Rallies across Asia kick off International Women's Day

·2 min read

Thousands of women from Yangon to New Delhi marched Monday in defiance of power-grabbing generals and patriarchal governments, as rallies across Asia kicked off a global day of action for International Women's Day.

Crowds of women in brightly coloured saris thronged the outskirts of India's capital, where they joined forces with a months-long protest against agricultural reforms that has rocked the country.

Many were not in masks and did not observe social distancing, despite India having one of Asia's highest coronavirus infection and death rates.

"Our women, sisters, everyone are going to be the biggest contributors to this protest," Kulwinder Kaur, from the northern state of Punjab told AFP as women farmers addressed the rally from makeshift platforms.

Women have played a central role in the protests since they kicked off in late November, in what has become one of the biggest challenges to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.

In neighbouring Myanmar -- a country in uproar since the military seized power last month -- women stood proudly on the frontline of anti-coup protests, but lamented that discrimination still exists on the barricades.

Some waved longyis -- the traditional Burmese skirts -- during a protest in the Sanchaung area of the commercial capital Yangon, where demonstrators have regularly clashed with authorities on the streets.

Across the country, police and military have responded to resistance with an increasingly brutal crackdown on demonstrators, with more than 50 people killed and nearly 1,800 arrested.

"The political issue is for of all of us –- men and women," said Cora, a 33-year-old protester.

"Generally, leadership seems to be for men only. In this uprising, women came out in the streets and led the protests."

- 'Heightened inequalities' -

There were also marches across deeply conservative Pakistan, from the bustling city of Lahore to Balochistan province near the border with Afghanistan.

Hundreds gathered in the Philippine capital of Manila to demonstrate against the killings of several activists on Sunday.

The protesters, most members of women's group Gabriela, marched through the streets of the capital near the presidential palace, and held a rally to criticise the government's efforts during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the deadly crackdown.

On Sunday, nine people were killed in a series of raids by security forces targeting alleged communist insurgents. Leftist groups claimed those who were killed were unarmed activists.

Legislator Sarah Elago told AFP at the protest site that it was not easy for women to assert themselves politically.

"Covid-19 has heightened inequalities and this has also affected how women are organising themselves," she said.

"This has become more difficult to do now because they themselves are being attacked for speaking up."