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Women’s History Month Series: Women In Protest

Updated: Apr 18, 2021

How Women are Fueling the Fight Against Injustice

By Giulia Becker Miller and Seamus Bozeman

Image from Fan von DIR

Women’s History Month (WHM) exists to empower and illuminate unheard and unrecognized voices. The women and fem-identifying voices of this world deserve amplification beyond what has ever been granted. The writers at Voices of Gen Z are collaborating to produce a series in celebration of this time. This article begins the series of WHM. This is women in civic resistance.

The trope of the woman’s place in the kitchen and in the home is outdated; the woman’s space exists in all facets of life, and now is the time to bring this reality to the forefront.

We must open our eyes to the fact that women are leading the way for change. Standing up against coups, blatant humanitarian assaults, and male-dominated societies is a time-honored tradition amongst women, one that has no intention of going anywhere.

The role of women in rebellion goes beyond gender roles and dissent against patriarchy. Women have been revolutionaries, abolitionists, generals, anarchists and more. For generations, women have known the importance of resistance in a fashion unique to this community and essential to the fabric of dissent. Women are born into resistance; throughout one’s life, a woman must resist what is taught to her, the education that contradicts her humanity and her existence.

A rebuttal often used against the progression of women’s rights around the world is the misguided belief that cisgender men have existed in the highest positions of power as far as written history can afford to show us. Lili Adams, in “The ‘Middle’ Gender in Zuni Religion,” writes about the Zuñi tribe of the Southwest U.S. The Zuñi tribe “are a matrilineal society… [and] also have matrilocal residence… Though gender roles are clearly defined, in Zuni culture gender is not tightly bound to biological sex.” This example dissents the euro-centric notion that men have always held the most power. In addition, the Zuñi tribe is upheld as a portrayal of a world where women once were considered equal to men. By looking back in time, we may begin to find ways in which we can progress into the future. However, this can only be done with consideration to those who are presently disproportionately disenfranchised; without this perspective, we risk a continuation of enforced patriarchy through which more than half of the world population is diminished and living a dehumanizing existence.

The Boston Tea Party is often highlighted as a major event in history that rocked the boat, contributing to the start of the U.S. Revolution--the Coffee Party, on the other hand, is left to be found only by those seeking out more. Abigail Adams, in a letter to her husband, John Adams writes:

“A Number of Females… marched down to the Ware House and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver... one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him into the cart… he delivered the keys… they… opened the Warehouse, Hoisted out the Coffee themselves... A large concourse of Men stood amazed silent Spectators of the whole transaction."

While the perception of women during colonial times has been one of submissiveness and obedience, Abigail Adams allows readers to see a new side of the wives, daughters, friends and women of the eighteenth century. However, readers must recognize the paradigm shift in the story when realizing that Abigail Adams and her husband, John Adams, were complacent in the buying and owning of enslaved persons during their lifetimes.

The denial of humanity and personhood is not an isolated experience to “women” alone; race, religion, and sexuality are all matters that have the capacity to incite resistance at birth. When considering the intersectionality of identity that many women experience, a person is awakened to the fact that resistance is not only innate but necessary for survival. Angela Davis writes in 1972, bringing to our attention the “urgency to undertake a thorough study of the black woman as anti-slavery rebels.” While we have accounts that have been kept in boxes and handed down through generations amongst anglo-Americans, the lives and experiences of Black women, Indigenous women, and women of color (BIWOC) have been erased and denied to their kin. The slightest bit of information society does have the privilege of knowing is often watered down and denied the immense appreciation it deserves in the name of appeasing and preserving a broken system. Sojourner Truth’s words are often taught in classrooms in an effort to highlight this struggle. However, this effort is never fully realized when the teacher utilizes Frances Gage’s “gross misrepresentation of Sojourner Truth’s words and identity.” Truth never said, “Ain’t I a woman.” Truth’s speech was, instead, peppered with playful irony, beautiful analogies, biblical references and was delivered in a New York State low-Dutch accent. Sojourner Truth, along with a number of other BIWOC in history, has been stripped of the credit they deserve for the resistance and revolution that they have fueled within the U.S. and beyond.

When evaluating the chronology of movements in the United States, we come to realize that the struggle for humanity originates with the struggle against mass enslavement and dehumanization. From the abolitionist movement grew the suffragists and without the demand for equality on the part of black individuals, there would likely have been a delay in the struggle for the woman’s right to vote. The Seneca Falls Convention is credited with beginning the first feminist wave in the U.S. One of the largest reasons for the event’s impressive turn out: many abolitionists lived nearby which allowed them to attend in droves. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, an abolitionist herself, read aloud the Declaration of Sentiments, a historical piece of resistance that brandished the Declaration of Independence’s own language in a manner that inspired resistance across the country. Women picketed the White House day and night, they were arrested continuously, they met both in small secret meetings and at large roaring protests. This effort did not end in vain. The suffragettes succeeded in pressuring the U.S. government to ratify the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing that the right to vote not to be abridged on the basis of sex.

The reality must be recognized, however, that the right to vote, while not abridged on the basis of sex was (and still is) abridged on a multitude of factors often outside of one’s control (race, citizenship, wealth, etc). While the 19th amendment allowed anglo-Saxon, wealthy, cisgender, heterosexual women to vote, this right to vote would not be further expanded until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which prohibited “literacy tests, provided for federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than fifty percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote, and authorized the U.S. attorney general to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.” This act was the last legislative action that substantially expanded the federal right to vote but this feat was not granted without a fight. Individuals involved with groups like the Black Panthers pressured for the ratification of the Voting Rights Act; women-led organizations such as the National Council of Negro Women, established in 1935, ensured that women--especially black women--would be kept in mind in the drafting of the bill.

These historical movements and organizations are neither remotely close to all of the successes of women in U.S. history nor do they hold a candle to the many downfalls that women-led organizations would inevitably face. With this in mind, we must look to the present and recognize that there is still work to be done, not only in the U.S. but in the rest of the world, as well. According to the World Economic Forum, gender equality will not be realized for at least another century; they explain that if not addressed immediately, we run the risk of only growing this time gap. Women around the world have lived this statistic, have experienced the effects of this gap for generations, and as a result, have only learned to embody the resistance of their foremothers and ancestors.

Currently, women-led movements continue to form as they fight for their rights and freedoms and against governments, discrimination, and anti-women legislation. The media has neglected a number of these crises and has shoved them under the rug, failing to recognize the amazing change and power that women continue to enact.

In Myanmar, women’s blood has been painted throughout the streets as they are targeted in the brutally murderous march led by the military junta since the coup in early February. The military or Tatmadaw as they are known, overthrew a women-led government* to re-establish the patriarchy and suppress the voices of women who have been at the forefront of change in the gasps for democracy in daily protests against the dictatorship. Myanmar’s cultural and religious systems of oppression have pushed women into the lowest castes in society, taken away their rights as humans, and resulted in their treatment as objects. Women have gained more rights in recent years, but these again dissolved with the recent coup. Women are at the forefront of change in Myanmar. They dominate as teachers, medical workers, and workers in the garment industry, giving them the power to bring Myanmar to a halt, cripple the economic system, and reign in the military. Many protests against the dictatorship are being led by young women who want to preserve a future for their children and grandchildren, free of women's rights violations and systemic abuse.

Across Latin America, women face incredibly high rates of murder, suicide, and abuse at the hands of men, governments, and failing justice systems. In Mexico and other nations, protests have rocked the region, calling on governments to change their practices and create better data tracking centers, and enacting policies to bring justice to women who have been murdered and abused. In Brazil, only a fraction of rape cases get reported. Despite some laws on tracking abuse, the country still has one of the “highest rates of Femicides in the world.” In contrast, Peru has championed a government-wide system to track and report femicide and has even incentivized women to report it, giving them a safe forum to expose their abusers. Even though femicide rates have been rising, this tactic has helped bring more women justice. The resistance of Latin American women has caught global attention and impacted the world. Women in Poland have been protesting the oppressive actions of the government and have taken inspiration from Argentina by adopting the green bandana, a symbol of the pro-choice movement and women's equality movement.

In Poland after a complete ban on abortion in the country where political opinion is heavily swayed by the Christian belief system and an ultra-conservative majority, hundreds of thousands gathered and protested rejecting the ruling of Poland’s top court. It was met with one of the largest protests Poland had seen at the time. These protests evolved into an anti-government movement, so the nation held its case and backed off on the complete prohibition of abortions. Now that the ruling has taken effect, many women are turning to illegal abortions. These women are experiencing dangerous conditions and financial hardships, and many have to travel to other European nations to receive the procedure. Despite this hardship, the women of Poland refuse to allow this ban to endure; having taken to the streets and demanded the rescinding of this legislation for months and will, in the end, hopefully, succeed.

The current abuses that governments have been imposing on women are widespread and not isolated to the events highlighted in this article. Women will continually be discriminated against, stereotyped, and oppressed until the patriarchal systems are abolished. Society as a whole must decide to dedicate immense effort toward the illumination and subsequent elimination of biases and inequalities in order to create a more equal and just world. Until women are no longer expected to embody resistance in existence, the fight for equity and justice can never be complete.

The Combahee River Tribe wrote in 1977, “We [Black women] reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.” When reflecting on Women’s History Month, remember these words. Women are human and until treated as such there will be continued resistance, there will be continued protest, and there will never be rest until there is no longer futile expectation and repeated intimidation.

Below are some organizations we suggest making a donation to in order to fight against injustice and bring meaningful change:

* Disclosure statement:

Even though her democratic power was criminally stripped away, Aang San Su Kyi, the former leader’s human rights record is abominable, and her actions do not go unnoticed by these Voices of Gen Z writers.

Written by writers Giulia Becker Miller and Seamus Bozeman

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