Women who became symbols of resistance in 2019

2019 has been the year of brave and courageous women who not only defied all the odds in patriarchal societies around the world but also became symbols of revolution

2019 has been the year of brave and courageous women who not only defied all the odds in patriarchal societies around the world, but also became symbols of revolution and resistance for many. 

From a feminist anthem in Chile to a group of Indian Muslim protesters confronting fascist law enforcement officers; from taking a stand against religious rulings in oppressive regimes like Iran and Sudan, to a leather-clad Pakistani student making the thrones of power tremble with just a poem, women have been at the heart of protests front, right, and centre.

As the year draws to a close, Geo.tv has compiled a list of iconic women who made headlines by shattering preconceived notions of honour and cultural gender roles, as well as activists who made significant progress in the race for women’s rights.

These fierce women, who refused to accept the status quo, paved way towards progress and did so — peacefully — while they danced, sang, and chanted at the top of their lungs.

Sudan’s salvation: Alaa Salah

Alaa Salah — a young Sudanese student — rose to popularity soon after a picture of her leading a protest, wearing a traditional white thobe and gold earrings, atop a car in central Khartoum went viral. She became an iconic symbol for the uprising against the rule of Omar-al-Bashir prior to his unceremonious ousting.

"Change will not happen with Bashir's entire regime hoodwinking Sudanese civilians through a military coup," Salah had tweeted at the time.

Salah also personified the voice of reason for many as she represented women in Sudan who were at the forefront of peaceful sit-ins and pro-democracy protests.

Along with other activists, she had approached the United Nations for international support as they sought equal representation in Sudan’s newly-formed government.

India’s Jamia 'sheroes'

Amidst chaotic protests and rising unrest owing to the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) — which states that citizenship will only be granted to non-Muslim minorities from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh — by the Indian parliament, a fearless group of women surrounded a male colleague to protect him from police brutality.

The shocking incident came as a part of the uprising against the CAA, deemed discriminatory against the Muslim majority, in a country that prides itself on secularism.

Thousands of demonstrators were detained during the protests, with reports of killings at the hands of law enforcement agencies.

The group of four young women, among whom were Ayesha Renna and Ladeeda Farzana, became a light that exposed such heinous acts in a viral video, where they formed a protective barricade against the riot police who came armed with six-foot-long batons to thrash students.

They then proceeded to point their fingers at the corrupt, holding them responsible for the terror imposed on the citizens.

Arooj owning politics

Pakistan’s very own ironclad feminist, Arooj Aurangezeb, associated with the Progressive Student’s Collective, rejected the notion that feminism benefited only the elite. Hailing from a middle-class household with a public university education, the activist opposed the perception that feminism was an ideology originating from and suited to the West — or in the case of Pakistan, the upper and upper-middle classes.

Arooj stood headstrong, chanting verses from Bismil Azimabadi’s famed poem Sarfaroshi ki tamanna and reclaiming the space around her. 

She has stressed that progression to her did not mean more development, rather, it meant a change in the general mindset of the people of Pakistan.

She also became the torchbearer for students all across the country, igniting student-led movements demanding the resumption of student unions as was seen in the Students' Solidarity March on November 29.

Arooj became an emblem of change and progression in a state that still lags behind in providing rights to its youth, especially women and other marginalised communities — and in the process has become a symbol of hope for an entire generation.

Fearless Lebanese 'kick queen'

Just like any other country featuring strong women who seized control in 2019, Lebanon, too, had its own “fighter” in every regard of the word during the anti-corruption protests.

In a viral video on social media that won millions of hearts, a woman protester did what everyone wishes they could to oppressors: kick them right in the groin. The federal education minister’s armed bodyguard and his fellows had become aggressive, firing an assault rifle in the air, resulting in a knee-jerk reaction (literally) from the 'kick queen'.

"Our women don't just kick ass, they kick men with guns," an impressed person had said about her on Twitter.

The man had staggered forward, apparently surprised that women would not tolerate intimidation. As it goes without saying, she became an inspiration and a prominent figure in the fight against corruption in Lebanon.

Iranian flag bearer against compulsory headscarf

Courageous women did not stand back when it came to opposing the government’s enforcement of hijabs — headscarves — and other laws deepening the misogynistic segregation in the Islamic republic. According to Iranian law, the enforced religious practice was made obligatory with threats and use of extreme punishments if women failed to comply.

And so, women took to the streets to challenge dictatorial rule and outright refused to accept the law by removing their headscarves in public during the 2019 protest in Iran, with one even standing on a bridge shouting to halted traffic to demand their basic rights. 

The hijab protests stemmed from December 2017, when Vida Movahed — labelled the Girl of Enghelab (Revolution) Street — had addressed a crowd and suddenly removed her white headscarf, tying it to a stick and waving it as a flag.

Despite being arrested the same day, she symbolised the beginning of an upcoming revolution and ignited a flame amongst the Iranian women who followed in her footsteps and continued to protest against the law without the fear of repercussions.

The law had come into effect after the 1979 Revolution and has been part of the country's constitution ever since. It states that women who are found in violation of the law can be penalised in the form of imprisonment and fines ranging from 50,000 to 500,000 Iranian rials — simply for removing a headscarf.

Authorities had claimed, as per Iran’s Tasnim news agency, that this defiance was not only “disturbing public security" but also promoted “corruption and prostitution”.

Women marches across the globe

With clear visions and defined goals, thousands of women across the globe rallied for women’s marches on March 8, participating in public demonstrations and using posters and banners that left the male egos in tatters.

Challenging authority, institutions, and systematic patriarchy around the world — from Europe to the United States and from the Middle East to Pakistan and India in South Asia, women and other gender and sexual minorities questioned the power structures, with the numbers exceeding 200,000 in major cities.

Posters from the Aurat (Woman's) March in Karachi, Pakistan. 

The marches aimed to highlight the political power of women and bring about social change. They were based on peaceful resistance and urged governments and leaders to create inclusive environments, legislature, and structures that not only give them the respect and dignity they deserve but also individual autonomy.

Chile’s feminist anthem

Created by Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis, over a thousand women took to the streets in Santiago to perform “A rapist in your way” — a Latin American piece that included a song and a simultaneous performance — to protest sexual violence against women and structural inequality.

With verses such as "I am not the guilty one, not because of where I’m from or how I’m dressed," and "The rapist is you!", it didn’t take long for the anthem to be sung and adapted worldwide, including a translation by Pakistani womens rights activist and socialist, Huda Bhurgri, into Urdu and a Turkish version sung by parliamentarians in Ankara.

Here's a part of its lyrics:

"Patriarchy is a judge who judges us for being born,

and our punishment is the violence you don’t see.

It’s femicide, impunity for my murderer,

it’s disappearance, it’s rape.

And it wasn’t my fault, where I was, or how I dressed.

The rapist is you, the rapist is you.

It’s the police, the judges, the state, the president.

The oppressive state is a macho rapist."

COVER: Combination image of "Against Them," Nubian Queen," "Leather Jacket Girl," and "One Finger Revolution." Art by Rami Kanso, The Dragon's Cosplay, Ponvannan, and Reem Khurshid, respectively. Graphic by Haseem uz Zaman