The Women’s March on 21 January 2017 made history as the largest single-day demonstration ever recorded in the US, with more than three million attendees across the nation. Sister protests were held in more than 50 countries, and worldwide participation was estimated at seven million. There was a rally in Barcelona, a gathering in London’s Trafalgar Square, slogans chanted outside the US embassy in Accra in Ghana and a nighttime march through the streets of Tokyo. The campaign even reached Antarctica, where one placard declared: “Penguins march for peace”.
While the election of President Trump had been the initial catalyst for the Women’s March, its organisers wanted it to be part of a larger movement, encompassing issues of equality, tolerance, reproductive rights and immigration reform. It was undeniably a watershed moment, but women had marched before – and will continue to march long after. From the suffragettes who traipsed across Hyde Park for the 1907 Mud March to the 1977 Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo protests in Argentina and last year’s demonstrations against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, these movements have always acted as a rallying cry for women around the world, promoting solidarity and propelling change.
Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, three women share with Vogue their most memorable marches, and the profound impact they had on their lives.
Actress and author
“The march I remember best is one I attended when I was 14 years old. I marched in a Seattle, Washington, Gay Pride parade. It was 1988 and things back then were not as they are now. Gay marriage was not even on the distant horizon. As long as I can remember, gay rights were a huge part of the agenda for me. Discrimination of those with whom I most identified was unacceptable. The march was packed and loud and fun but had an urgency to it. My voice was hoarse from yelling. The day before, I had sat with my friend Tom at the hospice that was caring for him. AIDS was terrorising so many of my friends. I carried a sign during the march that said, “Silence Equals Death”. And it does, so that is why I marched.
“The march made me feel like I was doing something in a time when discrimination ruled. Things were not as they are now. It really felt like life and death because it was life and death. It is so important to engage, to fight, to dissent and to cure the sickness in our world. We must fight for each other and be unafraid to do so. We all count. We all matter. Rise up.”
Rose McGowan’s memoir Brave is out in paperback on 5 March
Executive director of UN Women
“On 18 November 2015, I joined black women in Brasilia, Brazil, at the March of Black Women against racism and violence and for ‘good living’. It was a chance to draw attention to the double discrimination faced by women of African descent in Brazil on account of their gender and the colour of their skin, and to call for an end to gender-based violence. I marched with mothers, grandmothers and daughters from diverse backgrounds – the riverbank dwellers of the Amazon, the Babassu domestic workers, prayer women, midwives from Brazil’s countryside and women of the Quilombola people. I marched with activists and academic researchers, ministers and public officials, and my fellow UN Women staff. The energy and sisterhood that they brought to the streets that day was palpable.
“Women have long occupied an important place in the struggle against injustice and in the search for dignity and equality. In 1956, in my own country of South Africa, more than 20,000 women and girls from all corners of the country and all walks of life marched against apartheid, positioning women as a force to be reckoned with in the struggle for freedom. As a result, 9 August is now an official holiday for National Women’s Day in South Africa, celebrating both the historic and current contributions of women and girls in the country.
“Today, around the world, we are seeing the power that marches of solidarity have to counter silence, to demand change and to hold leaders to account – from the women’s marches that have sprung up in cities around the world over the past two years, to the recent climate justice marches led by inspiring young activists in Europe and beyond. They remind us all that this is a time for women and girls to band together and to act, together with men and boys, on the issues that will determine a lived equality for all. That is why we march. And most importantly, why we must continue to grow and scale these movements for gender equality, human rights and sustainable development together.”
The 2019 Commission on the Status of Women will take place at the UN Headquarters in New York from 11 to 22 March
Activist and founder of the #FreePeriods campaign to end period poverty
“A march that had an impact on my life was the #FreePeriods march, which we organised in December 2017. We organised it entirely on social media and asked everyone to come to Downing Street, to wear red and bring banners. We had absolutely no idea how many people would turn up, but in the end we had over 2,000 people, every single one of them enraged about period poverty and demanding the government take action.
“#FreePeriods is calling on the government to provide free menstrual products to those who need them so that no child misses school because they can’t afford to buy pads and tampons, and it was really humbling to see how many people came to be part of the #FreePeriods movement. We had some incredible speeches from Adwoa Aboah, Suki Waterhouse, Daisy Lowe, Jess Phillips MP and Tanya Burr. We had such a diverse range of people who turned up, from Dizzee Rascal to Martin Sheen, and it was so inspirational.
“I started #FreePeriods from my bedroom and this march showed me that it had turned into a movement of people who were willing to stand out in the cold, five days before Christmas, to protest about a cause they felt really passionately about. It was galvanising and we felt mobilised to keep fighting.”
Find out more at freeperiods.org