March 8 is International Women’s Day, known in French as International Rights of Women Day (Journée Internationale des Droits des Femmes). This year it took place on Sunday (yesterday).
One major march in Paris was ironically named “March of the Big Winners” (Marche des Grandes Gagnantes), with protesters saying they did not believe in the government’s claims that its retirement reforms would be favourable to women.
Les Rosies d'Attac sont prêtes et vous attendent à Paris en haut du boulevard de l'Hôpital.— Attac France (@attac_fr) March 8, 2020
La manif du #8mars va être massive et déterminée !#JourneeDesDroitsDesFemmes #GrandesGagnantes pic.twitter.com/ORE16kJqi3
The march was also intended to support women’s causes, call for greater equality, and highlight continued violence against women.
Protesters were invited to dress in blue overalls with a red headscarf, in the manner of the iconic female worker, Rosie the Riveter.
Women from the group “Femen” marched topless in Place de la Concorde, while other protesters held placards showing names of victims of violence and murder against women.
(Photo: FSU 93 / @93Fsu / Twitter)
"Nous sommes fortes, nous sommes fieres et féministes et en colère"— Manon Aubry (@ManonAubryFr) March 8, 2020
Une manifestation historique par son nombre et sa détermination : des moyens contre les violences faites aux femmes et l'égalité salariale maintenant !#JourneeDesDroitsDesFemmes #8Mars #8M pic.twitter.com/EzQLSuI5Fv
Protesters chanted: “We are strong, we are proud, radical and feminist and angry”.
Nous avons désinfecté en profondeur chaque recoin, chaque ruelle, chaque avenue, avant l’arrivée de nos sœurs de lutte à la marche du 8 mars, pour leur assurer un trajet militant sans risque et débarrassé de l'insalubrité patriarcale. #JourneeDesDroitsDesFemmes pic.twitter.com/DyAsTibbvd— inna shevchenko (@femeninna) March 8, 2020
Organisers said that 60,000 people marched in Paris overall, largely without incident.
« Nous sommes fortes, nous sommes fières, et féministes et radicales et en colère. »— Remy Buisine (@RemyBuisine) March 7, 2020
Cortège féministe dans les rues de Paris à la veille de la journée internationale des droits des Femmes. pic.twitter.com/x1jeWL1MhW
Police violence condemned
But another protest in Place de la République, under a “populist, anti-racist, feminist” banner, turned more heated as police blocked protesters, and attendees saying they were shocked at the level of police presence at the event.
One attendee told news source FranceInfo: “The police formed a blockage, a wall. A street that [would have allowed] people to leave the march was blocked by a wall of CRS [police] with shields. Vans came to surround us. We would have had time to leave by the front, but this forced us back.”
Journalist Hélène Molinari, who was at the protest, said: “I saw police cordons, police charging, arrests taking place, with three women arrested on a parallel street. When I went past, a young police officer turned to me and said, ‘Miss, who does the street belong to?’. I left, shocked. They knew I couldn’t reply.”
Another protester said: “We saw the police start to get tear gas ready, and we went into a bar to protect ourselves. The women were surrounded. It was only women.”
Charge policière vers le cortège féministe à République. Les femmes résistent en repoussant les boucliers des forces de l’ordre. pic.twitter.com/yeEI4k8EHU— Remy Buisine (@RemyBuisine) March 7, 2020
The actions of the police - including stopping protesters from moving, and the use of CRS shields - have been condemned by protesters and ministers. Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted: “[I am] shocked by this unacceptable and incomprehensible violence last night in Place de la République. Support to the protesters.”
Junior minister for equality between men and women, Marlène Schiappa, tweeted: “All women must be able to protest peacefully to have their rights respected.”
Ms Schiappa then confirmed that interior minister Christophe Castaner has “requested a report from the police about what happened at the feminist march”.
The same day, 100 mayoral candidates standing in the upcoming municipal elections signed an open letter, published in newspaper Le Parisien, against “sexism in politics”.
The letter included: “Let us hold our heads high and defend each other. Even if it is an opponent who is attacked for the length of her skirt, we will not let these insults go [as] they have only one intention: to humiliate women.”
More events took place in other towns across France, and similar marches took place across the world - despite fears that they would be cancelled due to coronavirus Covid-19. (In France, gatherings of more than 1,000 people are now banned, but protests are an exception.)
Major International Women’s Day events were seen across the world, in cities such as London, UK; Brussels, Belgium; Lausanne, Switzerland; and Santiago, Chile; and even in more traditionally-conservative countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Lebanon.
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