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Standing Against the Status Quo - a History of Women's Protests

Typically, when we hear the word ‘protest’ , what comes to mind is loud, angry demonstrations that are traditionally seen as problematic and described as disturbances. Considering protests almost always occur against the status quo, it’s no surprise that the powers that be depict them as a nuisance to society. When these protests are dominated by those who are marginalised, they stand out to the public even more, because it is one of the few times that those shunned to the sidelines force themselves into the spotlight, even if it's for a small moment in time.


Not everyone has the time, opportunities and resources to go out onto the streets but many of these people can protest in their own way. Protests can range from rallies and marches to vigil’s and symbolic displays. Despite riots and violence being a small percentage of the multiple kinds of protests that can be staged, states have shown an increasing inclination to use riot police against protesters which has shown a growing militarisation in protest policing. Such responses to demonstrations have only increased the need people feel to come out and have their voices heard.


(Women Protested Against The Dismantling Of Policies To Confront And Care For Women Victims Of Violence In The City Of São Paulo, 10 August 2017 Cris Faga/NurPhoto via Getty Images)


Throughout history, despite all sorts of restrictions, women and marginalised groups  have continued to play an active role in protests and demonstrations. Some of these have been for issues that specifically pertain to women, at a time when most people couldn’t dare to ask for these. Women in Iceland protested about the gender pay gap and the underrepresentation of women in government in October 1975. The day is seen as a landmark in the country’s history, and led to the election of the country’s first female president just five years later. Unfortunately, the pay gap still exists, not just in Iceland but all over the world. However, that in no way diminishes the significance of the event. What it does show us is that protests create the start of change, simply because they bring hidden issues into the spotlight.


(In 1975, women were underpaid and underrepresented in government.’ Photograph: Loftur Ásgeirsson/Reykjavik City Museum)


Women have equally played, and continue to play, a significant role in many other kinds of protests and demonstrations across the globe. In many countries, where women face extra restrictions on their right to be present in public spaces, be loud, and be seen, just coming to the demonstration can be a struggle in itself. However, as demonstrations and protests have continued to grow, no societal, class or cultural restrictions have stopped women in every country.

On 9 August 1956, the Women’s March took place in Pretoria, South Africa against the passing of laws that would limit the movement of black people. This took place amongst a series of protests, one of which turned into a massacre after police open fired on protesters in Sharpeville. The laws were finally repealed in 1986.


(At the 50th anniversary of the original march, a woman is seen wearing an ANC T-shirt in Pretoria, South Africa. Photograph: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)


The use of protests and demonstrations as a way to force legal change has not decreased over time. Over the past 10 years, anti-government protests have spread across countries like Turkey, South Africa, Brazil, Serbia, and many parts of the Middle East.


(An Anti Government Protester Flashes A Victory Sign During The Clashes Between Protesters And Riot Police On Taksim Square In Istanbul, 22 June 2013 OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)


With such a rich history, not only in our country but of the countless strong women across centuries who have stood up to oppression, it is not surprising that Pakistani’s across the country, and even abroad refuse to stay silent any longer. Protests are the people’s way of making themselves heard through the layers of oppression that have tried to hold them down since time immemorial. They aren’t new to the global political landscape. The only difference is that when they are successful, they are no longer seen as a nuisance - until people raise their voices once again, and the cycle continues.

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