The stories behind modern women’s rights movements across the world
In recent years, the world has seen a rise in women-led movement around the world. While they share roots in the broader fight for equality and respect, the diversity within these movements lies in each group’s specific concerns and culture.
From South Korea’s #MyLifeisNotYourPorn movement, which protests gender-based violence and illegal spycam activities, to India’s Women’s Wall, formed by thousands of women who stood in solidarity across hundreds of kilometres, we take a look at modern women’s movements around the world and the unique motivations behind them.
Started in 2006 by American civil rights activist Tarana Burke, the #MeToo movement imploded across the US simmered before it exploded. The catalyst? Allegations of sexual abuse in Hollywood in 2017. It started with Actress Alyssa Milano, who used the hashtag while tweeting:
“If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” More than 4.7 million people joined the #MeToo conversation on Facebook in the first 24 hours, according to NBC News.
As a consequence of the movement, numerous women in the industry charged film producer Harvey Weinstein with rape, criminal sex acts, sex abuse and sexual misconduct. At his trial in February 2020, the court sentenced Weinstein to 23 years in prison.
The #MeToo movement has led to a global “Weinstein effect” – naming and disclosing alleged abuse of famous or powerful men. Women all around the world have adopted and localised the phrase: In France, the hashtag became “NousToutes,” or “us too”; in Vietnam “#TôiCũngVậy” or “me too.”
In Japan, “WatashiMo” or “I too” has taken on another iteration in the form of #KuToo, a groundbreaking movement striving for gender equality in everything from workplace uniforms (and shoes) to ending cyberbullying and online slut-shaming.
Where: Kerala, India
In early January 2019, between 3.5 to 5 million Indian women lined up to form a 619-kilometre wall to demand gender equality. The sprawling wall, which traced National Highway 66 in the southern state of Kerala, was India’s largest public gathering for women’s rights in history.
It started with a religious ban, which prevented women of “menstruating age” (between 10 and 50) from entering sacred Hindu temples. Although the Supreme Court of India already ruled in 2018 that temples must allow women to enter, many local temples did not comply.
The era of women folding hands and submitting to patriarchy is beginning to end from here. They will throw their fists on the air and demand for their rights. Women’s wall is just a beginning, a baby step of the impending cultural revolution. #WomensWall #VanithaMathil pic.twitter.com/cK1QpXQBk2
— Pishu Mon (@PishuMon) January 1, 2019
What’s more, women who tried to exercise their right to enter were met with threats of violence by male worshippers around the country. To raise awareness about the illegal actions of their local temples, women banned together and formed the Women’s Wall.
The monumental demonstration was shared all over social media, drawing widespread attention from media and officials alike. A day after the demonstration, two women of menstruating age were finally able to visit a temple with police protection, according to Reuters. Shortly after, mobs of angry men formed riots in protest of the women’s visit. Amid the violence, one person died and 14 were injured.
Indian women’s rights activists are confident that the Women’s Wall has made some progress for women around the nation. “Social change doesn’t happen in a day,” activist Rakhee Madhavan told NPR. “It needs time. But with these small steps, we’ve made it easier for the next generation to embrace it. In this way, the wall of women marks a new dawn for feminism in India.”
Where: South Korea
Since early 2018, South Korea has seen the rise of its own women-led #MeToo movements. Known as #MyLifeisNotYourPorn, the movement gained momentum after high-profile female prosecutor Seo Ji-hyun and other women began speaking out about sexual violence in the conservative, patriarchal nation.
#MyLifeisNotYourPorn turned into a powerful rallying cry. South Korean women not only protested assault and sexism, but also the nation’s “molka” or hidden camera epidemic. From cameras found in public toilets to illicit images and videos taken by male partners without consent, South Korean women held several large-scale protests throughout 2018 and 2019.
The nation has since seen the prosecution of men – from high-level politicians to seemingly untouchable K-pop stars like Jung Joon-young, who pleaded guilty to 11 cases of illicit filming, and was sentenced to six years in prison.
“A Rapist in Your Path”
A performance piece originally composed by Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis, “A Rapist in Your Path,” also known as “The Rapist is You”, advocates against violence against women, children and prisoners.
It was first introduced in the 1990s, as a play on the official slogan of Chile’s Carabineros police force, “A Friend in Your Path.” The activists’ version protests the use of sexual violence to torture political prisoners during the nation’s military dictatorship, which lasted from 1973-1990.
In November 2019, the song regained momentum after Chile’s National Human Rights Institute revealed reports of 194 cases of sexual violence by authorities against political protestors and detainees. In protest, thousands of women performed the song during a rally in Santiago, the nation’s capital, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
The performance went viral online, spurring similar renditions around the world – Mexico, France, Spain, Turkey, Colombia and the UK all saw similar protests. By December 2019, protesters performed the piece in over 200 cities around the world, according to Al Jazeera.
“Women Walk at Midnight”
Where: Delhi, India
Every month, a group of a dozen or more women take to the streets of Delhi for a midnight stroll as part of Women Walk at Midnight – a bold campaign by a group of women (who remain anonymous for safety reasons) in India that aims to build a community for women and ensure their safety. The movement, which began about a year ago, is gaining attention in local media.
In 2018, India was ranked the world’s most dangerous place for women in a recent survey, according to the Washington Post. Common crimes against women include acid-throwing, child marriage, female infanticide, honour killings, trafficking, domestic assault and rape.
According to the country’s National Crime Records Bureau’s 2012-2016 reports, 40 per cent of female rape victims were minors, while 95 per cent knew the person who assaulted them. The bureau recorded 33,977 cases of rape in 2018; or an average of 93 cases per day.
On a moving bus in 2012, a group of men brutally raped Jyoti Singh, referred to in court as Nirbhaya (meaning ‘the fearless one’). They assaulted her with an iron rod, then threw her out of the moving bus along with her male friend, who the men also stripped and beat. After several surgeries, Nirbhaya died two weeks following the brutal attack.
This tragic case was just one of a string of assaults that fueled the Women Walk at Midnight movement. Now, despite the risks, the group of women takes to the streets of Delhi and Bangalore after dark to demand safety.