On March 8th, people all across the world took to the streets to raise some much-needed awareness on women’s rights. Paris was no exception: despite the rain and a vastly expanding virus, tens of thousands gathered at Place d’Italie in high spirits.
International Women’s Day in Paris was approached slightly differently than in most other cities and countries. Instead of having one main Facebook event called ‘The International Women’s March Paris’, there were several, seemingly smaller events all addressing different issues. The main one was called “Grève féministe le 8 mars: On arrête toutes” [translation: Feminist Strike on 8 March: We stop everything]. This refreshing approach was designed to highlight the crucial role that women play in our society. In France, less than 50% of the workforce consists of women, illustrating female underrepresentation. Not only are women underrepresented, but their societal contributions are often ignored too. However, without these women, many aspects of society would cease to function. Hence the slogan of this event: “Si on arrête, tout s’arrête” [translation: If we stop, everything stops].
Left: An activist, right before the march, giving me her thumbs up.
Right: A colourfully dressed man holding a sign that translates “And what if we finally come out of millennia of male domination in all areas?”
The March was scheduled to begin at 14:00, with a picnic beforehand at 12:00. Unfortunately, the picnic was cut short due to the weather, but this extra time did allow me to ask various individuals about their motivations to attend this event.
Emma and Ada, both from Norway, immediately grabbed my attention with their colourful signs and face makeup. When I asked them what brought them here, they replied: “So much! It’s difficult to narrate it down to one thing… But maybe, in particular, sexual harassment.” They explained: “We’ve been in France 3 years now, and we’ve noticed that there is a lot more catcalling than in Norway. So, we’re a bit shocked.” One of their signs – a clever spin on a popular girl group song – certainly calls attention to this issue: “If you want to be my lover, you gotta get my consent.”
Emma (right) and Ada (left) proudly holding up their signs.
Not too far away from Emma and Ada were a group of people dressed as lawyers and judges. They were raising awareness for the underrepresentation of women in the legal sector. While more than half of the lawyers and judges in France are women, a French woman has never served as a permanent judge on international courts, such as the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the European Court of Justice.
Women and men raising awareness about gender equality in the legal sector.
After taking photos of the people dressed as lawyers and judges, I stumbled on to what seemed like another group hyping each other up. Before I knew where I was standing, organisers were pushing me away to create space for a performance.
Music started blasting out of the speakers on a car behind me, and the frontline of the march immediately jumped into formation. They were all women dressed as Rosie the Riveter – a cultural icon of World War II who represented the female working force. Nowadays, it’s a well-known symbol of feminism. Their dance, simple but powerful, kicked off the march.
Following the women in blue, were several bat-like placards depicting words like ‘Patriarchy’, ‘Capitalism’ or ‘Phallocratie’. According to an unnamed source, these represented all the outdated social systems that are prohibiting women from gaining equal rights today. In order for women to gain full gender equality, these systems “must die.”
Throughout the day, it became clear that many were using the event as an opportunity to call attention to women’s rights activists who have been murdered or are currently detained. The woman in pink (in the photo below), for example, is holding up a sign with the hashtag ‘Free Loujain’. Loujain al-Hathloul is a women’s rights activist who has been detained in Saudi Arabia for almost two years (including prolonged solitary confinement).
About halfway through the march, another rather intricate performance took place. This time, it was people dancing with flags. Here too, the activists were raising awareness for not-to-be-forgotten female individuals. Each of the dancers was wearing a plaque around their neck with the photo of a woman who had been murdered for defending human rights. The girl holding the green flag had a photo of Macarena Valdés, a Chilean woman whose death in 2016 was reported as a suicide. She was an environmental activist in Chile and was fighting against RP Global Chile, a company in charge of building hydroelectric power plants. Her family is now organizing an investigation into her alleged suicide.
By far the most impressive part of the entire march was the section dedicated to femicides. Femicides – the intentional killing of females because they are females – are a contested issue in France. Last year alone, 151 women were killed by their (ex-)partners in domestic situations. The black and white placards made sure to remind us of that number: each of the participants held a sign that represented one of the 151 cases, name and age (or age range) included.
France is not the only country where the number of femicides is high. Mexico suffers deeply from these sex-based crimes as well. Two Mexican women, Nadia and Salomé, came up with a very clever way to draw attention to this issue. They had painted their faces with traditional skull makeup, usually reserved for Day of the Death celebrations. Salomé explained, “We want to highlight the rate of femicides that we have in our country. Each day, 10 women get killed… We have this skull, which is a symbolism of our culture, but it also represents we, as women, getting killed — just because we are women.” Nadia added that, “We want to let the world know what is happening in Mexico… This is hurtful for us because we love our country…. But, this is the reality that we have there, especially if you’re a woman.”
Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, women and girls in France (and in the rest of the world) are not done fighting for their rights. They continue to be discriminated against, disregarded, and disrespected. In fact, the evening before this event took place, riot police had brutally stormed, what was described as, a peaceful (pre-)march. Teargas was used and participants were thrown against walls. Some were even dragged by their hair.
It is the continuance of such violence that makes International Women’s Day so necessary.
Some additional photos of eye-catching signs that were spotted at the march: