I know this is a day late, but my prom was on Friday 3rd July and the weekend was a whirl! I hope you all saw the note in the sidebar though! Sorry, Clara…
We celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March every year, but Clara Zetkin – the German woman who first launched it in 1911 – is an unknown name for many people. She was a Marxist theorist and an activist for women’s rights, advocating for women’s suffrage and encouraging them to participate in the socialist movement. She acknowledged that women made up much of the workforce – why should they not reap the benefits of revolution?
She was born on 5th July 1857 and died on 20th June 1933, so it’s Clara’s 158th birthday today. In honour of her, this article is about five instances in which women led a revolution or a rebellion. I think Clara would approve of these ladies!
- The Women’s March on Versailles
France, 5th October 1789. The Bastille prison has been successfully stormed only three months earlier and the stirrings of revolution are in the minds of France’s poorest citizens. The price of bread has rocketed and the women of Paris can barely afford to feed their families. How do they choose to rectify this? They start a demonstration in the marketplace, gather their allies, ransack the city armoury and proceed to the Palace of Versailles, where the crowd of 7,000 women besiege the home of King Louis XVI and confront him.
Good plan, nicely executed (that’s a shameful pun, Louis, and I’m deeply sorry).
The March on Versailles is often considered to be a defining moment in the French Revolution. It was relatively early on – Louis wasn’t executed until 1793 and the period of upheaval didn’t end until 1799 – but it demonstrated the strength of the common people to the aristocracy. My favourite part of the story is that the infuriated women were encouraged to march by “a young woman (striking) a marching drum.” We may never know her name, but she was the catalyst and we know her legacy.
- Las Mujeres Libres
“Las Mujeres Libres” (or, in English, “The Free Women”) were a Spanish anarchist movement that fought for women’s liberation and social revolution. They considered both issues equally important and were angry that anarchist men marginalised their female counterparts. The organisation, with approximately 30,000 members, was created in 1936 by Lucía Sánchez Saornil, Mercedes Comaposada and Amparo Poch y Gascón. Lucía was a writer and poet; Mercedes had been raised in a socialist household and was frustrated with how the movement treated her and her fellow women. They joined forces with Amparo, who wanted greater sexual freedom for women and aimed to challenge the sexist double standard surrounding monogamy.
What ensued was nothing short of awesome.
They raised awareness through radio transmissions, travelling libraries and by forming a network of female activists. They saw that women were unprepared for leadership roles due to lack of education, so they created literacy courses, trained women as nurses and helped them to gain confidence through women-only social groups.
- Mother Lu’s Revolt
Mother Lu is known for being the first female rebel leader in Chinese history. She came from Haiqu County, an area now called Rizhao. In 14ACE, her son, a county constable, was executed – under the harsh Xin Dynasty regime – for not punishing peasants who couldn’t pay their taxes. According to The Book of the Later Han (the previous dynasty), her family was very wealthy, so she gathered her peasant supporters and armed them, leading them to storm the capital. The population had already become dissatisfied with Wang Mang, who had usurped the throne and declared himself emperor of the Xin Dynasty (“Xin” meaning “renewed”). She captured the county minister who had sentenced her son to death, then she beheaded him at her son’s tomb as an act of vengeance.
Her revolt inspired several later rebellions, but Mother Lu herself died in 18ACE, only four years after her uprising. She reportedly died of an illness; however, we know very little about her – we don’t even know how old she was when she died. Her followers went on to join other rebel causes, continuing her legacy.
- Boudica’s Uprising
Sometimes called Boadicea – or Boudicca, or Bunduca, or even Buddug – she was the queen of the Iceni tribe, located in Norfolk, England. Her husband Prasutagus, an ally of the Roman Empire, died and left his lands jointly to his family and to Rome. The Romans ignored his will; Boudica was flogged and her daughters were raped. Justifiably furious, Boudica led her armies in an uprising against the Roman occupation, destroying Camulodunum (Colchester) and burning down Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). Her revolt culminated in the Battle of Watling Street, which the Romans won, despite being outnumbered by Boudica and her band of Britons.
It is said that either she fell ill and died or that she poisoned herself to evade capture. Regardless, she went out with a bang. She’s now an iconic figure and a symbol of Britain, due to her efforts in attempting to hold off the Roman invasion. You can watch an epic musical retelling of her story here (x). The song starts at 2:47. It’s slanted for copyright reasons (it’s getting ridiculously hard to find the Horrible Histories songs online!).
- 2011 Peaceful Protests in Cote d’Ivoire
From 2010 to 2011, there was a crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. The dictator Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the election to Alassane Ouattara and it was alleged that the government had been sending taxpayers’ money out of the country as part of their own personal wealth.
In the midst of the crisis, the peace activist Aya Virginie Toure organised her fellow women in nonviolent protests against Gbagbo. Every protest she led was intended to be peaceful, but they were often met with hostility and violence. On at least one occasion, the security forces opened fire on the women. On 8th March 2011 – International Women’s Day – Toure mobilised 45,000 women in peaceful protests across the country. By 30th March, the UN had demanded that Gbagbo step down and allow the internationally-recognised president Ouattara to take on the role. Toure is now the President of the Rally of Republican Women in Cote d’Ivoire. Several issues remained; Ouattara undertook investigations into human rights violations during the conflict and Gbagbo was arrested in April 2011. You can read more about it here (x).
I hope you enjoyed the article! I encourage you to do a little research about Clara – she, like all the women on this list, was a fascinating human being. As always, please share this on Facebook/Twitter/Google+ if you liked it! Also consider following my blog if you haven’t already; I do follow back!