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The power of women's activism: protests against gender-based violence during COVID-19
Mexico City, November 2020. Photo: UN Women/Dzilam Méndez
Women in Mexico City  joined the 25th of November demonstration raising awareness towards the elimination of violence against women and girls. Photo: UN Women/Dzilam Méndez

As activists across the world come together for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, new data shows just how critical women’s protests are for bringing about change.

During the first year of the pandemic, women’s protests surged as rollbacks against women’s rights increased, despite the risks of COVID-19 infection and restrictions on public assembly.

The first year of the pandemic had higher numbers of women’s protests seen in most regions than in the pre-pandemic year. 

Protests call for action on gender-based violence

A resounding outcry across regions concerned the rising tide of gender-based violence.

In the first year of the pandemic, women held at least 2,711 protests to demand action on gender-based violence across more than 100 countries.

Demonstrations against gender-based violence accounted for more than one-third (38%) of all women’s protests during that first year.


Women’s demonstrations are defined as demonstration events that are: a) made up entirely of women, a women’s group or have a majority of women participants; or b) organized around women’s rights or issues. Events in which women demonstrated alongside men on issues not specifically related to women’s rights are not included. As such, the data do not fully capture women’s involvement in social movements.

Women’s determination to protest despite the risks demonstrates both their tenacity and the urgency of their demands, with almost half of women across 13 countries reporting that they or a woman they know had experienced violence during COVID-19.

Women’s protests made a difference

Women’s protests made a difference to government responses to COVID-19 during the crisis period. Countries with strong feminist movements adopted on average three more government measures in response to gender-based violence during the pandemic, compared to countries with weak feminist movements. These measures were diverse and included strengthening reporting lines and shelters, access to justice for survivors, and awareness-raising campaigns.

Besides street activism, women’s organizations also filled critical gaps in providing essential services to survivors, where government responses were ad-hoc, fragmented and poorly funded. These organizations often led responses with little funding and at cost to their own well-being.

Spotlight on the Global South: regional trends

Women’s mobilization against gender-based violence was especially striking in Latin America and the Caribbean, with at least 883 protests during the first year of the pandemic. The majority of these took place in Mexico, Argentina and Chile.


Author’s elaboration based on data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED 2021). See report for more details.

Building on decades of activism, protests against gender-based violence quickly spread across the region during COVID-19. Many of these protests took place under the transnational banner of ‘Ni Una Menos’ (Not One [Woman] Less), a long-running movement in the region against femicide.

And the call for action paid off, with Latin American and Caribbean governments taking the highest number of government measures to address gender-based violence of any region in the Global South during the pandemic, reflecting the persistent feminist advocacy both on the streets and within institutions.

The rise in gender-based violence protests in Northern Africa and Western Asia region was led by Türkiye, amidst the country’s consistently high rates of femicide (with the We Will Stop Femicides Platform counting 280 femicides just in 2021) and its simultaneous rollback of legislation designed to protect women from violence. When the Government announced its withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention in March 2021, women’s and LGBTIQ+ organizations took to the streets in widespread protests.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa accounted for almost half (47%) of all protests against gender-based violence across the region. In Nigeria, the country with the next-highest number of gender-based violence protests, demonstrations were organized by a wide array of women’s groups, including students, market workers, lawyers and medical personnel.

Calls to end gender-based violence resound across borders

Gender-based violence is a unifying and urgent priority for women’s groups the world over. More and more women are raising awareness about the deep connections between gender-based violence and other forms of oppression. Many women’s protests during the pandemic shed light on these linkages. Here are some examples.


Note: The designations employed and the presentation of material on this map do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UN Women concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

As data from the first year of the pandemic demonstrates, the challenges that women face, including gender-based violence, are amplified during times of crisis. As the world spirals into a succession of interlocking crises, from the rising cost of living to the climate emergency, protests on gender-based violence are increasingly interwoven with wider demands for economic, climate, sexual and reproductive justice for all.

For the full methodological approach see Government Responses to COVID-19: Lessons on Gender Equality for a World in Turmoil

Written By:
Loui Williams
Loui Williams

Loui Williams has worked in the Research and Data Section at UN Women since 2017, and most recently contributed to the report ‘Government Responses to COVID-19’, which analyses over 5000 government measures taken in response to the pandemic from a gender perspective. Loui is also a UN Globe representative for UN Women, supporting LGBTIQ+ personnel across the organization.

Anduriña Espinoza-Wasil
Anduriña Espinoza-Wasil
Anduriña Espinoza-Wasil is a Coordinator in the Research & Data Section at UN Women, where she supports the organization’s flagship publications and other projects. She is also a member of the UN Women Youth Council.
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