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Women fill streets of world's cities with call for justice

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Women filled the streets of the world's largest cities Sunday to protest gender violence and inequality on International Women’s Day, with the mothers of murdered girls leading a march in Mexico City and participants in Paris inveighing against the “virus of the patriarchy.”

While many protests were peaceful celebrations others were marred by tension, with security forces arresting demonstrators at a rally in Kyrgyzstan and police reportedly using tear gas to break up a demonstration by thousands of women in Turkey.

“In many different ways or forms, women are being exploited and taken advantage of,” Arlene Brosas, the representative of a Filipino advocacy group said during a rally that drew hundreds to the area near the Philippine presidential palace. Protesters called for higher pay and job security, and demanded that President Rodrigo Duterte respect women’s rights.

Turkish riot police fired tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators who, in defiance of a government ban, tried to march along Istanbul's main pedestrian street to mark International Women's Day, media reports said.

Turkish authorities declared Istiklal street, near Istanbul's main Taksim square, off-limits, and said the planned march down the avenue was unauthorized. Thousands of demonstrators, most of them women, gathered near Istiklal regardless and tried to break through police barricades to reach it, according to the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper and other media.

The independent T24 news website said police also fired blanks to disperse the crowd.

In Pakistan, however, women managed to rally in cities across the country, despite petitions filed in court seeking to stop them. The opposition was stirred in part by controversy over a slogan used in last year’s march: “My Body, My Choice.”

Some conservative groups had threatened to stop this year's marches by force. But Pakistani officials pledged to protect the marchers. The rallies are notable in a conservative country where women often do not feel safe in public places because of open harassment. The main Islamic political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, organized its own rallies to counter the march.

Tens of thousands of women filled the streets of Mexico's capital to protest rampant femicides and impunity for the killers. The country has recently seen a series of rowdy protests by women who have vandalized monuments and metro stations to express their anger in one of the world's most dangerous countries to be a woman.

On average, more than 10 women are slain each day in Mexico, often by their male partners.

The mothers of slain women and girls led Sunday's march, with people cheering them on, chanting: “You’re not alone!” They were followed by homemakers, students and mothers with small children wearing purple shirts, bandannas and hats.

“I don’t want to be the next one, and I don’t want my mother to be the next one,” said Ana Paula Santos, a 21-year-old public university student.

María de la Luz Estrada, coordinator of the National Citizen’s Observatory on Femicide, said more Mexican women have taken to the streets in recent years because the assaults and killings are “increasingly more alarming.”

Earlier, activists had painted the names of many of the thousands of women killed each year in Mexico on the ground of the capital's iconic Zocalo plaza.

One of the largest demonstrations occurred in Chile, where thousands flooded the streets of the capital with dancing, music and angry demands for gender equality and an end to violence against women.

“They kill us, they rape us and nobody does anything,” some chanted.

National police estimated 125,000 took part in the capital and nearly 35,000 in other cities, but organizers said the crowds were far larger. Scattered clashes broke out at points when demonstrators threw rocks at police, who responded with water cannon.

Many protesters demanded that a proposed new constitution strengthen rights for women and thousands wore green scarves in a show of support for activists in neighboring Argentina, which is considering a proposal to legalize elective abortion.

Tens of thousands of women also marched through Paris, inveighing against the patriarchy.

“Enough impunity!” chanted some activists, who focused on France’s unusually high rate of women killed by their husbands. Last year, one woman was killed every two or three days by a current or former partner, and the government is increasing efforts to crack down on domestic violence.

"They should provide resources for shelters for women, victims of violence, real resources, human resources, also prevention programs for violent men,” union activist Julia Parbotin said.

Tens of thousands of women also marched in Madrid and other Spanish cities, despite concern over the spread of the new coronavirus.

A massive banner reading, “With rights, without barriers. Feminists without frontiers” in Spanish was carried at the front of the march in the capital.

Spanish health authorities did not put any restrictions on the march, but recommended that anyone with symptoms similar to those of the new coronavirus stay home. Authorities said 120,000 people participated in Madrid’s march, down from 350,000 last year.

At a school in East London, meanwhile, the duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, joined students in listening to speeches about women labor activists, and urged both girls and boys to respect the contributions of women every day of the year.

“For young men ... you have your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, friends in your life — protect them. Make sure they are feeling valued and safe,” she told the students.

But safety was in short supply at some events to mark the day.

The detonation of explosives triggered panic at a ceremony in Bamenda, an English-speaking town in the northwest of Cameroon. Suspicions focused on separatists who had vowed to disrupt the events. No one was killed or wounded.

Police in Bishek, the capital city of Kyrgyzstan, detained about 60 people after a group of unidentified men broke up what authorities called an unauthorized rally. About 10 women were released with charges of resisting police, the Akipress news agency reported, citing an attorney.

In Brazil, protests took a political turn, with many of the tens of thousands of protesters in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia denouncing the administration of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who has made comments seen by many as offensive to women.

In Mexico, where activists plan to hold a “Day Without Women” on Monday, Natalia Olalde said she marched because she’s fed up with the lack of justice for women in the country.

Government data shows that 3,825 women in Mexico met violent deaths last year, 7% more than in 2018. Authorities seem incapable of preventing or properly investigating the crimes, very few of which result in convictions.

The 18-year-old university student studying business administration worries she’ll face sexual harassment once in the workforce.

“We want to be free and safe,” said Olalde.

That’s why she plans to join the women’s strike as well on Monday. She vows to stay indoors, not even leaving for a coffee.