After weeks of marches in India sparked by the gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman, hundreds of protesters in Nepal rose up and demonstrated, showing their solidarity with a 21-year-old woman allegedly robbed and raped by a policeman in Kathmandu.
In Pakistan, a candlelight vigil was held on New Year’s Eve, with protesters expressing their anger at crimes against women, days before the country’s Express Tribune newspaper reported the gang rape of a nine-year-old girl. In Bangladesh, protests against sexual violence erupted after the alleged gang-rape of a teenage girl.
This latest wave of protests swells an ever-growing tide – from the Egyptian women marching against sexual harassment in the very streets where they fought for revolution, to the Belgian student whose film exposed to the world the harassment and abuse women face daily on the streets of Brussels, to the Reclaim the Night marches and the ‘ Slutwalks’ sparked when a policeman told a group of women in Toronto to stop “dressing like sluts” if they wanted to avoid victimization.
The harassment, aggression and sexualized violence facing women in different countries may take different forms, and may have its roots in different social and cultural traditions. But from the most serious atrocities to the most minor, from rape and assault to catcalls and street harassment, women around the world are taking a stand against gender prejudice in all its forms.
In the UK, the past year has seen an explosion in feminist activity, as women speak up and fight back. The Vagenda website’s satirical take-down of traditional women’s magazines has been a success, while nearly 20,000 women have added their voices to the Everyday Sexism Project, documenting in shocking detail their daily experiences of street harassment, workplace sexism and assault.
If anything defines this movement, it’s the burgeoning, explosive sense of momentum behind it. In so many situations where women were previously told to put up and shut up, or simply ridiculed for trying to object, they are now standing up regardless, and finding hundreds and thousands of others standing alongside them.
Where in the past women battling the normalized objectification of Page 3 were silenced with accusations of being ‘uptight’ or ‘ jealous’, a single woman objecting to it last year met with the support of over 60,000 people standing right behind her. An outbreak of sexist articles and events at UK universities in recent months has resulted in the determined emergence of brand new student feminist societies. A rash of sexist online memes and hashtags saw the rise of the indomitable ‘ Twitter Youth Feminist Army’. A slew of misogynistic adverts were withdrawn and apologized for amidst a public outcry in December.
More and more women and men are raising their voices together, refusing to be ignored or silenced; tipping the balance of power. The surge of campaigning allows unknowing eyes to be opened to the sheer scale of gender prejudice as women face it on a daily basis. One man wrote to the Everyday Sexism Project saying:
“I am utterly appalled by many of the stories I have read here. I have a six year-old daughter and I want her to grow up in a world where she can be who she wants to be and not have to worry about being groped, accosted, assaulted, spoken down to, treated as a second class citizen, or in any way feel she is [an] object or not as good as any man.
“To all the brave women (and men) who have shared their stories here, I think [sic] you. Your stories have moved and shamed me. It has made for some very depressing but essential reading. I will continue to read these stories and strive to speak up whenever I see members of my sex treating women in these ways.”
Meanwhile the sheer number of women taking a stand empowers and validates individuals. One woman told us:
“I'm 38 and reckon between the ages of 11 to the present day I've been sexually assaulted at least 20-30 times. Of course, never thought about going to the police...”
But after reading other women’s entries on the Everyday Sexism Project, the next time she was assaulted, something shifted.
“On the 4th of November while out running on a reasonably busy street in broad daylight, I was stopped and asked for directions, I obliged and as I showed him on the map on my phone he looked down my top, made a sleazy remark then grabbed my breast. On protesting he muttered words to the affect [sic]"That I'd a nice pair, what did I expect?"
“The usual anger- but- not -quite -sure -what- to -do -about -it was replaced with something else...I'd read enough versions of same story just a few days previously.
“I calmly took his registration and went straight to the police… He's been charged…”
Another woman wrote: “reading the stories here and knowing that there are thousands of other women out there who are sick of this kind of thing has made me feel more confident to challenge it and stand up for myself, because I know that I am not alone.”
As Eve Ensler’s One Billion Rising Event nears; as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks out passionately against misogyny in politics; as a 14-year-old girl takes on a massive magazine empire in her quest for un-airbrushed teenage models; as women in India, Nepal and Pakistan take to the streets to fight for their right to safety from violence and assault, we are seeing a global groundswell. Its power is not to be underestimated. Women everywhere are taking a stand.