In Retrospect

Women hold up half the sky

With movements emerging overnight, a tsunami of protests swept across six continents, unleashing real fury and discontent among thousands. Many of these protests upheld gripping images of women spearheading such epochal uprisings in the face of adversities, while there were others who made a meaningful impact for the world. As we step into the new decade, we carry forward a legacy of moments that stopped us in our tracks and got us talking

If there were an image to truly sum up 2019, it may well be one of a vivacious, brash and exuberant woman protesting in some part of the earth, initiating a change as strongmen continue to try and dominate.

From the favela of Rio de Janeiro to the streets of India, from a fearless Lebanese woman drop-kicking an armed ministerial bodyguard in the groin amid anti-corruption protests in Beirut to a Swedish teenage girl staring down US President Donald Trump at the UN Climate Summit, the glimpses of an inimitable reversal rage on into the new decade.

Thousands of women took to the streets amid common discontent and disillusionment topped with a more common sense prevailing among them that they deserve more.

In the last decade, whatever the flashpoints may have been, all speak of a broader need for a new social contract between citizens and state powers that goes beyond traditional political reforms or socio-economic adjustments.

From the abyss of Brazil's infamous slums rose the chant "Not one step backwards." In recent months, the world watched in awe how the 'Princess Syndrome'-hit Kong Girl emerged out of the protests in Hong Kong, as they lobbed back tear gas grenades, built heavy-duty barricades and stood in the frontlines to face an arsenal of increasingly powerful police weapons such as rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds.

This time around, Hong Kong's women have thrown themselves into the ranks of what's known as the "brave fighters" segment of the protesters, marking an important escalation from the characters played by their peers in the 2014 Umbrella Movement demonstrations.

Movements are called movements because they are not static and maybe, therefore, can't last long. But they do create waves — of hope, promise and optimism. They render voice to concerns that are not in the public domain and once they have fulfilled the function, they tend to disperse.

Hundreds of black women and people from the LGBTQ community marched against the prevalent culture of rape and female foeticide in Brazil. The protests soon spread to other parts of South America and inspired several other such marches.

There were thousands who attended the demonstration in Brasilia, slamming populist President Jair Bolsonaro, whom they labelled "misogynist, racist and homophobic."

The protest followed a large gathering of indigenous women who travelled to the capital to express their outrage at what they called Bolsonaro's "genocidal policies" against them as well as the government's wish to open up their territory to mining. Carrying bows, arrows and spears, the indigenous women marched towards the Congress, holding a banner that read "Resist in order to exist".

In Sudan, 22-year-old Alaa Salah, an architecture student led powerful protest chants against President Omar al-Bashir, addressing protesters during a demonstration in front of the military headquarters in the capital Khartoum.

As people took to the streets demanding the President's resignation, the 22-year-old was captured by a photographer standing on top of a car above a sea of people with her arm raised in the air, finger pointed toward the sky. The image spread like wildfire as people took to Twitter to praise Sudanese women for taking charge in the demonstrations with some even claiming that Salah's photo belonged in the history books.

Salah's clothing perhaps makes the photograph even more powerful. With her white garment and gold moon-shaped earrings that she wore to pay homage to working women; her dress symbolized a "callback" to the clothing worn by Sudanese women from earlier generations who also fought for the end of dictatorial rule.

Speaking up about their abuse, women in Chile began a worldwide phenomenon with viral videos providing encouragement to women all over Latin America.

Recently, thousands of women over the age of 40 gathered to rehearse their performance of the song A Rapist in Your Path.

This protest song about rape culture and victim shaming became a viral anthem for feminists around the world, highlighting the trauma that lives with them forever.

In a separate protest, thousands of Chileans rallied in major cities across the country to demonstrate against inequality and injustice. Despite a series of concessions, protesters have promised to stay in the streets until the government meets specific demands for systemic change and improved social conditions.

Hundreds of women angrily protested in Ecuador's capital after the Congress rejected a measure that would allow abortions in all cases of rape. Some demonstrators pushed against the plastic shields of police, who used pepper sprays to disperse people in the crowd near the government headquarters in Quito. One of the signs at the demonstration read: "Motherhood by choice and not by rape."

In Peru, the streets rose up to back President Martin Vizcarra in his crusade to close down a corrupt Congress.

Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi of Iraq resigned and so did Lebanon's Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, amid protests. Algeria saw the departure of longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years in power. Former President Evo Morales of Bolivia stepped down in November after mass protests. Next, the country witnessed a backlash against its conservative interim leader, Jeanine Anez.

In faraway Sweden, a sole 16-year-old schoolgirl with Asperger's Syndrome and selective mutism began a grassroots campaign by skipping school every Friday to demonstrate outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, silently rallying against global warming. Within months, Greta Thunberg had inspired the world's imagination, gaining friends around the globe and a spot on the cover of Time magazine as 2019 Person of the Year, notwithstanding powerful enemies within governments, including Trump.

A video of her giving Trump what the media described as a "death stare" at a UN Climate Summit in New York went viral. Trump has questioned climate science and pulled the United States out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming. Asked what she would have said to the President if they had spoken, Thunberg said: "I wouldn't have wasted my time."

Thousands across the United States marched as part of the #StopTheBans protest against the recent wave of anti-abortion legislation that has cropped up in several states, including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Georgia.

Palestinian women continue to struggle against many forms of oppression and injustice. In addition to the deprivation of their right to life, freedom of movement, liberty and security, Israel continues to implement a series of discriminatory laws, policies and practices that feed into its broader annexation strategy and intent to diminish the presence of the Palestinian population, including women, particularly in Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank.

Particularly, in the Gaza Strip, the systematic oppression is reflected in the 12-year-long closure imposed on more than two million Palestinians, which has turned Gaza into an uninhabitable open-air prison.

Back in India, as the air turned frigid, hundreds of protesters, many of them women, hit the streets to demonstrate against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).

Ayesha Renna, a student of Jamia Millia Islamia University defiantly standing up to an aggressive Delhi cop, protecting her male friend, has become the defining image of the ongoing anti-CAA stir. While protesting against the new, discriminatory citizenship law, Jamia students were brutalised by Delhi Police personnel. Reportedly, bullets were fired and tear gas shells were used inside the campus.

Chinese icon Mao Zedong's proclamation "women hold up half the sky" issued almost six decades ago seems to have attained maturity. Giants fell and monoliths crumbled since the rich and the powerful of Hollywood launched the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment in the industry, which soon spiralled into a global campaign.

Since the Suffragettes launched their agitation demanding voting rights in 1903, women have inspired movements, spearheaded mass uprisings and brought tyrannical regimes to their knees in almost every decade. A determined refusal by Rosa Parks to get off the bus exploded into the American Civil Rights movement; PT Usha, a tall, lanky girl from Kozhikode in Kerala led a silent revolution, paving the way for India's sporting aspirations at the global arena; Finland elected the world's youngest serving Prime Minister Sanna Marin (34); New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was praised for her compassionate response in the wake of the tragic Christchurch terrorist attacks, followed by steadfast reforms to the country's gun laws and Megan Rapinoe walked the talk when she refused to meet Trump at the White House after winning the women's football World Cup.

Such leaders are singular and strange, stubborn and strong-willed. The turmoil that they bring to the streets indicates the same condition in their hearts and souls or maybe even deeper as they script underlying profound messages for the future.

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