August 1, 2021

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Global crackdown on protests as women attacked by men and subjected to heavy-handed policing

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Women who descended on the streets to celebrate International Women’s Day around the world have been attacked by men and subjected to heavy-handed police tactics, campaigners said.

Concerns were raised after violent attacks on female protesters by counter-demonstrators and police brutality “cast a dark shadow” over celebrations.

In Mexico City, male anti-abortion demonstrators with shaved heads who made Nazi salutes clashed with female protesters.

And police teargassed women who took to the streets to celebrate International Women’s Day, which falls on 8 March each year, after some hurled Molotov cocktails at the doors of the National Palace.

The predominantly peaceful march, which saw around 80,000 come together to show their opposition to violence against women, was one of the largest the Mexican capital has seen in years.

Anger about the rising number of femicides, defined as the gender-motivated killing of women, has swelled in recent months. Femicides have more than doubled in Mexico in the last half a decade, and an average of 10 women per day were killed in the country in 2018.

In Paris, police were condemned for their clampdown on protesters on Saturday night after several thousand women descended on the streets to demand “antiracist feminism”.

Police teargassed the crowd at Republique and nine people were arrested – with the Parisian mayor, Anne Hidalgo, voicing her shock at what she referred to as “inadmissible and incomprehensible” police violence against women.

Police in Kyrgyzstan detained dozens of protesters – most of whom were women – at an International Women’s Day rally in the capital of Bishkek after masked men attacked them.

Their assailants hurled eggs at the women and ripped up their posters.

Campaigners say women’s rights are being rolled back in the former Soviet Republic, which is infamous for the illegal practice of bride kidnapping -​ which sees thousands of girls abducted for forced marriage every year.

Human Rights has previously warned bride kidnapping, a practice defended as a “tradition” by many in the country despite there often being no relationship between the man and the woman, and the authorities’ failure to punish violence against women and girls is leaving them at risk of being killed.

Police used water hoses and teargas on the thousands who assembled in the Chilean capital Santiago calling for abortion access and an end to gender-based violence, but many women wore gas marks to protect themselves.

Police also fired teargas in the Turkish capital Istanbul after the authorities announced Istiklal street was out of bounds and the arranged march through the street was not allowed.

In Islamabad, Islamists hurled stones, shoes and sticks at both male and female demonstrators as they marched through the Pakistani capital for the Aurat March on International Women’s Day.

Chiara Capraro, Amnesty International’s Women’s Rights programme manager, said: “The violent clashes at some International Women’s Day marches cast a dark shadow over what should have been a weekend of peaceful and positive action for gender equality.

“The fact that protesters were attacked, met with counter-protests and heavy-handed police responses shows the grave risks and threats some women face in their efforts to defend their rights.

“Around the world, women and non-binary people are subject to cruel and dangerous laws and discrimination. The brave people speaking out against these inequalities must not be silenced.”

Jacqui Hunt, of Equality Now, an organisation that aims to promote the rights of women and girls, said: “Women’s rights activists should be free to exercise their civil rights without the threat of intimidation, harassment, and arrest. This type of persecution seeks to silence the voices of women and girls by creating a toxic environment to make them fearful of repercussions for expressing views that may challenge prevailing power structures.

“Conservative forces are trying to shut down women’s voices and deny their rights, not just on International Women’s Day, but in the daily lives of women and girls.

“It is testament to the strength of women everywhere that we will not be silenced. Now, more than ever, we must join hands against the patriarchal forces that seek to diminish and divide us based on sex, race, gender, religion, disability, caste and other marginalised statuses.”

She called for women and other groups that face discrimination and marginalisation to be “properly resourced”.

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