Thousands took to the streets across Asia for International Women’s Day even as the coronavirus outbreak forced the cancellation of events in the region. In China – the epicentre of the epidemic that has killed more than 3,500 people and infected over 100,000 worldwide – state broadcaster CCTV highlighted the work of female medical workers on the frontlines in the fight against the virus.
Despite growing fears over the worsening epidemic, marches went ahead in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines while women rallied in ultra-conservative Pakistan demanding “freedom.” A women’s marathon planned in India was postponed over virus concerns as Prime Minister Narendra Modi said prominent women would run his social media accounts for the day.
In South Korea, where more than 7,000 virus infections make it the hardest hit country outside China, several events were cancelled.
“Although we can’t be physically together, our minds for realising gender equality are stronger than ever,” the country’s gender equality minister Lee Jung-Ok said in a video message.
Many feminist groups held online campaigns instead of street marches, using hashtags such as #FemaleStrike, #PowerUp and #38InternationalWomensDay to raise awareness of gender inequality. In Bangkok, protesters called for improved labour protections amid the epidemic that has infected dozens in Thailand, and greater rights under a military-aligned government.
But turnout was lower than last year with organisers saying some had stayed away because of virus fears. Hundreds of women and men rallied in the Philippine capital Manila, burning a giant effigy of President Rodrigo Duterte – who they accuse of misogyny – to mark the day.
“The violence and poverty among women are getting worse,” Joms Salvador of women’s group Gabriela told AFP. “While we have 37 laws related to women’s rights, on the ground what is happening is a widespread violence in the forms of domestic abuse, sexual harassment and rape,” he said.
At a march in the Indonesian capital Jakarta hundreds of people, some wearing rainbow make-up, demanded the government revoke laws seen as gender discriminative. They also called for laws against sexual violence and for the protection of domestic workers.
A big crowd turned out in Melbourne to watch the women’s Twenty20 World Cup final between India and Australia, with US singer Katy Perry – wearing an outfit emblazoned with the female symbol – performing her hit single “Roar” ahead of the game.