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A brief history of women's marches throughout the world

Mar. 9, 2017
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Today is International Women’s Day, and we’ve got our marching boots on: A Day Without A Woman is joining forces with the International Women’s Strike in hopes of making March 8, 2017 the largest women’s general strike in history, and there are rallies planned all across the country. In honor of today’s radical festivities, we’d like to take a trip down memory lane to review some of the most important women’s protests across the world from the past several centuries.

1789 - Women’s march on Versailles

Most history books cast the French Revolution as such a male-dominated affair that you’d be forgiven for forgetting there were any women in France at all. But on October 5, 1789, some 7,000 Parisian women banded together and did what the men could not: frustrated by a shortage of food, housewives and mothers across Paris met together in the square and then marched on Versailles—about 12 miles away—to demand that the king face his subjects. In response, King Louis XVI finally agreed to move the royal family to Paris. Of course, that move came far too late to quell the discontent among the French populace, but that’s a story for another day.

1913 - Women’s Suffrage Parade

After two years of mass demonstrations for suffrage across the country, the women’s suffrage movement hit its first peak on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration, when an integrated parade of some 5,000 women marched on the White House—and were quickly assaulted by men in the audience who viewed voting as a distinctly male privilege. Congress refused to grant the women a hearing except to condemn the violence; still, that march—and black journalist Ida B. Wells’ insistence on marching with the white women of her state, in defiance of organizer Alice Paul’s wishes—changed the tide of public opinion on women’s suffrage, and six years later American women finally won the right to vote.

1929 - Women’s War

After 60-plus years of British colonialism in Nigeria, Nigerian women decided to make it clear that they’d had enough—and thousands of Igbo women from eastern Nigeria traveled to the town of Oloko to protest colonialism and the restriction of women’s roles in the government. The women blockaded roads, knocked down telegraph poles, and destroyed property, but took care not to harm any living persons. British reaction was swift and merciless—entire Nigerian towns were burned to the ground—but the protest marked a turning point for British control of Nigeria, and it greatly improved the position of women in society.

1956 - Women’s March on Pretoria

When South Africa enacted “pass laws” aimed at limiting the movement of black people, women across the country decided to do something about it. On August 9, as many as 20,000 women marched on the Union Buildings in the city of Pretoria in South Africa’s defining protest against pass laws. Such protests continued in the decades to come, and in 1986—30 years after the women of Pretoria strutted their stuff—the laws were finally repealed.

1970 - Women’s Strike for Equality

As Congress took to their wood-paneled rooms to discuss passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, 20,000 to 50,000 feminists across the country took to the streets to demand equal rights in the first major protest of the Women’s Liberation movement. Press coverage was disparaging, but in 1971 the ERA passed both houses of Congress—only for its ratification by the States to be thwarted thanks to the work of Conservative activist groups. Eleven years and one major 1978 march later, the ERA was dead for good. To this day, it has been reintroduced in every single session of Congress since its failure in 1982.

1975 - Icelandic Women’s Strike

The Icelandic Women’s Strike wasn’t the first women’s strike—nor was it the biggest by sheer force of number. But it might just be the most effective women’s strike of all time: on October 24, 90% of Icelandic women did not go to work or perform domestic duties. Within five years, Iceland had its first female president.

1997 - Million Woman March

In the wake of the Million Man March’s efforts in 1995 to put black issues back on the national agenda, African-American women decided to organize a march of their own. Armed with statistics about the unique types of marginalization faced by black women, the organizers of the Million Woman March led a protest in Philadelphia that drew a crowd of millions.

2000 - Million Mom March

On Mother’s Day, 750,000 million women in D.C.—and another 250,000 or so women at satellite locations across the country—took to the streets to demand stricter gun control laws. Unfortunately, this and other protests have yet to result in the passage of significant firearms restrictions, even amid an unprecedented onslaught of school shootings—but, after all, the century is still young.

2004 - March for Women’s Lives

After the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban of 2003, NOW and various women’s groups across the country organized a landmark protest in support of abortion access. On April 25, over 1.1 million protesters took to the streets to demand that women’s rights be protected. Though the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban was not repealed, the March for Women’s Lives was the largest march in U.S. history…

2017 - Women’s March

…That is, until 2017, when the Women’s March on Washington and its satellite marches around the world drew over 5 million women into the streets on the day after Trump’s inauguration. At least 673 marches affiliated with the Women’s March took place internationally, and over 408 of them were in the United States. And with activist efforts showing no sign of slowing down in the early days of Trump’s presidency, we have a feeling we’ll be seeing many more world-changing women’s protests in the years to come.