By INDYKIDS STAFF
On February 14, 2013, hundreds of thousands of women across six continents gathered in groups and danced. Women danced together in San Francisco, Brazil, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, New Zealand, Chicago, and hundreds of other cities and towns around the world. They danced as part of a global campaign to raise awareness of violence against women and girls called One Billion Rising. According to the United Nations Population Fund, as many as one in three women worldwide will at some point in their lives suffer violence. “One Billion Rising brought together coalitions of groups and individuals that have never worked together before,” said playwright Eve Ensler, who helped to start the movement around the campaign. “It did all of this while putting violence against women to the center of the global discussion.”
Women throughout history have been at the center of social movements of all kinds. In honor of women’s history month, here are a few examples of how women have come together to demand change through public protest and mass demonstrations:
1956 Pretoria Women’s March
On August 9, 1956, 20,000 South African women from all across South Africa and of all racial backgrounds gathered together in Pretoria, the country’s administrative capital, to march in protest of “pass laws.” These were discriminatory laws that limited the movement of Black South Africans by requiring them to carry a pass book whenever they traveled outside of certain designated areas. They could be stopped by any White person and asked for their documents. If found without them, they could be arrested. Pass laws were used during apartheid*. Before 1956, these laws did not apply to Black women. Once women became subject to them, they protested and chanted a song to affirm their determination: “Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo!” Translation: “Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock!” August 9 is now a public holiday in South Africa—National Women’s Day.
Russia’s February Revolution—A Women-Led Strike
On February 23, 1917, when International Women’s Day was being recognized in Russia, working women in the Russian city of Petrograd, now Saint Petersburg, organized nearly 50,000 workers to go on strike. Peasants and working class people in Russia had been working very long hours and living in poor conditions, with little to eat and with no support from Tsar Nicholas II. By the next day, an estimated 150,000 workers had joined the strike. By February 25, nearly every industrial and commercial workplace in Petrograd was closed due to the strike. The women-led strike is recognized as the beginning of the first Russian Revolution. Tsar Nicholas II was forced to step down on March 2.
New York Shirtwaist Strike of 1909
In the early 20th century, New York City’s Lower East Side was home to a large garment industry. Garment workers, most of whom were women and immigrants, worked in dangerous conditions for low wages. Beginning in November 1909, 20,000 shirtwaist (women’s blouses) workers, among the lowest paid in the industry, went on strike to demand better pay and working conditions. For four cold months, working class women stood beside upper-class women who supported their cause on the picket line. When the strike ended in February 1910, the women had won better wages and hours. Their fight helped jump start the formation of a women’s garment workers union (a worker’s organization).
*Apartheid: a system of racial segregation (separation of White and Black people) enforced in South Africa from 1948-1994 through which Black South Africans had few civil rights.