MADRID (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of people will take part in demonstrations, rallies and colorful events around the world on Wednesday to mark International Women’s Day, the date set to celebrate women and demand equality for half of the world’s population.
While great progress has been made in dozens of countries, the situation in places like Afghanistan and Iran and the ongoing crimes and violations in almost every country in the world are a cold reminder that there is still a long way to go.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted on Monday that women’s rights are being “misused, threatened and violated” around the world and that gender equality will not be achieved for the next 300 years on the current track. He said the progress made in decades is fading because “the patriarchy is fighting back”.
The day is commemorated in different ways and to different degrees in different countries.
In Spain, more than 1 million people are expected to take to the streets in rowdy evening demonstrations in Madrid, Barcelona and every other Spanish city. Large rallies are also expected in many other cities around the world, while only small events are held in some countries.
Women gathered for rallies in Pakistan’s major cities, including the capital Islamabad, amid tight security on Wednesday. The organizers said they would be peaceful and that the marches are aimed only at the pursuit of constitutionally guaranteed rights.
Some conservative groups threatened to violently stop the simar marches last year. But this year, Pakistani officials have stepped up security to protect the protesters. Pakistan is a conservative country where women often do not feel safe in public places due to open harassment.
In neighboring Afghanistan, since the Taliban takeover in 2021, the country has become the most repressive country in the world for women and girlsthe United Nations said on Wednesday.
In a statement released Wednesday, the UN mission said Afghanistan’s new rulers have shown an almost “exceptional focus on imposing rules that effectively lock most women and girls into their homes.”
They have banned education for girls after sixth grade and denied women access to public spaces such as parks and gyms. Women are also not allowed to work for national and international non-governmental organizations and must cover themselves from head to toe.
Roza Otunbayeva, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of the Mission to Afghanistan, said that “it was disturbing to witness their methodical, deliberate and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere .”
In other regions, great strides have been made for women in terms of equality, reproductive rights, laws to eliminate gender and sexual violence, and moves towards equal pay, gender equality, and shared household chores.
Spain passed a new parity law on Tuesday requiring women – and men – to make up at least 40% of the boards of listed companies and private companies with more than 250 employees and €50 million in business. The same will also apply to the Spanish cabinet.
The bill also proposes requiring political parties to have equality on their electoral lists, with alternating names of men and women.
Left-wing governments have pushed women’s rights to the forefront over the past two decades with far-reaching laws on abortion, menstrual leave, and improved maternity and paternity leave, among other things.
But on Tuesday, the current left-wing coalition — with 14 women and nine men in the cabinet — also faced its toughest test in three years, with the two ruling parties disagreeing over reform of their own groundbreaking sexual assault law that inadvertently led to the reduction of sentences for more than 700 offenders and sparked national outrage.
While many countries have made similar strides, especially in Europe, such as the United States, which last year ended the constitutional right to abortionhas seen restrictions return in many states in what many women believe is a major step backwards.
Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.