This photo essay is part of Right to Protest, a partnership project with human rights organisations CELS and INCLO, with support from the ACLU, examining the power of protest and its fundamental role in democratic society.
Poland 2016: women's protest against abortion laws
Image: Iga Lubczańska/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
A woman wears black at a ‘Czarny Protest’ (‘Black Protest’) to demonstrate against abortion laws in Opole, Poland. ‘No women, no kraj’ (‘No women, no country’ – 'kraj' is pronounced 'cry' in Polish) and ‘We are not your incubators’ were written on placards at the protest – one of several held across the country on 3 October 2016. The day became known as ‘Czarny Poniedziałek’ (‘Black Monday’), with thousands of women going on strike in opposition to the proposed legislation for a total ban on abortion. The protest was part of a larger campaign, in which people published selfies in black clothing on social media, using the tag #czarnyprotest. The protest was swiftly followed by a surge of similar demonstrations in Wrocław, Łódź and Kraków and other cities throughout Poland, attended by thousands. By 5 October, the parliamentary committee was advising MPs to vote down the bill, which they proceeded to do the following day.
Egypt 2013: women demonstrating against the Muslim Brotherhood
Image: Ahmed Ismail / AA / ABACAPRESS / PA images. All rights reserved.
This photo shows women protesting in Cairo on 15 March 2013 against the Muslim Brotherhood, who days before had spoken out against a UN document entitled ‘End Violence against Women’. The brotherhood, whose close allies headed Egypt’s parliament and presidency at the time, issued an online statement on 14 March denouncing the UN declaration on the grounds that it opposed fundamental Islamic values and would lead to the ‘complete disintegration of society’. Among other factors, the statement criticised the document for proposing unconditional equal rights and sexual freedom for homosexual people and women, as well as allowing Muslim women to work and travel, marry non-Muslims, use contraception without their husband’s permission, and take their husbands to court for marital rape. An agreement was reached and announced in the UN headquarters late on 15 March – the day of the protest – though with some dilution to demands for gay rights and references to sexual health.
Brazil 2017: women victims of violence protesting in São Paulo
Image: Cris Faga / NurPhoto / SIPA USA / PA Images
On 10 August 2017, Brazilian women took to the streets of São Paolo in response to Mayor João Doria’s announcement of the dismantling of policies aimed to combat gender-based violence, resulting in $3.5 million cuts to women’s services. This woman’s striking placard reads: ‘Cidade linda, mulher morta’ (‘Beautiful city, dead woman’), in reference to Doria’s ‘Cidade Linda’ (Beautiful City) project; the controversial urban ‘beautification’ scheme involved spending more than $1 million to mobilise workers to undertake a thorough sprucing of the urban environment – painting over graffiti, fixing lampposts and tidying up street corners. Other placards at the protest read ‘Prefeito machista’ (sexist, or machista, mayor).
Cameroon 2013: March for a Life free of Violence against Women and Girls
Image: Centre for Human Rights and Peace in Cameroon. Some rights reserved.
This picture was taken by the Centre for Human Rights and Peace in Cameroon in 2013 at the March for a Life Free of Violence Against Women and Girls. A 2011 survey reported that 55% of women in Cameroon – compared to 34% of women aged between 15 and 49 globally – have experienced physical violence, often at the hands of partners or other family members. 20% of women who had already had sexual intercourse did so for the first time unwillingly, with the number rising to 30% among those who had intercourse before the age of 15. 60% of women who have been married have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence from their most recent husband, with 43% having sustained injuries from this violence. Cameroon’s National Gender Policy Document, adopted in 2014, put the principles of human rights, democracy, social justice, and equality at the centre of its strategy, and in July 2016 a new penal code criminalised forced marriage.
USA 2017: Women’s March, New York City, following Trump's inauguration
Image: KarlaAnnCoté/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
On 21 January 2017, swathes of women across the globe marched to show support for women’s rights following the inauguration of Donald Trump on 20 January. This photo focuses on a woman at the Women’s March in New York, one of an estimated 400,000 protesters who descended on Trump Tower to protest the incumbent president in his hometown. The crowd marched for a broad range of issues, promoting social justice, civil rights and equality, demanding a voice for women in politics, and expressing concern about Trump’s plans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. ‘It’s time to fight, nasty girls unite’ and ‘Resist, resist, resist those tiny fists’ were some of the chants heard.
Argentina 2015: Ni Una Menos movement to combat gender-based violence
Image: Prensa TV Pública/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Workers from Argentine television network TV Pública hold a placard that reads: ‘Objectification is violence’, at a protest organised by Ni Una Menos in May 2015. Ni Una Menos is an Argentine feminist movement that describes itself as ‘un grito colectivo contra la violencia machista’ (‘a collective cry in the face of machista violence’). The campaign, whose name literally means ‘Not one woman less’, rallies against gender-based violence, centring on opposition to femicide but also incorporating broader intersectional feminist issues, such as sexual harassment and objectification, gender roles and pay gap, and the rights of sex workers and transgender people. Initially spearheaded by female artists, journalists and academics in Argentina, the movement has since expanded through several Latin American and European countries.
Brazil 2015: Black Women's March in Brasilia against violence and racism
Image: Sabriya Simon. Some rights reserved.
A woman at the Black Women’s March in the Brazilian capital on 18 November 2015. More than 10,000 women flocked from around the country to march in protest against violence and racism, and to demand equality for all. Gathering outside the National Congress of Brazil, the crowd expressed their defiance in light of a recent surge of conservative bills aimed at diminishing the rights of women. These included the passing of a bill restricting rape victims’ access to support, information and the morning-after pill on 21 October, followed a week later by lawmakers proposing that hospitals should notify the police each time a woman is examined because of issues related to abortion. Also central to the protest’s focus was the broader societal discrimination faced by black women in Brazil, who at the time were victims of increased incidences of violence and murder, while violence against lighter-skinned women declined.
Mexico 2017: women demanding answers about the disappearance of their children in Iguala in 2014
Image: Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos/Flickr. Some rights reserved.
Women protesting in Mexico on 30 August 2017 – International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. The demonstration remembers the mass disappearance and calls for the return of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, who were attacked in the historic city of Iguala on the night of 26 September 2014. Official reports indicate the involvement of the town’s mayor and his wife in the disappearance, while others implicate federal forces and the Mexican Army. Three years after the event, so little is known about what happened or the whereabouts of the students that Forensic Architecture have built an online interactive platform to attempt to make sense of the case. Placards read ‘Alive they were taken, alive we love them,’ and featured photos of the disappeared and information about what they were wearing when last seen.
UK 1982: women-led peace protests at Greenham Common, Berkshire
Image: PA/PA Archive/PA Images. All rights reserved.
From 1981 to 1991, RAF Greenham Common was the site of a series of women-led peace protests. A protest camp was set up at the US base following the government’s decision to allow US forces to install cruise missiles there. The protest known as ‘Embrace the Base’, when 30,000 women linked hands around the base on 12 December 1982, was one of the most significant of the movement. Another was the formation of a human chain of 70,000 protesters between Greenham and Aldermaston in 1983. The movement is believed to have had a notable impact both within the UK and internationally, forcing a public conversation not only about nuclear weapons but also regarding the appropriation of historically common grounds for military purposes. The last American Cruise missiles were removed in 1991.
UK 1909: women's suffrage protest movement
Image: Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.
This photo shows Christabel Pankhurst being welcomed to the Free Trade Hall on Peter Street in Manchester on 19 January 1909. Dame Christabel Harriette Pankhurst was a leading member of the women’s suffrage movement. Co-founding the Women’s Social and Political Union with Emmeline, the sisters directed a campaign that included mass rallies and hunger strikes. This photo would have been taken shortly after her release from Holloway Prison. ‘We have waited too long for political justice; we refuse to wait any longer,’ Pankhurst said at a speech at the time. ‘We are resolved that 1909 must and shall be the political enfranchisement of British women.’ In 1918, the Representation of the People Act allowed female property owners over 30 to vote, but it was not until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 that women in the UK finally achieved the same voting rights as men.