Women Hong Kong Protesters Upend Gender Roles in Democracy Fight

February 21, 2020
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According to Erica Chenoweth, relatively high female participation in protests correlates with success in overthrowing a government or achieving territorial independence because it suggests widespread support and an openness to different strategies.

During Hong Kong’s Occupy protests in 2014, Aria listened to Lady Gaga, put on makeup and wore cute outfits, embracing the ubiquitous “Goddess of Democracy” moniker at a time when online polls asked whether the city’s few female leaders were wife or girlfriend material.

Over months of recent pro-democracy demonstrations, however, the 25-year-old Hong Konger marched to the front lines cloaked in black with her hair tucked into a helmet while wielding a wrench and a Swiss Army knife. She regularly joined a team of 30 people for physical training drills, and listens to aggressive Cantonese rapcore music. During the financial hub’s last major protests, in 2014, Aria said women like her came out in force but were relegated to cheerleader-like support roles, such as giving out water and food. The movement failed to achieve its major goal — universal suffrage — teaching her that pro-democracy activists must take drastic action to be heard, and that women need a larger role. “This is very different from the past — the mentality has totally changed,” said Aria, who declined to give her last name because she fears getting arrested. “Now women have gone extra miles to go to the front of the protests, regardless of consequences.”

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