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Activists sing during a rally to support women's rights on International Women's Day in Buenos Aires, March 8, 2023. © 2023 Mariana Nedelcu/SOPA Images/Sipa USA via AP Images

Every March 8, International Women’s Day, women flood the streets in countries around the world to commemorate hard-won victories for women’s rights and to fight for more. It’s a time to celebrate advances while sharing our frustrations about too-slow progress or even backsliding.

But we’re only able to express our joy and rage when we enjoy freedom of expression. Without it, realizing other rights is nearly impossible. When women can speak freely, we can advocate for our rights to education, work, vote, participate in political and public life, access abortion, and many more. When our rights are violated, as they often are, we can call for justice.

On this International Women’s Day, we march for the one in three women who experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. We cheer for countries like Argentina, Colombia, and Ireland that value our autonomy to choose to be pregnant and have legalized access to safe abortion, while protesting that abortion is still or again illegal in many places, including US states like Alabama and Texas.

At the same time, we march to honor the women who marched before us, like the Mexican women who organized the first feminist congress in 1916 to push for family law reforms and their right to vote, and the Nigerians who waged their “Women’s War against colonization and patriarchal laws in 1929. Their struggles sadly mirror the reality of many women around the world today – especially women who belong to historically marginalized groups – who continue to rally against violence and abuse.

Fearing the power of women’s solidarity and collective actions, governments have  stifled women’s speech through restrictions on movement, censorship, smear campaigns, and criminal prosecutions. In highly repressive contexts, like Afghanistan and Iran, women suffer arbitrary detention, and even enforced disappearance and torture, for their activism. Meanwhile, social media companies have not done enough to protect women from online violence, chilling women’s freedom of expression on and offline.   

These barriers make it hard for women’s equality to become reality. Gender justice requires an enabling environment in which women can express themselves, speak and spread their political views, and participate in political and public life. Instead of repressing or tolerating the repression of women, governments should recognize our collective actions – and consequent power – and enshrine our rights in laws, policies, and practice.

This March 8, while we have much to celebrate, we have a lot more to demand. Let’s exercise our right to speak and make ourselves heard.

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