Women’s Marches and the growing popularity of protests

“The first Women’s March was really exciting, all those women went out and took the streets. It was really impactful and emotional,” says Alicia, 26, a Spanish sociology student currently living in Dublin.

Alicia is just one of thousands people who have taken to the streets in the past few years to demand equal rights as part of the Women’s March movement. Students are an important part of the protests.

Starting after Donald Trump’s presidential elections in the US, the first Women’s March took place in Washington on January 21 2017. Since then, many other marches have been organized all over the world. The Women’s Marches are now annual events that unite people in fighting for equality.

Crowd Counting Consortium, a US public interest group, estimates that in January 2019 alone about 735,000 people took part in Women’s Marches across the US, while a total of about 10,000 participated in other countries such as UK, Italy, Germany, Afghanistan and Argentina.

Though calls for women’s rights are nothing new, the Women’s Marches seem to mark a renewed wave of popularity after several years of silence. Before 2017, the last notable march was in 2004, when the National Organization for Women sponsored the protest in Washington against anti-abortion laws.

Ursula Barry, director of the MA and graduate diploma in gender studies at University College Dublin, Ireland, thinks social media is partly responsible for the renewed popularity. Women’s Marches are helping to connect people around the world, by sharing similar experiences, and social media have had an impact in the process, she says.

“After Trump got elected, the Women’s March was incredibly powerful and international and the power of images in social media was huge,” she says. “The climate change marches work the same and you can see it with young people and the way they exchange the images between them. That’s what it makes it really powerful.

“The #MeToo movement was also an important part for Women’s Marches and it allowed to share stories between countries. But it’s still hard to say where this will lead because these things are still happening and this is the interesting part.”

Mrs Barry also highlights a growing consciousness around gender inequalities. “There is more interest in these topics, even at university on the undergraduate level, and it is a huge take-up,” she says. “Also the age spectrum is moving down, the generations are connecting each other and it is really important.”

But she points out social media is also fuelling “anti-gender backlash”, especially from right-wing parties, though she adds that Women’s Marches have raised consciousness about other issues such as racism.

Many students and younger people seem to believe that protests are more necessary than ever in 2019, especially because they are the generation that realised how discriminatory the society is, they are the future, and they know more equal rights means a better future ahead of them.

Camille, 21, who is studying history in Diderot University in Paris, France, says: “Many people aren't conscious enough of the discrimination and violence against women in our society.

“With the progress which have been made in the last century many people may think that equality exists. It’s not the truth. I think it’s important to be conscious of that, so in my opinion these manifestations are a good spotlight for this fight.”

The point is echoed by Georgina, 20, who is studying psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK.

“Women's rights being unequal is still an issue in society as a lot of people downplay [it],” she says. “It shows solidarity with women fighting for their rights when they are often dismissed or told they are exaggerating.

“When I was younger I was very unaware of issues like women’s inequality because I never heard anyone speaking about it. Now it feels like everyone is much more aware of this and it's at the forefront of a lot of discussions.”

Alicia adds: “Young people are really worried about the current situation. Not only women are oppressed, but other people such as transgender and non-binary people.

[We] are now more educated and more conscious and that’s why they ask for some changes.”

On the other hand, Tom, 21, student in physics at Manchester University, is more sceptical. He also believes that younger people are more aware because the information can now travel quicker, thanks to social media that spread information.

However, when asked if he thinks these protests have increased people’s awareness, he says: “I do not think [so]. People are probably aware about the situation but they refuse to accept it as a problem.

“Society knows that there are gender biases, however, most of them do not take the situation seriously or they just do nothing to change the problem.”

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