Gender equality, rights on agenda on International Women’s Day

Yazidi's women attend a ceremony at Lilash Temple to commemorate the death of women who were killed by Islamic State militants, during the International Women Day, in Shikhan north of Iraq March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ari Jalal

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

LONDON (Reuters) – Campaigners for gender equality marked International Women’s Day on Friday with protests, discussion panels and walkouts as well as celebrations.

In one of the first protests of the day, several hundred women gathered in central Madrid around midnight to bang pots and pans and demand more rights for women in a society they say is still dominated by men.

Gender inequality has become a deeply divisive issue in Spain ahead of its April 28 parliamentary election. A new far-right party, Vox, which opinion polls show winning seats, has called for the scrapping of a landmark law on gender violence.

One of Spain’s largest unions, UGT, said an estimated six million people walked out of their jobs for at least two hours in a strike to demand equal pay and rights for women, which it said mobilized more people than a similar action a year ago.

The government said it would not provide estimates on the rate of participation.

Tens of thousands of women, mostly students, crammed streets and squares in central Madrid, chanting and carrying placards saying: “Liberty, Equality, Friendship” and “The way I dress does not change the respect I deserve!”

“From reactionary forces to certain political speeches, many people are trying to demonize feminism while it has always been a fight for equality,” said Ana Sanz, 36, dressed in a red overcoat and white bonnet similar to the uniforms seen in the dystopian novel and TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

Earlier about 200 female cyclists took part in another protest in Madrid against gender violence and patriarchy, many wearing purple – a symbolic color used by women’s rights activists.

Activists attend a rally for gender equality and against violence towards women on the International Women's Day in Kiev, Ukraine March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Activists attend a rally for gender equality and against violence towards women on the International Women’s Day in Kiev, Ukraine March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

“HONK FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS!”

Women also took to the streets of Athens, Berlin and Kiev demanding equality and an end to violence against women. In Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, hundreds called for the release of Syrian women in jail.

In Paris, demonstrators from Amnesty International gathered outside Saudi Arabia’s embassy to wave placards that read “Honk for women’s rights” and calling for the release of jailed women activists, including those who campaigned for the right to drive in the deeply conservative kingdom.

At a ceremony at the Elysee Palace, President Emmanuel Macron handed the first women’s rights prize dedicated to the late French minister and abortion campaigner Simone Veil to Cameroonian rights activist Aissa Doumara in recognition of her campaign against forced marriages.

In London, Meghan, Britain’s Duchess of Sussex, joined singer Annie Lennox, model Adwoa Aboah, former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and others in a panel discussion about issues affecting women today.

The session, which touched upon gender equality and the obstacles women face, was convened by the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, an organization of which Meghan was announced vice-president on Friday.

In Russia, where International Women’s Day has been an important festival since Communist times, flowers and congratulatory messages decorated public spaces across the country.

(Reporting by Sabela Ojea and Raul Cadenas in Madrid, Marie-Louise Gumuchian in London, Johnny Cotton in Paris and Reuters Television in Moscow; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Israel’s women combat soldiers on frontline of battle for equality

A female Israeli soldier from the Haraam artillery battalion takes part in a training session in Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defence technique, at a military base in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Nir Elias

By Yuval Ben-David

ISRAELI MILITARY BASE, Golan Heights(Reuters) – Not far from the Syrian border, two Israeli soldiers – a man and a woman – faced off in a training session of Krav Maga, an Israeli self-defense technique.

“I want you to be aggressive, give him the fight of his life,” physical education officer Lotem Stapleton urged the woman, a soldier in the Haraam artillery battalion, the Israeli military’s longest-running mixed-gender combat battalion.

As the world marks International Women’s Day on Wednesday, whose theme this year focuses on “women in the changing world of work”, the Israeli military says it is ahead of the curve in providing combat roles for female soldiers.

At an army base – which under military censorship rules could not be identified – in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Stapleton shouted encouragement at a pack of 13 soldiers who confronted a stream of “enemy combatants” in a training circuit.

“Today, 85 percent of (combat) positions are open to women. We are also talking about opening more and more positions,” Stapleton said.

The Haraam battalion began accepting women in 2000. Overall, female soldiers now make up 7 percent of the fighting ranks in the Israeli military, where men and women are conscripted at the age of 18.

Men serve for three years and women for two. Israel’s Arab citizens and ultra-Orthodox Jewish community are largely exempted from military service.

“I think that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is very advanced by giving women equal opportunities,” Lieutenant-Colonel Oshrat Bachar, an adviser to the office of the chief of staff on gender issues, told Reuters at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

“I believe that we are much more advanced than other armies in the world because (service) is mandatory and of course because we believe in equal rights,” she said.

Rachel Fenta, a female combatant in the Haraam battalion, said she spent a year sitting at a desk before she became determined to join a fighting unit.

“I wanted to test my limits,” she said.

Matan Paull, a commanding officer in the battalion, said female combatants were generally more creative and mentally flexible than their male counterparts. But he said the women tended to get injured more easily.

Mai Ofir, another female member of the unit, would agree.

“Our bodies aren’t built the same,” she said. “But just as a guy can shoot a rocket, so can a woman.”

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alison Williams)

Women in U.S. plan to stay off the job, rally in anti-Trump protests

People listen to speakers in the rain at a rally for International Women's Day in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Peter A Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Women in the United States plan to use International Women’s Day on Wednesday to stay off the job and stage demonstrations across the country in an effort to seize on the momentum built from the massive marches held a day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration.

On “A Day Without a Woman,” those who are able to do so will stay away from work or school, much as immigrants did on Feb. 16 to protest Trump’s immigration policies.

All are part of the series of anti-Trump demonstrations that have taken place since the day after his Nov. 8 election.

Objectives of Wednesday’s events include calling attention to the gender pay gap in which women trail men, and deregulating reproductive rights.

“For years and years, March 8 has been International Women’s Day, and it has been a happy, happy day, which is fine,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “But the political climate that we find ourselves in right now requires us to have political power.”

Demonstrations will target a Trump “gag order” that bars foreign health providers receiving U.S. funds from raising abortion as an option, O’Neill said.

Early Wednesday morning, Trump urged others via his personal Twitter account to join him in honoring the critical role of women in America and around the world.

“I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy,” the Republican president wrote (@realDonaldTrump).

Trump has been heavily criticized for his inflammatory comments when discussing women, including his boast in a 2005 video about grabbing women by the genitals, and referring to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman” during a presidential debate.

American women on average earn 79 cents for every $1 that men make, and African-American and Latina women make even less, O’Neill said. Since women account for two-thirds of all minimum wage workers, lifting the hourly wage would significantly narrow the pay gap, she said.

The minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 at the federal level since 2009, although it is higher in many states.

Organizers are attempting to repeat tactics from the Jan. 21 women’s march on Washington and other cities that came together largely through social media.

Women make up 47 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force. If all of them stayed out of work for the day, it would knock almost $21 billion of the country’s gross domestic product, the liberal leaning Center for American Progress estimated.

Organizers, however, realize that many women lack the motivation or cannot afford to take a day off and are urging women to limit their shopping to female-owned businesses or to wear red.

Several schools, including at least two sizeable school districts in Virginia and North Carolina, have canceled classes because a large number of teachers requested the day off.

Rallies are planned in cities across the country, including Washington, New York, Atlanta, St. Petersburg, Florida, Chicago, San Francisco and Berkeley, California.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Lisa Shumaker)

Some U.S. schools to close Wednesday as women request day off to protest

(Reuters) – At least two U.S. school districts have announced plans to close on Wednesday in anticipation of staff shortages for the nationwide “Day Without A Woman” strike.

The one-day protest, which is being held in conjunction with International Women’s Day, is intended to draw attention to the plight of women in the workplace who on average are paid less than men.

The protest is already affecting dozens of schools, which are heavily staffed by women. The strike organizers include some of the planners of the Jan. 21 women’s march on Washington and other U.S. cities.

In Alexandria, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., Superintendent of Schools Alvin Crawley said classes for the entire district, which serves more than 15,000 students, would be canceled on Wednesday after 300 teachers and other staff members asked to have the day off.

“The decision is based solely on our ability to provide sufficient staff to cover all our classrooms, and the impact of high staff absenteeism on student safety and delivery of instruction,” Crawley said in an announcement.

Also canceling classes for the day are Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools in North Carolina, where officials anticipated that 400 to 2,000 staffers would not show up for work. The district, which encompasses 21 schools, said absences on a typical day number around 100 staffers, or 5 percent of its workforce.

The school district stressed that the decision to close was based on student safety and was not meant as a political statement.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)