• Edith Ellyn was one of the pioneering suffragettes, portayed here by Helena Bonham Carter in a new film. (Steffan Hill/Focus Features via AP)
Since the suffragettes, women have used their collective power to protest against inequality.
By
Nicola Heath

2 Nov 2016 - 4:49 PM  UPDATED 2 Nov 2016 - 4:55 PM

There is still a lot of work to do around the world before we achieve gender equality. Women are more likely to be the victims of violence, and are still waiting for equal pay. They’re also under-represented in positions of leadership, making up just 15.4 per cent of CEOs across the country, according to the Federal Government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

But we should acknowledge the progress that has been made by strong women striving to achieve equality between the sexes throughout the eras.

It’s all thanks to the dedication of determined women past and present, who have been brave enough to make a stand for their ideals and call out gender injustice as they saw it.

1. The suffragettes

By the end of the 19th century, in most of the world, women were not permitted to vote. Slowly, calls for female suffrage gained momentum. In New Zealand, then a self-governing British colony, women were granted the right to vote in 1893, and South Australia followed suit in 1894. In 1902, the new Australian constitution franchised women across the country – except in some cases Aboriginal women, who had to wait until 1962.

There was no such progress in the UK, where the fight for female suffrage was led by Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the Women's Social and Political Union. Pankhurst and her fellow suffragettes resorted to increasingly militant tactics in their campaign, including arson attacks, letter bombs, and chaining themselves to railings.

In the early 1900s thousands of suffragettes were thrown in prison, where many resorted to hunger strikes which in turn led to force-feedings, deeply unpopular with the public, at the hands of the authorities.

The efforts of the suffragettes paid off in the end. In 1918, women over the age of 30 who owned a certain amount of property were given the right to vote in UK elections. Universal suffrage for women 21 and older arrived in 1928 with the passage of the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act.

2. The women’s liberation movement

With the rise of second-wave feminism and the women’s liberation movement in the 1960s and ‘70s, protests became commonplace. In 1968, women rallied against the Miss America Pageant, where they hurled symbols of feminine oppression – makeup, high heels, and bras - into a ‘freedom trash can’. Nothing was set alight but the bra-burning myth was born.

In 1983, 70,000 women joined hands to form a 23-kilometre human chain in another demonstration against nuclear arms.

Two years later, in 1970, 50,000 women turned out in New York and other US cities to support the Women’s Strike for Equality. In the late 1970s, the first Reclaim the Night marches were held in Europe to protest against sexual violence against women.

Meanwhile in Australia, women were prohibited from drinking in the public bars of pubs. In 1965, two women, Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor, frustrated in their attempts to change the law via official channels, walked into the Regatta Hotel in Brisbane and ordered a drink. When the bartender refused to serve them, the women chained themselves to the bar. Two hours later they were removed by police. While their action helped put women’s liberation on the agenda in Australia, Queensland women had to wait until 1970 before they were allowed to drink in the public bar.

3. Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp

In 1981, 36 women set out on foot from Cardiff for the RAF Greenham Common, where they chained themselves to the perimeter fence to protest against the storage of nuclear weapons at the facility.

This early protest led to the founding of the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, an anti-nuclear settlement that was disbanded in 2000. The anti-nuclear activists, who faced constant threats of eviction and arrest during the 19 years of the camp’s existence, staged a number of large protests that attracted enormous media coverage, including ‘embrace the base’ events that saw 30,000 women in 1982, and 50,000 in 1983, join hands to encircle the facility.

In 1983, 70,000 women joined hands to form a 23-kilometre human chain in another demonstration against nuclear arms. Over the years, women made many attempts to cut the base’s fence to illegally enter the facility.

While the peace camp was ultimately unsuccessful in its attempt to stop nuclear weapons being kept at Greenham Common, it inspired many other women-led protests including Women Against Pit Closures (WAPC) who participated in the miners’ strike in the UK in 1984.

How is the gender pay gap the result of a life 'choice'?
Comment: Men who say the gender pay gap is a result of women’s life ‘choices’ overlook the fact that their work-related decisions are frequently driven by factors other than freedom of choice.

4. Women’s Day Off in Iceland

On October 24, 1975, 90 per cent of Icelandic women went on strike to highlight the important role women play in society. In the capital Reykjavik, 25,000 women gathered in the city centre to protest for gender equality on what was called ‘Women’s Day Off’.

Iceland has seen three subsequent Women’s Day Off protests. In 2005, women around the country walked off the job at 2.08pm to protest against the gender pay gap. In 2008, they left work at 2.25pm. On October 24, 2016, women stopped work at 2.28pm to demand equal pay for equal work.

5. Ni Una Menos in Argentina

Gender violence, or ‘femicide’, is a terrible problem in Argentina, where a woman is murdered every 30 hours. In October, the brutal rape and murder of 16-year-of Lucia Perez in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata prompted a series of mass demonstrations organised by NiUnaMenos, a movement dedicated to fighting femicide in Argentina. On October 19 in Buenos Aires, 100,000 women gathered to protest against the gender violence epidemic, supported by a nationwide strike. Tens of thousands of women also joined the protest in cities throughout the region, including Santiago, Mexico City, La Paz and San Salvador.

6. Black Monday in Poland

Up to 100,000 women dressed in black took to the streets in 60 Polish cities on October 3 to protest against proposed changes to legislation governing abortion. The new laws, limiting access to terminations to cases where a pregnant woman’s life was in direct danger, constituted an effective ban on abortion.

The ‘Black Monday’ protest made headlines around the world and Poland’s conservative government, led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, quickly withdrew support for the controversial changes.

 

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