What’s in a flag? Meet the women using flags to protest for human rights all over the world

Posted by for Life

Stylist’s guest editor Lily Allen puts the spotlight on the women around the world who are flying the flag for freedom.

When you see someone with a Union Jack up in their garden you can think ‘whoaa’. Because our flag has so many connotations, whereas in America everyone’s got a flag up. But I do see a lot of other people, girls who are younger than me, in their early 20s, who all the children of immigrants, including the flags of their parents or grandparents countries in their social media profiles. 

I’m sure that that’s something that’s happened as a result of the referendum and Brexit, that they’re made to feel like they can’t identify with being British, so they have to try and identify with where else they come from. They’re proud of their roots, and want to talk about them. 

Here are the women using flags to fight for freedom around the world. 

  • Women in Australia using the flag to protest against genocide

    Women in Australia use the flag to protest against genocide

    Australia Day is usually celebrated with fireworks and parties. But this year highlighted a growing discomfort around the celebrations, as thousands opted to protest instead – taking to the streets to wave the red, yellow and black colours of the Aboriginal flag and chant “No pride in genocide”. 

    The holiday, on 26 January, celebrates the arrival of British ships in 1788, but some call it ‘Invasion Day’ to highlight how the new settlers caused the death of thousands of indigenous people and their culture.   

  • World flags: A group of Nicaraguan women have formed the 'Mothers of April'

    Women in Nicaragua use the flag to protest for justice for lost loved ones

    A group of Nicaraguan women have formed the Mothers of April, a group demanding justice for family members who have died in protests against President Daniel Ortega. The protests have been raging since April 2018 and more than 300 people have died, with 700 jailed and 62,000 in exile. One of those forced to flee was Francys Valdivia Machado, the Mothers’ leader. 

    The group marches with Nicaragua’s flag and Valdivia Machado uses it as a symbol of solidarity, draping it over her chair during video conferences at her hide-out in Mexico, where she continues to campaign from afar. 

  • World flags: student Charla Sylvester used Canada’s flag to make a statement about the country's failure to protect women against violence

    Women in Canada use the flag to rally against violence directed at women

    In 2018, Canadians were outraged by the acquittal of the man accused of murdering teenager Tina Fontaine, a member of the Fist Nations Aboriginal peoples. Rallies against the country’s failure to protect indigenous women from violence ensued. But photography student Charla Sylvester decided to use Canada’s flag to make her own statement. 

    She took a picture of an indigenous woman by the side of a river, her mouth taped and her body wrapped in a flag – an image reminiscent of police reports about Fontaine’s recovered body. Sylvester said, “This is for my sisters who were stolen from us, and who never made it home.” 

  • Women in Algeria protest against political corruption

    Women in Algeria use the flag to protest against political corruption

    Women in Algeria draped their flag around themselves as they demonstrated against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term. 

    From 7 February, they protested for seven consecutive Fridays, including International Women’s Day, calling for freedom, democracy and an end to political corruption. Traditionally, women in Algeria do not participate in public life, but at these protests they came out in their thousands, wearing their flags proudly. 

    Their presence was praised for helping to keep the protests peaceful. On 2 April, Bouteflika resigned. 

  • World flags: the 'Rainbow Flag of Poland' was designed by Angela Getler

    Flying the rainbow flag of Poland

    During last year’s Pride parade in Czestochowa, a city known for Catholicism and nationalism, Angela Getler flew her Rainbow Flag of Poland. Designed by Getler in 2014, it features the Polish White Eagle on the LGBTQ+ rainbow. The flag caught the attention of politician Joachim Brudzinski, who reported it as a violation of a statute protecting national symbols. The case was dropped by the courts in September for having “no clear expression of profanation” and, while Getler continues to come under fire from police and right- wing activists, her flag is now an emblem of strength for liberals. 

You can read all of the articles from Lily Allen’s special guest edit of Stylist here.

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