Women's Day in Asia marked by demonstrations

Marches and events against discrimination: In Turkey, activists were arrested on their way to Taksim Square; In Bangladesh, the main government roles are held by women, but inclusion in parties is still very low; In Pakistan, protests against kidnappings and forced marriages.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Religious freedom, inclusion, political participation: these are just some of the issues touched on in the hundreds of demonstrations that took place yesterday throughout Asia to mark International Women's Rights Day.

"If women move forward, the country will move forward," said Nirmol Rozario, president of the Hindu, Buddhist and Christian Unity Council in Dhaka, Bangladesh: "If we want to assert women's rights, we have to change everyone's attitude," he said at an event organised by the Christian Cooperative Credit Union yesterday that was also attended by Bangladesh Education Minister Dipu Moni. "Our women are oppressed in various ways in society; they are oppressed by fundamentalism, so we have to take a stand against it," he said at the meeting.

"The prime minister of this country is a woman, the leader of the opposition is a woman and the speaker is also a woman," added Pankaj Gilbert Costa, president of the Christian Cooperative Credit Union. "Women have come forward in various fields, including sports and business, but despite this they continue to be discriminated against."

Legislation on representation  requires one-third of women to hold party positions, but no political formation in Bangladesh has so far managed to comply with it. The 2008 directive required political parties to have at least 33% of their committees made up of women by 2020. In the Awmi League they are 23%, in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party 13.6% and in the Jatiya Party, the main opposition party in parliament, 12.3%.

Calls for inclusion also come from neighbouring India, where Sister Dorothy Fernandes, head of the Women's Commission for the Archdiocese of Patna, organised a march to make the city more inclusive (see photo). Since 1997, the nun has been working in the suburbs to ensure that no one is left behind.

But this year the women also took to the streets to march in solidarity with their Ukrainian comrades: "We are here to say no to war. Thousands of Ukrainian women and children have been left homeless. They are the first victims of the war", said Nazan Karacabey, spokesperson of the Ankara Women's Platform, in Turkey. In Istanbul, the government office had announced that it would not allow the Feminist Night March (the largest demonstration held every 8 March for 20 years in Turkey's second city) to enter Taksim Square, in 2013 the scene of protests against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan which were then brutally repressed. Since then, all demonstrations and public transport have been diverted from the symbolic site. Activists said that yesterday 38 protesters on their way to the square were arrested.

In Lahore, Pakistan, dozens of members of different religious faiths from the human rights organisation Rwadari Tehreek gathered in front of the Lahore Press Club to demand that the federal government implement mechanisms to prevent the forced conversions of girls, who in Pakistan are often victims of kidnapping, conversion and forced marriages. The protesters chanted slogans against the negligence of the state despite the existence of several government bodies that should be responsible for the protection of minorities. 

"Unfortunately, every year hundreds of girls belonging to religious minorities are converted and then given in marriage to their abductors. This is a serious problem ignored by the State," said Samson Salamat, president of Rwadari Tehreek. According to Naveed Walter, president of Human Rights Focus Pakistan, more than 1,000 girls from religious minorities are kidnapped every year in Pakistan. "Parents are not even allowed to meet their daughters because they have become 'Muslims'," he explains. "Gender equality will only be possible when prejudices, stereotypes and discriminatory behaviour against women are discouraged and prevented in schools and places of worship".

In Sri Lanka, on Women's Day, about 200 leaders representing women living in the northern, eastern, central, north-western, southern and western provinces of the country gathered in Colombo to launch the People's Commission for Sri Lankan Women. Padma Pushpakanthi, the national coordinator of the women's group called 'Savisthri', addressed the gathering and explained the birth of this commission. She noted that despite the government's introduction of commissions and the words of various groups on the status of women, there had been little action towards an effective response to the real problems of Sri Lankan women. The aim of the People's Commission for Sri Lankan Women is to set up local branches in every province within a year, so that women themselves can take the lead in defending their rights.

(Contributing journalists: Sumon Corraya, Nirmala Carvalho, Shafique Khokhar, Melani Manel Perera)