, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) Sunday demanded an investigation and arrest of those responsible and the facilitators.
In a statement, PPP Secretary General Nayyar Hussain Bokhari said those involved in the incident should be tried as per the law of the land.
Spokesman for the PPP Chairman Senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar condemned the incident saying it was a coward act to scare women with sticks, stones and through bad language.
He demanded legal action against all those who were responsible for this incident.
In Lahore, a crowd of several hundred women and men took to the streets chanting slogans such as: "Give me what´s mine" and "We want freedom", while more than 1,000 people gathered in a park in Karachi, chanting slogans and beating drums.
The nationwide event also saw a group of women gather in the southern city of Sukkur near the Indus River.
The local social media was filled with comments both for and against the march with, "HappyWomensDay2020" and "MeraHijabMeriMarzi" (MyHijabMyChoice) both in the top Twitter trends.
Prime Minister Imran Khan Sunday said the observance of International Women’s Day was reiteration of the government’s commitment to undertake every possible effort to ensure equal rights and opportunities to the women.
“In this effort, we are guided by the teachings of our religion, the Seerat of Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the core values that distinguish our society,” he said in a message.
He further said it was indeed encouraging to see that the Pakistani women were proving their mettle in every walk of life and achieving excellence in their respective fields at the national and international level.
“I firmly believe that inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development can only be ensured by providing equal opportunities and a conducive environment to our women.
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