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International Women's day

Feminist picnics, motorbike rallies, graveyard tours: International Women’s Day in Paris

A neon sign depicting Rosie the Riveter is seen at The Wrap's Power Women Summit in Los Angeles on November 1, 2018.
A neon sign depicting Rosie the Riveter is seen at The Wrap's Power Women Summit in Los Angeles on November 1, 2018. © Valerie Macon, AFP

Paris will celebrate all women in all ways with a panoply of events for International Women’s Day 2020 on Sunday March 8. You can participate in feminist picnics, graveyard tours, motorbike rallies, comedy performances and commemorations of deported martyrs on this day devoted to raising awareness of the importance of women’s rights.

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International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated annually on March 8. Its genesis was in 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights. After two years of national celebrations, the first IWD was observed in 1911, and the United Nations celebrated it for the first time in 1975. 

IWD aims to shed light on the everyday status of women’s rights throughout the world. The 2020 campaign theme is #EachforEqual, to further the drive for a gender-equal world. In Paris, there is a very full programme of events on Sunday including concerts, debates, screenings, self-defence workshops and celebrations of the women resting forever in Père Lachaise cemetery. 

Throw down your yellow gloves

Feminist associations, activists and families will participate in the march of the ‘Grandes Gagnantes’ (‘Big Winners’). The organisers took this name from a phrase of French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who claimed that “women would be the big winners with a universal pension system”, and want to reclaim it, saying on their website: “We are strong, we are proud. We are the big winners.”

The march will be preceded by a feminist picnic at 12pm at Place d’Italie, before the demonstration leaves at 2pm to march to Place de la République. Participants are called on to march in their work clothes, inspired by the famous image of Rosie the Riveter, whom organisers describe as “the icon of all invisible workers”. 

There will be innovative pit stops along the route, including a throwing down of yellow washing-up gloves at 3:40pm to demand the end to “double days, half pay”. 

Get on your bikes

Women will be taking to their motorbikes for the 10th-anniversary celebrations of Toutes en Moto to coincide with IWD. Rosie the Riveter is again the symbol here and the group's motto is “We can do it!”

The world of motorcycling is predominantly male: Less than 20 percent of motorcyclists are women. Last year, more than 10,000 people got on their bikes for IWD. This year, Toutes en Moto will be setting up a motorbike village at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and there will be a parade, DJs, food, a light show and even a themed quiz from 10am to 6pm. 

The group will round the day off by joining up with activist group Femmes Solidaires for a special performance by comedic singer Agnes Bihl and guests at La Cigale, a theatre in Paris's 18th arrondissement (district).

Toutes en Moto will also hold events for motorcyclists in other French cities including Orleans, Laval, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Vichy and Nice. 

Deported martyrs

The Panthéon, the monument in the 5th arrondissement (district) where French luminaries including Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and the philosopher and politician Simone Veil are buried, will pay homage to "Great Women" with a special visit combining two sites: the Mémorial des martyrs de la Déportation, one of Paris's memorials to French victims of the Nazi concentration camps, and the Panthéon itself. The visit will explore the lives of women who, like Veil, were first imprisoned in France and then deported to camps because they were resistance fighters, Jews, gypsies and the survivors of repressive regimes. They fought to tell their stories, to bear witness to the horrors they saw and experienced. 

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From the concentration camp experience presented at the Mémorial des martyrs de la Déportation to the French nation’s tribute to these “Great Women” in the Panthéon, this thematic visit will look back on these symbolic women. The tour starts at 2pm at the Memorial and registration is obligatory. 

Pioneering airwomen

On this IWD, the sky will prove no limit as the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace pays tribute to all those women who have played key roles in the history of aeronautics. 

The museum is offering two free tours to highlight overlooked histories of female pioneers of aviation, pilots, mechanics and contemporary astronauts who have written some of the most important pages in aerospace history. 

Underground women

Colette, Edith Piaf, Rosa Bonheur or Sarah Bernhardt … Discover the famous women who lie in Père Lachaise cemetery with special guided tours presented by Sous Les Pavés. As you wander through the 70,000 or so graves in this necropolis, you will discover the famous women who lie there.

“We are hoping people will rediscover the history of Paris through some of these important women,” says Diane de Kerdrel, director of Sous Les Pavés. “For this new tour, our guide is focusing more on artists than politicians. There has been such an incredible response to this special new tour that we have had to keep adding additional tours to the schedule.”

The tour will take place rain or shine, although the wind might have the power to stop it. “The mairie de Paris (mayor's office) closes all public parks and spaces if there is too strong a wind, as stones can easily get displaced and present a risk of injury,” Kerdrel said.

Nuns, queens, revolutionaries

A special guided tour will celebrate the women who built the storied Montmartre neighbourhood in the north of Paris. Starting from La Cachette de Paris at 3pm, this tour will not only stop at the homes of women like the singer Dalida, as well as her final resting place in Montmartre's cemetery, but it will also introduce you to the worlds of artists such as Suzanne Valadon, the so-called Muse of Montmartre.

Valadon’s former home and studio is now the Museum of Montmartre. A highly respected artist in her own right but without the funds to study, she paid for classes by modelling for male artists from Toulouse-Lautrec to Degas to Renoir. 

This tour will also include the life of Louise Michel, a famous anarchist who played a key revolutionary role in the Paris Commune, and the life of Montmartre’s "queen", Louise Weber. Weber performed under the stage name La Goulue (the glutton) and she was the Moulin Rouge’s most famous can-can dancer in the 1880s and 90s.

Reservations – and strong walking shoes to cope with Montmartre’s famous hills – are recommended. 

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