Women Leading Protests – Female Voices For Democracy
The images of the Belarusian women confronting Alexander Lukashenko's security forces with flowers in their hands are etched into our memory. They embody the contrast between the peaceful protest of Belarusian society and the violent response of the state apparatus against the desire for more freedom and democracy. However, not only in Belarus, but in almost all of the major protest movements of recent years, women have played a central role in the struggle for democracy, freedom and human rights. Recent research shows: When the presence of women in a protest movement is high, the protests have a significant chance of success, says Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist at Harvard University, who has been researching the role of women in political revolutions for years. Chenoweth sees three reasons for the connection: First, the more women are involved, the greater the social breadth of the movement. Secondly, women acted in solidarity; for them, it was the common goal that counted, not individual success. Thirdly, women protest peacefully, without violence, which ensures them broad social support. But what particular challenges do women have to face? What kind of societies are they fighting for and what are the concrete consequences of fighting for freedom in often repressive environments?
The documentary film "Women Leading Protests" by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom addresses these questions by telling the stories of four women who were actively involved in the protests in Belarus, Hong Kong, Venezuela and Lebanon in different ways. Their stories represent women all around the world, who are fighting for democratic change in their countries. Several of the protagonists describe how those in power systematically underestimated them, because „they were women“, which the women in turn sometimes used to their advantage. But as their influence grew, so did the violence that many of the governments were willing to use against them.
A common aspect of the various movements is the solidarity among the women - even beyond national borders. As María Corinna Machado, Venzuelan opposition leader describes: "I found inspiration, experience, knowledge and solidarity in all these women - they are all fighting for freedom in their country. The women of Venezuela are the driving force of a society that wants to be free".
Maryna Rusia Shukiurava, an activist and successful singer who took part in the first flower protests in Belarus, describes how the protests have changed her - but also the whole Belarusian society: "In Belarusian there is a saying: the man is the head, the woman is the neck - in our society women have always been influential but hidden. But this summer everything changed and everyone saw how strong, how powerful, how full of life the women were. They realised their power. They took to the streets; as sisters, mothers, wives, fighting against the regime."
But all four protagonists have also paid a high personal price for their struggle for democracy, freedom and human rights: Maryna Rusia Shukiurava fled into exile in Ukraine with her young daughter, the Lebanese journalist Luna Safwan, who closely followed the 2019 protests, was threatened by Hezbollah and Maria Corina Machado had to send her children abroad out of concern for their safety. Presley Wong, an activist at the front of the protest movement in Hong Kong, also fears having to leave her home - but she doesn‘t regret her activism: „After the movement started, Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore. Everything changed. We are not doing this just because of ourselves, we are doing it for the people around us. I still want a home to come back to - this is why I started doing all this”
All of these women are fighting for more open, democratic and equal societies - because, as Luna Safwan eloquently summarises: “The pillar of this movement was demanding freedom. Freedom and equality and being equally represented, having a voice, not being assassinated for your thoughts, having a good and fair economic system. The way I see it: freedom and liberalism mean acceptance.