Tens of thousands march for equality on Women's Day

Jennie MATTHEW, with AFP bureaux around the world
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A mother and daughter cheer at the "A Day Without a Woman" rally honoring International Women's Day, in Los Angeles, California

Tens of thousands of women marched around the world Wednesday as protests stretched from Turkey to Spain to the United States demanding equal rights and slamming Donald Trump with an avalanche of criticism.

As the world marked International Women's Day, officials said 40,000 people gathered in Madrid to denounce violence against women and that similar demonstrations took place in dozens of Spanish cities.

Impassioned rallies also sprung up across Turkey, where last year a woman was attacked in Istanbul for wearing shorts on a bus, and denouncing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expanding his powers.

More than 10,000 people walked Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue, chanting "end male-perpetrated violence" and "Tayyip, Tayyip, run, run, we are coming" in reference to the Turkish leader's bid to create an executive presidency which would abolish the post of prime minister.

"We have to fight against the attacks on our bodies, our work, our opinions," said activist Ozlem Gul in Istanbul. "We won't let up, and we will keep on the fight as Turkish women."

The United Nations first celebrated March 8 as International Women's Day in 1975 and countries across the world mark the date by honoring women's achievements and campaigning for better women's rights.

In the United States, where liberal women feel their hard-won rights face the biggest threat in decades under the Trump administration, the largest demonstration took place in New York.

Police estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people poured into Washington Square, many outfitted in red hats, coats, scarves or dresses to demand a multitude of human rights and denounce the current US administration.

- 'So upset' -

New York protesters held aloft placards defending women's healthcare, immigration rights and calling for the Republican president's impeachment, a few going so far as to compare him to Nazi leaders.

"When women are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!" chanted the crowd, who whooped and cheered speakers on the podium.

Rallies were also held in the Los Angeles area, including downtown where hundreds of women toted signs in support of various issues including equal pay and opposition to Trump.

"I've just been so upset about everything that is going on, it's important to just show up and be there, be part of the change I want to see," said Rusty Frank.

A US call to strike on Women's Day, under the banner "A Day Without Women," forced schools to shut in the city of Alexandria, Virginia, while others took the day off work where possible.

"The wage pay gap is completely ridiculous, that's why we are striking today, to show the value of a woman," said Chelsey Goodan in Los Angeles.

In Washington, several hundred demonstrated in a park outside the White House, chanting "Donald Trump has got to go!"

In France, President Francois Hollande singled out the US administration and Russia for what he called declining women's rights.

"Threats of backtracking" on women's rights do not come only from "emerging nations or countries under dictatorships," he said. "What about positions or intentions expressed by the new US administration?"

- Rio name change -

Trump, whose presidential campaign was nearly derailed by sexual harassment charges and his boasts about groping women, tweeted about his "tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy."

The messages triggered angry responses from his critics. Social media users accused him of sexual assault and criticized his campaign's support for anti-abortion groups.

Other protests spanned from Australia to Latin America. The UN says Latin America accounts for half of the world's 25 countries with the highest numbers of misogynistic murders.

"Enough already! We want each other ALIVE," read signs waved by some of the thousands massed in front of the presidential palace in Argentina, a country where a woman is killed by her male partner or ex-partner every 30 hours.

In Brazil, Rio de Janeiro's main airport marked the day by temporarily changing its name in honor of a prominent activist against domestic violence, Maria da Penha.

Across the planet in Dhaka, Bangladesh, acid attack survivors strutted down the catwalk in a fashion show Tuesday, in an effort to stamp out prejudice against victims of those brutal assaults.

In Moscow, local media said feminist activists were briefly detained after protesting inside the tightly guarded Kremlin.

In the Ukrainian capital Kiev, around a thousand people called for a return to the original feminist meaning of a holiday now largely associated with flowers and gifts.

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