By CIARÁN GILES and MARI YAMAGUCHI (Associated Press)
MADRID (AP) — Demonstrations, conferences and artistic events around the world Wednesday marked International Women’s Day, an annual observance established to recognize women and to demand equality for half of the planet’s population.
While activists in some parts of the planet noted advances, repression in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran — and the large numbers of women and girls who experience sexual assaults and domestic violence worldwide — highlighted the ongoing struggle to secure women’s rights.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres noted this week that women’s rights were “abused, threatened and violated” around the world and gender equality won’t be achieved for 300 years given the current pace of change.
Progress won over decades is vanishing because “the patriarchy is fighting back,” Guterres said.
Even in countries that have pioneered advances for women, there have been recent setbacks for the feminist cause: This is the first International Women’s Day since the U.S. Supreme Court ended the constitutional right to abortion last year and many states adopted restrictions on abortion.
The United Nations recognized International Women’s Day in 1977, but the occasion has its roots in labor movements of the early 20th century. The day is commemorated in different ways and to varying degrees in different countries.
Women gathered in Pakistan’s major cities to march amid tight security. Organizers said the demonstrations were aimed at seeking rights guaranteed by the constitution. Some conservative groups last year threatened to stop similar marches by force.
Women’s rights activists in Japan held a small rally to renew their demand for the government to allow married couples to keep using different surnames. Under the 1898 civil code, a couple must adopt “the surname of the husband or wife” at the time of marriage.
The activists argued the law contributes to gender inequality because women experience strong pressure to take their husband’s name. Surveys show majority support for both men and women keeping their own names.
In the Philippines, hundreds of protesters from various women’s groups rallied in Manila for higher wages and decent jobs.
“We are seeing the widest gender pay gap,” protest leader Joms Salvador said. “We are seeing an unprecedented increase in the number of women workers who are in informal work without any protection.”
The United Nations identified Afghanistan as the most repressive country in the world for women and girls since the Taliban takeover in 2021. The U.N. mission said Afghanistan’s new rulers were “imposing rules that leave most women and girls effectively trapped in their homes.”
They have banned girls’ education beyond sixth grade and barred women from public spaces such as parks and gyms. Women must cover themselves from head to toe and are also barred from working at national and international nongovernmental organizations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave state awards to women during a Kremlin ceremony to mark International Women’s Day, which is celebrated as a national holiday.
He singled out a military paramedic and a journalist for fulfilling their duties in the area of the fighting in Ukraine.
“There are no fields and professions in our country where women haven’t scored serious, remarkable results,” Putin said. “Your talents, knowledge, competence, responsibility and determination contribute greatly to the development of our country.”
In Ireland, the government announced that it will hold a referendum in November to enshrine gender equality and remove discriminatory language in the country’s constitution.
Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said people will be asked to vote on a series of amendments to the constitution — including removing an “outmoded” reference to women’s place being in the home.
The constitution, which was drawn up in 1937, currently states that the state shall endeavor to “ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labor to the neglect of their duties in the home.”
In Spain, more than 1 million people were expected to attend evening demonstrations in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities. Big rallies were also organized in many other cities around the world, while in some countries only minor events were held.
Although Spain has for years produced one of the world’s biggest turnouts on March 8, this year’s marches are marked by a division within its own left-wing government over a sexual liberty law that has inadvertently led to the reduction of sentences for hundreds of sexual offenders.
Spain’s feminists are also split over a new transgender rights law that went into effect last week, allowing the free change of gender by anyone 16 and older. The tension spilled over Wednesday in a public event for Women’s Day when a group of young women interrupted Equality Minister Irene Montero to argue with her over the transgender law that some feminists argue threatens to erase or displace women.
Activists and left-wing governments in Spain have advanced women’s rights in areas such as abortion access, menstrual leave and parental leave over the past two decades. Many European countries also have made strides toward gender equity.
Hundreds of Kosovar Albanian women held a protest in its capital against domestic violence, throwing black-and-red smoke bombs at the police headquarters.
“We march, do not celebrate,” was their main slogan. The marchers accused police, the prosecutor’s office and the courts of gender discrimination.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo. Associated Press writers across the world contributed to this report.
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