Visible Women

7 of the most brilliant and brave protests by women

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Radhika Sanghani
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From Therese Patricia Okoumou to Maedeh Hojabri, these women are our heroes

When it comes to protests, women certainly aren’t afraid to make their opinions known. From storming the pitch of the most high-profile sports event of the year, to scaling one of the world’s most famous landmarks, there have been numerous examples this month alone of women pulling off incredible stunts in order to protest injustices across the world.

Of course, this is nothing new. Women have been protesting for their rights for centuries - via demonstrations, marches, and stunts that require unimaginable levels of bravery, grit and determination. Back in the 19th and early 20th century, the suffragettes famously fought for the right to vote, often being arrested and going on hunger strikes until they were force-fed in horrific circumstances. Emily Wilding Davison even lost her life to the cause after running out onto the Epsom Derby race track.

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Since then, it’s fair to say that women have been granted more and more legal rights across the world, but there is still a long way to go before all our sisters have true equality. It’s why hundreds and thousands of brave women are still standing up and fighting for feminism today, risking everything from jail sentences to their lives.

Here we list the most powerful stunts women have pulled off in recent years to fight for the causes they believe in. Have a read and feel roused to press for progress yourself.

Pussy Riot

A member of Pussy Riot storms the pitch at the World Cup

Over 19.3 million people around the world were watching the World Cup Final match between France and Croatia when members of Pussy Riot, a political activist group, stormed the pitch dressed in police outfits. The group, who said they wanted the stunt to “bring attention to political injustices” in their home country of Russia, later released a statement via Twitter listing a number of demands. These included setting “all political prisoners free” and “not fabricating criminal accusations and keeping people in jails for no reason”. The tweet received over 7,000 retweets and nearly 12,000 likes (at the time of writing).

The four members of the group who stormed the pitch have now been arrested, but their message certainly reached a worldwide audience - as well as Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, who was sitting in the stands during the match.

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Therese Patricia Okoumou

Therese Patricia Okoumou hit international headlines earlier this month when she scaled the Statue of Liberty on 4 July and refused to come down. The 44-year-old had begun her day with a larger protest group calling on President Donald Trump to change his immigration policies - particularly those that led to children being separated from their parents - but she decided to “send out an even stronger message” by climbing the statue alone.

The personal trainer - who had never done anything like this before - spent hours up there in fear, wondering if the police were going to shoot her, until she was eventually taken down and arrested. “My heart told me to do it,” she told The Guardian. “I was thinking of Lady Liberty above me, you are so huge, you have always been a symbol of welcome to people arriving in America and right now, for me under this sandal, she is a shelter.” 

Okoumou has now been charged with three misdemeanours and awaits trial, but to many, has become a symbol of hope herself. 

Maedeh Hojabri

This month, the Iranian authorities arrested 18-year-old Maedeh Hojabri. Her crime? Dancing to pop music on Instagram.

In Iran, dancing with members of the opposite sex in public is banned and women are required to wear a headscarf in public - something that Hojabri wasn’t doing in her videos.

Her act of posting the videos on Instagram was incredibly brave, and her subsequent arrest has inspired a larger movement. Dozens of Iranian women have now joined Hojabri in posting videos of themselves dancing online with #dancingisntacrime, in a powerful show of solidarity.

Several of them have reportedly been arrested as well, but these women are willing to risk that to make their point. “I’m dancing so that they see and know that they cannot take away our happiness and hope by arresting teenagers and girls like Maedeh,” wrote one woman on Twitter.

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Loujain al-Hathloul

Loujain al-Hathloul, 29, has spent most of her twenties campaigning for women to be able to drive in Saudi Arabia and has been arrested multiple times. Her most infamous stunt was four years ago, when she hired a car in the United Arab Emirates (where women can legally drive) and attempted to cross the border into Saudi Arabia. She was detained for 73 days while criminal courts debated whether she should be charged under terrorism laws.

This year, Saudi Arabia finally lifted its 60-year ban on women not being able to drive, but al-Hathloul hasn’t been able to celebrate. Instead she’s been locked up in jail for months with two other protesters, leaving hundreds of Saudi women to fight for her release with the hashtag #FreeLoujain.

Northern Ireland abortion law protestors

Woman in Northern Ireland protested strict anti abortion laws by swallowing abortion pills

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In Northern Ireland, abortion is largely illegal unless there is serious and permanent risk to a woman’s health. Women have been protesting these outdated laws for years, but recently, a group of protesters took abortion pills in public as part of a stunt to show the world that they should have the right to choose what happens to their bodies. It is illegal if the intent is to cause a miscarriage.

Eleanor Crossey Malone was one of those who took a pill in public, dressed in The Handmaid’s Tale outfits, and said: “I have taken this in defiance of the extremely outdated, medieval, anti-choice laws that exist in Northern Ireland. We are not willing in the wake of the repeal referendum to be left behind any longer. We are not willing to accept it any more.”

The women didn’t want to reveal whether they were pregnant or not, but it’s an incredibly bold move considering a woman found guilty of having an illegal abortion in Northern Ireland can be jailed for life.

Women in Pamplona and Madrid

Earlier this year hundreds of women gathered in Pamplona and Madrid with signs reading, ‘Sister, we believe you’. The emotional demonstration was in response to an 18-year-old woman who had been raped by five men in an attack two years’ before. The men were sentenced to between nine and 11 years in jail, but were found guilty of sexual abuse rather than rape, as the judges felt there were no signs of intimidation. Video footage taken by the men was used by their lawyer to ‘prove’ she had consented because her eyes were closed and she wasn’t moving.

Hundreds of women came to stand in solidarity with the victim, to spread the message ‘sister, we believe you’ - with even the mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, tweeting: “You are not alone; we women are with you.” 

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Women in Russia

Earlier this year, dozens of young women in Russia posted photos of themselves in their underwear on social media. The brave move was a show of solidarity for Tatiana Strakhova, a 19-year-old who was killed and raped by her ex-boyfriend, who then killed himself, saying he was provoked by her refusal to have sex with him. Many Russians suggested it was Strakhova’s own fault for posting revealing photos online, having pink hair and tattoos, and labelled her a ‘prostitute’.

The shocking response to Strakhova’s tragic death spurred large numbers of Russian women to stand up and post photos of their bodies onto Facebook with messages like “This is my body. The fact that you see it does not mean that I can be killed and raped.” Many of them were trolled for their actions, and faced repercussions from conservative families, but they felt so strongly about the message they were spreading that they kept going.

“I can’t stay silent,” said one. “There is nothing that can justify violence. A sexual body is not a call to violence. No means no!”

Throughout 2018, Stylist is raising the profiles of inspiring women past and present – and empowering future generations to follow their lead – with our Visible Women campaign. See more from Visible Women here.

Images: Getty