Women strike, protest as the world marks Int'l Women's Day

MADRID (AP) — Women across Europe and Asia shouted their demands for equality, respect and empowerment Thursday to mark International Women's Day, with protesters in Spain launching a 24-hour strike and crowds of demonstrators filling the streets of Manila, Seoul and New Delhi.

Women Spain

Thousands of demonstrators protest male violence against women and demanding an equality labour opportunities at the Paseo Sarasate Promenade, during the female general strike to commemorate International Women's Day, in Pamplona, northern Spain, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)


Spanish women were staging dozens of protests across the country against the wage gap and gender violence. In Barcelona, protesters disrupting traffic into the city center were pushed back by riot police.

In Madrid, hundreds of women gathered in its central square to demand change. Teresa Sonsur, a 38-year-old social services agency worker, said she wanted to end workplace discrimination.

"What we see in our job in social services is that the women are doing all the hard work, dealing with the customers, but in the positions of management it is always men," she said.

In some countries, protests were more muted.

International Women's Day is a public holiday in Russia, but opposition presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak was one of the few demonstrators in Moscow.

Women Russia

Russian TV host and presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak attends an Amnesty International picket against sexual harassment holding a placard reading "Deputies (lawmakers), we don't want you!" in front of the Russian State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 8, 2018. Sobchak held her demonstration on Thursday, International Women's day which is observed as a public holiday in Russia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

In a protest reminiscent of the #MeToo movement, which aims to hold those involved in sexual misconduct, and those who cover it up, accountable, Sobchak staged a solo picket outside the lower house of the Russian parliament to demand the resignation of a prominent lawmaker whom several female journalists accuse of sexual harassment.

On a lighter note, a leading French newspaper found a witty way of making its point about discrimination and the gender pay gap — by upping its price for men. The left-leaning daily Liberation said that for one day only, men would pay 50 euro cents more than women, in a reflection of the 25 percent less that women in France are paid, on average.

Women France

French President Emmanuel Macron, centre right and state secretary for women's rights, Marlene Schiappa, second left, pose with employees of an investment company in Paris, France, Thursday, March 8, 2018 where women and men are paid the same for the same work. From a state secretary performing in a groundbreaking play about women's sexuality to President Emmanuel Macron visiting a company promoting gender equality, France's government wants show it puts women's rights as a priority. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

French President Emmanuel Macron said vowed to name and shame companies that don't respect the law on gender equality.

Across Asia, women came out to mark the day. In China, students at Tsinghua University used the day to make light of a proposed constitutional amendment to scrap term limits for the country's president. One banner joked that a boyfriend's term should also have no limits, while another said, "A country cannot exist without a constitution, as we cannot exist without you!"


Women China

Delegates holding flower bouquets for International Women's Day pose for photos outside of the Great Hall of the People as they arrive for a plenary session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, Thursday, March 8, 2018. Students at China's prestigious Tsinghua University are celebrating International Women's Day with banners making light of a proposed constitutional amendment to scrap term limits for the country's president. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)


But photos of the students' banners, like other content about the proposed amendment, were quickly censored on social media.

At rallies in the Pakistan capital Islamabad, its largest city Karachi, and the cultural capital of Lahore, women denounced violence against them in Pakistan, where nearly 1,000 women are killed by close relatives each year in so-called honor killings. Pakistani women have largely been deprived of their rights since the country gained independence in 1947.

Women Pakistan

People take part in a rally to mark International Women's Day in Islamabad, Pakistan, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/B.K. Bangash)

Hundreds of activists in pink and purple shirts protested in downtown Manila against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, calling him among the worst violators of women's rights in Asia. Protest leaders sang and danced in a boisterous rally in Plaza Miranda, handing red and white roses to mothers, sisters and widows of drug suspects slain under Duterte's crackdown on illegal drugs.


Women Manila

Protesters, right, exchange flowers with families of victims of alleged extra-judicial killings, during a rally to mark International Women's Day Thursday, March 8, 2018 in Manila, Philippines. Hundreds of women activists in pink and purple shirts protested against President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines on Thursday, as marches and demonstrations in Asia kicked off International Women’s Day. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)


Human rights groups have condemned Duterte's sexist remarks, including one in which he asked troops to shoot female communist rebels in the genitals.

In Afghanistan, hundreds of women, who would have been afraid to leave their homes during Taliban rule, gathered in the capital to commemorate the day.

Women Afghanistan

Afghan children play during an event marking International Women's Day in Kabul, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Hundreds of South Koreans, many wearing black and holding black #MeToo signs, rallied in central Seoul. South Korea's #MeToo movement has gained significant traction since January, when a female prosecutor began speaking openly about workplace mistreatment and sexual misconduct.



Female workers supporting the MeToo movement wearing black attend a rally to mark the International Women's Day in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, March 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)


Several high-profile South Korean men have resigned from positions of power, including a governor who was a leading presidential contender before he was accused of repeatedly raping his female secretary.

In India, hundreds of women, including students, teachers and sex workers, marched through the capital to bring attention to domestic violence, sexual attacks and discrimination in jobs and wages.


Women India

Indian women shout slogans during a march to observe International Women's Day in New Delhi, India, Thursday, March 8, 2018. Hundreds of women held street plays and march in the Indian capital highlighting domestic violence, sexual attacks and discrimination in jobs and wages against them. Violent crime against women has been on the rise in India despite tough laws enacted by the government. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)


"Unite against violence against women," one placard urged. "Man enough to say no to domestic abuse," said another. "My body, My choice."

India had its first female leader in 1966 when Indira Gandhi became prime minister, but Indian women are still often relegated to second-class citizenship.

In Africa, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni urged men to stop physically abusing their wives. Domestic violence is common in Uganda, although victims rarely report perpetrators to the police for fear of being stigmatized or thrown out of their homes.

"If you want to fight, why don't you look for a fellow man and fight?" Museveni said, calling domestic abusers cowards.

Back in Europe, the European Commission said in a statement published on Twitter that the continent "is one of the safest and most equal places for women in the world." On the other hand, it noted that "the path to full equality in practice is still a long one."

"The issue of gender equality is high on the agenda," Frans Timmermans, the European Commission's first vice-president, said, "but progress is still slow on the ground."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, considered by many to be one of the world's most powerful women, echoed those sentiments, saying in a video message the struggle for greater equality in Germany and worldwide must continue. She said "many women before us have made sacrifices and fought persistently so that women would have more rights ... but there's still a lot to do."

As if to prove that point, Belgian women's groups spoke out angrily as the world of sport provided an immediate and visible target for their struggle.

The Belgian football federation, saying it did not want to be taken "hostage" by women's groups, refused Thursday to back down from its decision to choose a rapper known for lacing his songs with misogynistic lyrics to produce its official World Cup song.

The Women's Forum, a coalition of Belgian women's groups, said it was unacceptable that an artist using degrading lyrics could be picked to produce what should be a unifying song.

In Rome, Catholic women challenged Pope Francis to give women a greater voice. Former Irish President Mary McAleese, an outspoken advocate for women's ordination and gay rights, accused the church's all-male leadership of refusing to change their entrenched second-class status.

Asia Argento, an Italian actress who helped launch the #MeToo movement, said she is launching a new movement, #WeToo, which aims to unite women against the power imbalance in favor of men.


Tim Sullivan in Delhi, Barry Hatton in Lisbon, Portugal, and AP correspondents around the world contributed to this report.