Making a little trouble

Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.' -Nora Ephron, American screenwriter, novelist, producer and director.

Nora Ephron died in 2012, but her plea, it seems, has been resonating around the world in the past months, with women in 30 countries around the world marching to 'make a little trouble'.

They marched against the political and religious conservatism that threatens women's hard-won rights all over the world. But they also marched for freedom, unity and the right to choose. They were angry and funny ('I stitched this sign because I am so angry that I needed to stab something 3000 times'). They were old and young, black and white, gay, straight and transgender, able bodied and disabled. There were men there too.

Marching and collective organising for feminism and women's rights has a long and proud tradition, right back to women's major roles in the 1789 French Revolution. In her Rights of Woman, feminist Olympe de Gouges wrote: 'Woman is born free and her rights are the same as those of man... if women have the right to go to the scaffold, they must also have the right to go to Parliament.'

Chinese feminists who joined the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-64 called for an end to foot-binding and demanded communal ownership of property and equal rights for women and men. In Japan in the early 20th century, feminists campaigned for birth control and other reforms. In India in 1905, women took part in the Swadeshi movement to boycott foreign goods. All over Asia and Africa women actively resisted colonialism. In the UK, the suffragettes chained themselves to the railings for women's right to vote. In Egypt, in 1924, thanks to the Egyptian Feminist Union, the age of marriage for girls was raised to 16.

I am sure that at those times too, people were saying that protests achieved nothing.

The marches this year come at a time when feminism is back in fashion (though some would say it has never gone away). A 2016 survey in the US found that:

• 6 in 10 women and a third of men call themselves a feminist or strong feminist.
• 7 in 10 say the movement is empowering.
• Younger women are more optimistic about the feminist movement than older women.
• More than 4 in 10 say they have expressed their views about women's rights on social media.

A global poll by the Pew Research Center in 2016 for International Women's Day found that 'gender equality is among the most widely accepted democratic principles around the world'.

The many feminisms of today around the world are diverse and sometimes divided. There is better recognition of race and ethnicity, class and caste, sexuality, disability, geography, history... though we still struggle with this every day. The internet has transformed, for better and for worse, the ways in which we can address the things we care about, but also opened the door for trolling and online violence.

Feminism is still worth fighting for, whether in the bedroom or the boardroom. One in three women still faces violence from an intimate partner. Their right to family planning is now coming under threat. Only 23.3 per cent of parliamentarians are women. Women still make up the majority of the poorest in the world. The global gender pay gap is still 23%. And women still do the bulk of the unpaid care and household tasks, often on top of their paid work.

It is easy to forget just how far we still have to go – the United Nations reckons 80 years – until we achieve equality between women and men. And it is also easy to forget just how recently many rights for women have been won, and how easy it would be for them to be lost again.

That is why we all need to march. And why we all need to find ways of building bridges with those we may not agree with. If we want to leave a fairer and more equal world for our daughters and our sons, then we have to make sure that the marches are not just one day of coming together, but the beginning of real change. We need to go on making a little trouble. And perhaps, sometimes, being a little less of a lady.

Nikki van der Gaag is the author of the No-nonsense Guide to Feminism, published by New Internationalist on March 8 2017.