Thousands of people turned up to support the women’s strike on Thursday as crowds gathered in central London after a tumultuous year for gender politics.
The organisers of the day-long strike said around 2,000 congregated in London’s Russel Square to mark International Women’s Day.
Around the country around 7,000 people had pledged to go on strike, with the UK just one of 56 countries taking part in the walkout this year.
Supporters spoke to HuffPost UK about why they were backing today’s action, with many calling it a day of “feminism for those millions of women at the bottom”.
“We’re striking because women’s conditions of our life and our labour have reached breaking point,” Camille Barbagallo, one of the organisers of the event, told HuffPost UK.
“Women’s wages are so low and the cost of childcare in the UK is so high that working becomes like a mug’s game, where you are just working to afford care.
“Women have had enough and they are taking action today.”
The crowd continued to swell throughout the afternoon, with colourful banners and slogans dominating the popular square.
At the edge of the park, away from the makeshift stage and the main focus of today’s strike, some women clambered onto a male statue - and turned him into a women’s rights supporter.
After using a ladder to climb over the metal fencing, a protestor scaled the monument and clad it in a suffragette hat and sash.
Emma Gibson, one of the women behind the stunt, said she was there to highlight the lack of women statues in the UK.
Gibson said that there were more statues in honour of men called John than there were women statues in the whole of the UK. “I think that the lack of women’s statues really shows how a lot of women’s achievements have been airbrushed out of history,” she said.
Passersby were asked to write down which trailblazing women they would like to see on a statue and attach the names onto the railing.
This International Women’s Day carries added weight following a momentous year for gender politics, which saw the staggering rise of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
Both have gained global support, with millions of women around the world sharing their experiences of sexual harassment.
The hashtag “me too” was first used by activist Tarana Burke in October last year has since been posted online millions of times, and has trended in an estimated 85 countries including the US, India and Pakistan.
Many people who attended today’s demonstration said that they believed a lot had changed in the wake of #MeToo.
Mark Newman, 52, said that the movement had opened his eyes to the challenges women face every day.
“It’s been a surprise to me, as someone who works in a university, to hear stories from colleagues who are women that that sort of harassment of women in the workplace happens in places where we work as well,” he told HuffPost UK.
“So I think it has had an effect across all sectors of the workplace in getting people to start to talk about these issues and starting to think about how we stop those kinds of things happening.”
He said that he felt it was important to show solidarity with women for today’s strike, adding: “It feels to me as though International Women’s Day is more visible then I remember it being in the past.”
However, organisers stressed that while movements such as #MeToo have been extremely popular, they did not mean that “women’s political and economic situation has improved”.
Helen Hester, from the University of West London, said: “The fight is far from over for the millions at the bottom.
“If women are to gain an equal place in the world, the fight against sexual harassment and abuse must be allied with a struggle against an economic system which maintains a gender pay gap, mandates a gendered division of labour, and all too often sees women as a reserve army of labour to draw upon and drop as needed.”
Throughout the afternoon, music played over the sound system and passionate speeches were made to the crowd. Gail Lewis, 66, spoke about how the mobilisation of people had changed since last year, as she stressed the importance of holding demonstrations around the globe.
“We can see the difference between the march this year and the march last year and that’s because of the organising that’s gone on,” Lewis told HuffPost UK.
“My message from London is just that as our message is linked to the struggle of women around the globe, we cannot be free without them being free and they can’t be free without us being free.”
In the UK, the gender pay gap has been a dominant issue since the explosive resignation of the BBC’s China editor Carrie Gracie, who quit her post in protest after she discovered she was being paid less that her male colleagues in equivalent roles.
According to the ONS, the mean gender pay gap in the UK is currently at 14.1%, and has been stuck at the same level for three years.
It is also the 100th anniversary of the act of parliament which gave some women the vote.