MANILA – Many thousands of people marched on the streets of Asian capitals on Thursday on the occasion of International Women’s Day to demand greater respect for women in society and in the workplace.
In the Philippine capital, a large group of some 1,000 people, organized by the Gabriela women’s rights group, converged at the gates of the Malacañang presidential Palace, urging President Rodrigo Duterte to show more respect for women.
The marchers were responding specifically to a comment made by Duterte in early February when he was accused of using derogatory language while discussing women rebels of the communist New People’s Army.
Earlier on Thursday, a smaller group of some 500 people marched in Manila and carried signs with messages including “End rape culture,” “We call for change but not your change!” and “Filipino women and girls are not for sale.”
The latter poster was aimed at drawing attention to the working conditions of Filipino household laborers in Middle Eastern countries, particularly Kuwait, after the body of Filipina Joanna Demafelis was found in a freezer there in early February.
The issue of women’s labor conditions was Thursday also on the minds of Bangladeshis, some of whom staged a picket in Dhaka to raise awareness of women garment workers.
Around 100-150 women, most of whom wore purple robes and black and purple face masks held a protest organized by the Awaj Foundation, which advocates for the rights of workers, especially women.
Women make up 80 percent of the South Asian country’s garment factory worker force, according to a report by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers And Exporters Association.
On the foreheads of the masks were attached messages such as “Stop discrimination,” “Stop gender based violence” and one image depicted a woman covering her face in fear.
“It’s just a protest, so there was no march but there was singing and a short play about women’s rights and demands so the government and garment factory owners know about them,” an Awaj Foundation representative said.
On the streets of Hong Kong, a smaller group gathered to demand better working conditions for the hundreds of thousands of domestic migrant workers in the special Chinese administrative region.
Some 25 women, mostly Indonesian maids and a small number of Filipinos, marched towards the Immigration Department and carried placards that urged regulated working hours, fairer visa rules and an end to “modern day slavery.”
Eni Lestari, an Indonesian woman and leader with the International Migrants Alliance said that the Hong Kong government “hasn’t done enough to improve the situation of migrant workers in Hong Kong” and added the conditions many women laborers face are dangerous.
International Women’s Day, commemorating the movement for women’s rights, was first held on Feb. 28, 1909 in New York City, with the date officially changed a year later to March 8.