LONDON (Reuters) - In joyous celebrations and angry protests, women around the world came together in gatherings large and small on Thursday to mark International Women’s Day with a call for gender equality.
The day had extra resonance this year after widespread sexual abuse accusations in Hollywood sparked the #MeToo movement which feminists hope signals one of the most significant shifts towards equal rights in decades.
In Saudi Arabia, a group of women whooped and cheered as they marked International Women’s Day by exercising a recently acquired freedom: the right to go for a jog.
Wearing big smiles and traditional full-length robes adapted for sports, they pounded through sleepy alleys past puzzled shopkeepers in Jeddah’s historic district.
Women in the deeply conservative kingdom are hopeful of huge changes. The government introduced physical education for girls last year and began licensing women’s sports clubs, but Saudis are still coming around to women running in public.
“This is just the beginning of a revolution for women in Saudi Arabia. In jobs, in our lives, in society, everything is going to change for Saudi women,” said one of the joggers, university student Sama Kinsara.
The biggest change yet will come in the summer when Saudi women will be allowed to drive.
In Spain, women went on a nationwide strike and held hundreds of rallies, closing many main roads and squares.
Their protests included bike rallies, marches, and midnight pot-banging sessions at which they chanted slogans such as “We continue to fight regardless of the cost!” and “Long live the women’s struggle”.
The two largest unions said around 6 million women took part. There was no official count.
In Turkey’s Hatay province, near the Syrian border, women wept as they sat on the ground, their hands bound with scarves, to show solidarity with women imprisoned in Syria. Others waved flags, chanting against President Bashar al-Assad: “Murderer Assad, evacuate the prisons!”
In Manila more than a thousand activists marched, calling President Rodrigo Duterte a “macho-fascist” for his lewd comments and treatment of his female critics.
In Iran, where there has been a spate of protests against mandatory Islamic dress, women and men gathered in front of the Ministry of Cooperatives, Labour, and Social Welfare, chanting slogans, videos on social media showed.
“No to gender inequality, No to discriminatory laws” the women chanted in a video.
The Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group, said at least 12 people were arrested. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said on Wednesday that one of the girls who removed her veil in Tehran to protest against compulsory hijab has been sentenced to two years in jail. Dolatabadi said the woman, whom he did not name, was found guilty of “promoting corruption by removing her veil in public.”
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Thursday accused Iran’s enemies of funding anti-hijab protests.
“As the result some girls were deceived and removed their veil here and there,” he said. “But that’s a small issue. What I find worrying is that some of the elite are now questioning mandatory hijab.”
Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Robin Pomeroy