Women’s Day rallies seek equality, focus on Iran, Afghanistan

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Rallies marking International Women’s Day took place around the world on Wednesday after a year in which girls in Afghanistan were banned from education, mass women’s rights protests erupted in Iran and a landmark US abortion ruling was overturned.

Demonstrations were held in Paris, Berlin, Beirut, Jakarta, Singapore and elsewhere. Rallies were planned in other cities.

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In Manila, activists calling for equal rights and better wages scuffled with police blocking their protest.

“Girls just want to have fun...damental rights,” read one poster.

In Melbourne, demonstrators demanded equal pay and better safety for women. “Safe, respected, equal,” said one banner at the march. An Iranian contingent was also present.

Protests included calls for solidarity with women in Iran and Afghanistan where their freedoms have faced especially hard blows in the past year.

“Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women’s rights, and it has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere,” Roza Otunbayeva, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement marking the day.

The death in September of 23-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of morality police in Tehran unleashed the biggest anti-government protests in Iran in years.

In recent days, Iran’s clerical rulers have faced renewed pressure as public anger was compounded by a wave of poisoning attacks affecting schoolgirls in dozens of schools.

Abortion and reproductive rights were on the agenda for international rallies on Wednesday, nine months after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized women’s constitutional right to abortion.

Protesters in several Spanish cities including Madrid and Barcelona were due to hold competing rallies for International Women’s Day, reflecting divisions within the feminist movement over trans rights and the prohibition of prostitution.

Cost of living crisis

In Colombo there were scuffles as riot police tried to stop protesters at a women’s day rally organized by the opposition.

Hundreds of people had gathered to call on the Sri Lankan government to protect women’s rights and protest against high living costs. Sri Lanka is suffering a major economic crisis that has caused inflation to soar.

One woman held a placard saying: “Stop exploitation of women’s labor.”

Some governments marked Wednesday with legislative changes or pledges.

Canada repealed historic indecency and anti-abortion laws, Japan said more needed to be done to change attitudes about gender and Ireland announced a referendum in November to remove outmoded references to women in the constitution.

Italy’s first woman prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, focused on the role of women in the economy saying state-controlled companies should have at least one female leader.

In Japan, which ranked 116 out of 146 countries on gender parity in a World Economic Forum global report last year, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said progress had been made on improving women’s working conditions but more had to be done.

“The situation for women, who are trying to balance household and workplace responsibilities, is quite difficult in our country and has been noted as an issue,” he said. “Measures to tackle this are still just halfway complete.”

In Russia, where International Women’s Day is one of the most celebrated public holidays, the head of its upper house of parliament used the occasion to launch a vehement attack on sexual minorities and liberal values promoted by the West.

“Men and women are the biological, social and cultural backbones of communities,” Valentina Matviyenko wrote in a blog on the Federation Council’s web site.

“Therefore, there are no dangerous gender games in our country and never will be. Let us leave it to the West to conduct this dangerous experiment on itself.”

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