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On International Women’s Day, calls to action, words of praise and rallies

Iceland’s government announced plans to eradicate gender pay disparities by 2022. In Moscow, four feminist activists unfurled a giant poster outside the Kremlin denouncing patriarchy, and they were arrested. India’s prime minister honored a symbol of rural women’s aspirations for dignity and self-sufficiency – the toilet. The Egyptian authorities announced that they would allow female prison inmates an extra family visit this month.

Individuals and governments observed International Women’s Day around the world on Wednesday, in an outpouring of support for women’s equality and empowerment.

In Tbilisi, Georgia, women demonstrated under a symbolic “glass ceiling” to illustrate limitations on women’s empowerment.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin lauded women, saying: “Even today, on International Women’s Day, you are still caught up in your routine, working tirelessly, always on time. We often ask ourselves: How do they manage it all?”

At the Rizhsky Market in Moscow, customers bought flowers, part of a tradition by which men honor female relatives with bouquets.

In South Korea, about 700 women’s rights advocates rallied in a conference hall in Seoul, calling for an end to gender discrimination and the loosening of abortion restrictions. Demonstrators carried signs reading “3 O’Clock, Stop,” a reference to the gender pay gap: Women are compensated so much less than men that they are essentially working for free after 3 p.m.

In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, women danced during a celebration.

In Colombo, Sri Lanka, traditional dancers performed.

The president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, who has made inflammatory remarks about sexual assault, gave a speech praising women – though he also lashed out at the country’s highest-ranking female elected official, Vice President Leni Robredo, and at a political rival, Sen. Leila de Lima. Another senator, Risa Hontiveros, accused Duterte of allowing a “pervasive culture of sexism, misogyny and gender bias.”

Outside a Roman Catholic church in Manila, the capital, women wore masks smudged with fake blood to call for an end to violence against women. At a rally near the U.S. Embassy, female police officers holding truncheons stood guard as a women’s group, Gabriela, held a rally.

One of the most unusual events was in India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi presided over a ceremony in honor of 10 “clean warriors,” all women who had campaigned to improve rural sanitation. They included Sushila Khurkute, 30, who recently gained notoriety when, seven months into her third pregnancy, she spent three solitary days chipping away at the rocky ground with a stick to make her family a toilet.

A group of UNICEF volunteers touring the area began documenting her efforts and her story. The toilet, she told them, was crucial to the welfare of her child. Because women defecating in open fields are vulnerable to sexual assault, she said, she had starved herself during her two previous pregnancies, weakening her babies.

The images rippled across India, where around 300 million women still defecate in the open.

As Khurkute’s story was widely shared online, news outlets joined the discussion, nominating women like Kajal Roy, who mortgaged her jewelry and used the money to build 100 toilets, and Kunwar Bai, whose age was reported as 105, and who had sold two goats to build herself a toilet, despite never having used one. In a constellation of villages in the northern part of the country, elders recently voted to impose a new regulation – no daughters would be given away in marriage to a household that did not have a toilet.

Elsewhere in the world:
– Activists with V-Day, a movement to end violence against women and girls, organized a “One Billion Rising” campaign, with protests around the world.
– #ADayWithoutaWoman quickly became a popular hashtag on social media, calling on American women to participate in a national strike by taking the day off from work; not shopping (except in small businesses or female- or minority-owned stores); or wearing red in solidarity.
– Marches for reproductive rights took place in Dublin, Warsaw and other cities.

Reporting was contributed by Ellen Barry from New Delhi; Sewell Chan, Iliana Magra and Palko Karasz from London; Choe Sang-hun from Seoul, South Korea; Felipe Villamor from Manila; and Ivan Nechepurenko from Moscow.

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