2016: A Year In Female Protest

Photo: David Lagerlu00f6f/Expo/TT News Agency/Press Association Images.
Tess Asplund in Borlu00e4nge, Sweden
When 2016 is written about in the future, the history books will surely include a picture of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage grinning from ear to ear, giving the thumbs up in front of a gold doorway in New York last month. But as we approach 2017 I’m going to try and take with me a different image; another that will also surely end up being studied. It is of a lone 42-year-old woman, Tess Asplund, in Borlänge, Sweden, in May. As a 300-strong march of neo-Nazis passes by, she raises her fist in defiance. That one of the defining images of resistance in 2016 is of a woman is pertinent. 2016 has seen a seemingly unprecedented level of global female protest. Whether it was speaking out against the rise of the far right or other civil injustices (who can forget Ieshia Evans calmly protesting the death of Alton Sterling during a Black Lives Matter rally in Baton Rouge in May, and the proud women of Standing Rock?), or more specific ‘women’s issues’, where there was injustice, there were women calling it out.
Equal pay, violence against women, reproductive rights, it’s depressing really. Was there a more accurate placard than that held up by a Polish woman demonstrating her opposition to the government’s plan to ban access to abortion in October, which read: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this fucking shit”.
After tens of thousands of Polish women – and men – brought the country to a standstill by boycotting work and class in protest, senior politicians eventually backed down. Thousands too marched in Dublin in September to protest Ireland’s strict abortion laws. Later that month, thousands of Argentinian women went on a "women's strike" – marked with the Twitter hashtag #MiercolesNegro, or Black Wednesday – in protest over violence against women in Argentina, instigated by the brutal rape and murder of 16-year-old schoolgirl Lucía Pérez. At 1pm demonstrators left their jobs to march in a country where one woman is killed through domestic violence every 36 hours, and crimes against women have soared by 78% since 2008. Many of the protestors carried signs reading: "If you touch one of us, we all react”.
And there were other nations of women collectively walking out of their jobs in a bid to force governments to take notice of them. A week after Argentina, in Iceland, many women around the country protested the gender pay gap (which in the highest ranked country for equality in the world comes in at a shocking 18%) by walking out of work at 2:38pm – the time in an eight-hour day from which they effectively stop being paid for working. Women in Saudi Arabia have been endlessly campaigning to end male guardianship, which requires women to get permission from a husband, father or son if they want to do things like travel or access healthcare. The conversation is rapidly gaining momentum and even Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has now condemned the country’s law that bans women from driving. So, victories of sorts. Then, of course, there’s Trump. When in 2014 Hillary Clinton told the United Nations that equality for women "remains the great unfinished business of the 21st century" surely even she couldn’t have foreseen the cruel direction her narrative would take. In an age in which a man who openly brags about sexually assaulting women can be elected the leader of the free world, where does that leave us? Where do we go from here?
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
A group of female protestors rally against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump outside of Trump Tower, November 3, 2016 in New York City.
It seems we are more ready to fight than ever before. “Women, particularly younger women, won't tolerate the abuse, the inequality, the discrimination that they experience. There is a real impatience for change,” Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, told Refinery29. “I think misogyny and the climate of hostility towards women will continue to dominate our media and social media. I think we will continue to see women fighting back strongly against this.” 21st January 2017 will see the Women’s March On Washington, which looks set to shut down the city. The organisers say that their aim is to "send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world, that women's rights are human rights." All this is, of course, not to dismiss the work of so many people before us. As Sisters Uncut, who have been considerably active this year in fighting for funding for domestic violence services in the UK, told Refinery29: “Even if women have been more visible in protests this year, it's important to recognise that women and non-binary people, especially those of colour, have been engaged in activism and at the forefront of political change for decades. This is of course not to minimise the exceptional work done this year by women and non-binary people... It's only to underscore that there is other, less newsworthy forms of protest that have been going on for much longer.” Many other cities around the world are planning marches “in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Washington” on 21st January, including London. I plan to be there. Because I can’t believe we still have to protest this fucking shit.

More from Global News

R29 Original Series