2018 witnessed various popular movements against inequality and marginalisation. Women, transgender and gender non-conforming people in different parts of the world gathered to protest against the prevailing systems of inequality, discrimination and violence. The following is a list, by no means exhaustive, of some of the significant moments of solidarity and triumph in the feminist movement for the rights of women and sexual minorities.
The MeToo movement, which gained momentum in the latter half of 2017, was one of the truly defining moments of 2018. Using the phrase “MeToo” coined by activist Tarana Burke, the movement emerged as a global expression of solidarity against pervasive gender-based violence and oppression. It spread across the world through social media with women sharing their experiences of harassment and assault in workplaces, in public and in domestic spaces. The movement shed light on structural inequalities which sought to subjugate and silence women and allowed rampant sexual harassment and abuse to spread with impunity. The movement grew as women in media, film and other industries exposed the abuse meted out to them by men in positions of power.
In the United States, the movement saw leading figures in the entertainment industry having to account for their predatory behaviour. In India, a similar wave of revelations rocked the media and entertainment sectors, ultimately leading to the resignation of a Central government minister who was once a journalist. In case after case, the accused after ‘vanishing’ for a while, have sought to climb back into the limelight, highlighting the need for more vigilance and awareness, both among activists and society at large.
The United States also saw massive protests during the confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of rape by Dr Christine Blasey Ford. The decision by Congress to confirm his nomination despite her brave and searing testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee was a moment of reflection and mobilisation for thousands, who saw the difficult path that lies ahead.
The MeToo movement has also been instrumental in raising issues of accountability and justice and has contributed to expanding the discourse on legal and legislative reforms to address all instances of harassment, abuse and assault effectively. It also led to the launch of the #TimesUp campaign against sexual harassment.
#ThisIsNotConsent Protests, November 2018
Women led social media protests and organised rallies in the aftermath of a trial in which a 27-year-old man was acquitted of charges of raping a 17-year-old girl. Widespread outrage emerged in response to the closing remarks made by the defendant’s senior counsel, Elizabeth O’ Connell, urging the court to consider the way in which the girl had been dressed and how that might have been indicative of consent.
The hashtag #ThisIsNotConsent was used widely on social media accompanied by pictures of women’s underwear to highlight the pervasiveness of rape culture and victim blaming. The protests also led to discussions about judicial reforms – specifically pertaining to submission of evidence – to better equip the legal system to handle cases of sexual violence. The movement also received recognition in the Irish Parliament through the efforts of MP Ruth Coppinger.
Legalisation of Abortion Services, December 2018
The Health (Regulation of the Termination of Pregnancy) Bill was signed into law by Irish president Michael D. Higgins in December. The Bill was passed in both Houses (the Dail and the Seanad) of the Irish Parliament following a national referendum held in May wherein 66.4% of the population voted to repeal the 8th Amendment which prohibited abortion.
The historic legislation, which will come into effect in January, guarantees individuals access to abortion services up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, in cases of fatal fetal abnormalities and in cases where the life and health of the pregnant individual might be at risk.
Huelga Feminista (Feminist Strike), March 2018
A nationwide strike was organized in Spain on the 8th of March which is celebrated worldwide as International Women’s Day. The strike, joined by more than 5 million women from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, brought attention to issues of gender-based discrimination and violence and highlighted the economic disparities between men and women in both public and private sectors.
The call to strike was issued by 10 unions and was described as “unprecedented in the country’s trade union movement”. The strike began in Madrid with a “pot banging” demonstration. Feminist groups urged women to abandon all domestic chores and to not spend any money for the day to demonstrate the importance of the role played by women in the national economy.
The Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy Bill, August 2018
The legalisation of abortion was rejected by the Senate in August in spite of widespread support and mobilisations of hundreds of thousands of people.The Bill had been passed in the Congress in June. If implemented, the Bill would have ensured access to legal and safe abortion services and helped prevent health risks and maternal mortality as a result of clandestine abortion practices.
In the aftermath of the Senate vote, 2 women died after having undergone clandestine abortions. As news spread across social media, the hashtag #ElSenadoEsResponsable (The Senate Is Responsible) began to be used by those condemning the Senate and highlighting the fact that prohibition is a dangerous and ineffective deterrent for abortion practices. The Argentine protest received expressions of solidarity from people all over the world as activists pledged to continue their struggle.
“Lucía, presente”, November 2018
Mass protests were held in Argentina after a court in Mar Del Plata acquitted two men of the charges of rape, torture and subsequent murder of 16-year-old Lucía Perez. In light of the verdict, protests and demonstrations across Argentina brought to light the systemic patriarchal biases which hinder the pursuit of justice for women.
The Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) collective, along with various political and feminist organisations, have been campaigning tirelessly against gender-based violence in Argentina which overwhelmingly targets women and sexual minorities.
#EleNão #EleNunca (Not Him. Never Him), September-October 2018
Thousands gathered in protest against the far-right presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, in the weeks leading up to the Brazilian general election. Bolsonaro, a conservative ex-military officer, is known for his reprehensible beliefs regarding women, sexual minorities and immigrants and the overtly authoritarian nature of his policies.
A women’s collective within the movement released a statement titled “A Manifesto of Women United Against Bolsonaro” detailing their opposition to Bolsonaro’s proposed economic and political programs – increased militarisation, labor reforms, taxation, cuts to social assistance programs, etc. – which would inevitably oppress the poor and marginalised.
Massive protests were organised in 25 cities across Brazil with people from all over the world holding rallies and protests, as well as pledging their support through social media. The subsequent election of Bolsonaro to the Brazilian presidency placed large sections of the population in an extremely vulnerable position. However, activists have remained firm in their resolve to resist fascist policies. Thousands marched in the streets of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife and Porto Alegre, raising the slogan “Ninguém vai se render!” (No One Will Surrender!)
#TotalShutDown Intersectional Women’s March Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), August 2018
Women (including both cisgender and trans women) and Gender Non Conforming (GNC) people across different parts of South Africa led demonstrations to protest the rising rates of gender-based violence in the country. The #TotalShutDown March was organised on August 9 which is usually celebrated as National Women’s Day (commemorating the 1956 women’s march against the apartheid law) while the rest of the month is celebrated as “Women’s Month”. The March was organised by WomenProtestSA across 8 provinces in South Africa, and in other countries such as Lesotho, Namibia and Botswana, raising the slogan “My Body- Not Your Crime Scene”.
In a memorandum of demands addressed to president Cyril Ramaphosa, the movement called for an end to gender-based violence and the impunity afforded to its perpetrators. Furthermore, the memorandum also stresses the need for effective mechanisms for prevention and redressal, legislative reform and accountability among other demands.
All India Women’s Protest Rally, September 2018
A call to strike was announced by the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) to protest against instances of sexual and communal violence, lack of access to social security programs, malnutrition and unemployment. Nearly 5,000 women from 23 States across India marched in solidarity to the Indian Parliament on September 4.
The protest took place in the larger context of massive social unrest due to the deepening agrarian crisis, increasing instances of communal violence and hate crimes, and the horrific instances of sexual violence against women, as evidenced by the Unnao and Kathua rape cases. A statement released by AIDWA highlighted the underlying systemic causes of these issues and called out the ruling BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) government for its lack of response to the worsening conditions in the country.
This year also witnessed legal and legislative victories, such as the Supreme Court verdicts on the entry of women into the Sabarimala temple, the striking down of Section 377 of the Indian Constitution which criminalised homosexuality and the striking down of Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalised adultery and had been widely criticised as being anti-women.
Throughout the world, in 2018, women were in the forefront of a wide variety of struggles for better wages and livelihood too, as well as for basic rights. In Saudi Arabia, women did get the right to drive but the moment was obscured by the detention and ill-treatment of key activists who waged that struggle. These women continue to be in jail. As 2019 begins, it is women like these and their comrades in struggle who provide the hope that change is, after all, possible.