March 8: demonstrating for women's rights

Millions of people took to the streets across the world on March 8 to demonstrate for equal rights and against violence against women. Women in Spain went on strike, in Portugal flags were flown at half-mast in memory of murdered women, and police in Istanbul used tear gas on women demonstrators. Europe's commentators take stock.

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El País (ES) /

Reactionaries getting cold feet

Spain's conservative opposition parties didn't participate in the International Women's Day demonstrations and denounced a manifesto by the alliance that organised them as far leftist. As the women's movement grows stronger a counter-movement is also forming, El País concludes:

“They want to discredit feminism by attacking the foundations that have turned it into a transversal movement capable of embracing all social and cultural diversity. ... Up to now the reactions to feminism had been passive: prove to us that there is inequality, they said. Hundreds, thousands of studies later, feminism has grown tired of proving. It has all been proven. Now the structures must be changed. Confronted with this challenge the reactionaries aren't hiding their agenda: to defend the patriarchal order.”

Habertürk (TR) /

Commerce consuming commemoration

The original occasion for Women's Day, the commemoration of the workers who died in a fire in New York in 1908 during protests for better working conditions, is no longer honoured, Habertürk complains:

“Capitalism is a clever monster. Just as it has managed to drain every important day of purpose and meaning and exploit it for commerce, it has also turned the meaning and name of this day on its head. ... And thus March 8, which was named the 'International Day of the Working Women' by the democrat and revolutionary leader Clara Zetkin and her colleagues in memory of the 129 working women who burned to death, is now celebrated as the 'day of those who were born as women'. This celebration has turned into a day on which women have parties and tell each other about the gifts and flowers they have received from their husbands.”

La Libre Belgique (BE) /

Men: join the struggle!

Men should do more to support women, writes Francis Van de Woestyne, columnist for La Libre Belgique:

“Men: what do you say we get our act together? ... Gender equality on the job will improve if men do more at home. There are tasks that await us in our daily lives that we shouldn't face dragging our feet, sighing or muttering under our breath, but with verve, love, and tenderness. Because as everyone knows there's no love without proof of love. That may sound naive. But humanity doesn't always advance with grand declarations or resolutions. Sometimes it's in the little moments of everyday life that people's ideas evolve and society progresses.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Forget the flowers: it's time for equal pay

Women in the Czech Republic receive on average 22 percent less pay than men. Czech Ombudswoman Anna Šabatová explains why:

“One reason is that women never find out about certain [lucrative] jobs. Not only is it customary not to talk about money: in many companies it's forbidden. Whereas in the past equal pay for equal work was what protests were all about, today that's impossible because of the confidentiality clause. Companies oblige workers not to tell anyone how much they earn. Everyone is expected to negotiate their salary for themselves. As statistics show, that systematically puts women at a disadvantage. But women also need decent wages. Flowers they can buy for themselves.”

Yeni Şafak (TR) /

Modernisation promotes violence

Femicide in Turkey has risen sharply in recent years, with 440 women murdered in 2018. The conservative Islamic daily Yeni Şafak looks at why women are so often victims:

“As a country, Turkey is modernising fast. And as in other modernising countries, the family suffers shocks and upheavals in such times. Nowadays all women, whether they work outside the home or bring up children at home, are increasingly aware of their rights. ... On the one hand women are demanding equality, supported by the laws and institutions. On the other, patriarchal attitudes in the law courts as well as the public and private sphere show no sign of fading. That means a conflict of norms, and that will lead to crisis.”

Alfa (LT) /

Lithuania trailing behind

In an interview with web platform Alfa the Lithuanian MEP Vilija Blinkevičiūtė talks about how badly Lithuania is doing as far as women's participation in politics is concerned:

“If we look at the number of women in Lithuania's Seimas [the national parliament] it's very low, even lower in this legislative period than in the last. ... In addition the government led by Mr Skvernelis doesn't have a single woman, whereas in the EU overall one in three ministerial posts is occupied by a woman. Lithuania is the only country among the 28 EU states which doesn't have a woman in government. If we make a global comparison only 13 out of 186 states doesn't have a female minister. This is a huge minus point and a great embarrassment for the Lithuanian government and the ruling majority.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Africa's women politicians forging ahead

A higher than average percentage of female MPs is helping to impose social change from above in Africa, writes Ethopian President Sahle-Work Zewde in the Financial Times:

“In Rwanda, over 60 per cent of members of parliament are women, and in Namibia, South Africa, Senegal and Mozambique, at least 40 per cent of parliamentarians are women. This represents a dramatic shift in representation, inclusion and democratisation of opportunity. For young women particularly, seeing other women in leadership positions and non-stereotypical professions helps to expand their horizons. For institutions and governments, tapping the full potential of their talent pools brings diversity of perspectives and experience when hard decisions must be made.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Being happy as women is the hardest task

The conservative journalist Birgit Kelle writes in Die Presse about the challenges facing the feminist movement:

“Things are fantastic for us women in the 21st century. Even without quotas we and our daughters will pretty much outstrip the men in the next two decades. Because we're good. We're clever. ... We started later than the men did. In a globalised world you can't rely on supposedly secure standards. ... And then we also face a herculean task that has lain dormant since the start of the feminist movement: in our bid to catch up with the men how can we avoid losing our femininity amidst all the gender deconstruction? Be happy as women. This is perhaps the most difficult task we face in the next 100 years of emancipation.”

Avgi (GR) /

The fight will be a long one

At some point Women's Day will be superfluous, Avgi hopes:

“One day we won't need events, speeches, or marches against the discrimination of women. One day women won't even think about organising a feminist strike. ... But that day is still a long way off, and therefore many make do with the tokenism of Women's Day. That said, for over 160 years many women have been fighting for true equality - since the big strike and demonstrations by women workers in New York's garment district on March 8, 1857. ... They even fought in places where discrimination had been abolished - legally, that is, but not in practice. Equal wages for equal work is still a distant goal in most developed countries.”