A woman with a female gender symbol on her cheek observes a demonstration for women's rights in Bilbao, Spain, March 8, 2018, on International Women's Day.
A woman with a female gender symbol on her cheek observes a demonstration for women's rights in Bilbao, Spain, March 8, 2018, on International Women's Day.

Rallies were held around the world Thursday to celebrate International Women's Day and to demand an end to the exploitation, discrimination and violence that women face.

Hundreds of women stopped traffic outside city hall in Madrid in Spain's first national women's strike, in protest against wage gaps and gender violence. A recent study found Spanish women on average were paid nearly 13 percent less than their male colleagues. Female workers at the Spanish newspaper El Pais were among the strikers, the newspaper said in a post on Twitter.

In Manila, hundreds of women dressed in pink and purple took to the streets to protest against Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who they said was one of the worst violators of human rights in Asia. They also protested the killings of 4,000 people under Duterte and his heavy-handed crackdown on illicit drugs.

Human rights activists say Duterte's vow to kill thousands of illicit-drug dealers has led police to carry out extrajudicial killings of suspected dealers and users. 

In Seoul, women's groups used the day to boost support for the American-born #MeToo movement against sexual assault in the workplace. The movement has spread across the Asian economic giant after a female prosecutor revealed in January that she had been assaulted by a colleague several years ago, leading to the downfall of numerous high-profile men, including a provincial governor who was a leading presidential contender before he was accused of raping his secretary.

More than 5 million people joined a two-hour strike by 10 unions in Iceland to demonstrate women's contributions to the economy and society. The strike sought to emulate Iceland's historic 1975 strike, in which 90 percent of the country's women took part.

Catholic women observed the day by challenging Pope Francis to give women a larger role in Catholic Church decision-making and threatening to leave the church if its all-male leadership refused to elevate women's status.

Actresses Asia Argento, left, and Rose McGowan pos
Actresses Asia Argento, left, and Rose McGowan pose during a demonstration to mark International Women's Day in Rome, March 8, 2018. Asia Argento, an Italian actress who helped launch the #MeToo movement, is launching a new movement, #WeToo, which aims to unite women against the power imbalance in favor of men.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese, a fervent advocate for women's ordination, put the the church on notice in a speech delivered in Rome.

"The Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the toxic virus of misogyny," she said. "Its leadership has never sought a cure for that virus, though the cure is freely available. Its name is equality."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the world's most powerful women, said in a video message that the struggle for gender equality was far from over.

"Many women before us have made sacrifices and fought persistently so that women would have more rights ... but there's still a lot to do," she said.

An effigy of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte
An effigy of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is seen while women's rights activists march along a busy street during a celebration of the International Women's Day in Quiapo city, Metro Manila, Philippines, March 8, 2018.

In New Delhi, hundreds of women carrying placards and banners that read, "United we fight, united we win," "Don't rape" and "My body, My choice," marched through the streets to protest domestic violence, sexual attacks, and discrimination in jobs and wages.

In Myanmar, de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged women to build peaceful democracies using their strength in politics, economics and social issues.

Girls shout slogans during a protest demanding equ
Girls shout slogans during a protest demanding equal rights for women on the occasion of International Women’s Day in New Delhi, India, March 8, 2018.

In Afghanistan, hundreds of women, who would have been afraid to leave their homes during Taliban rule, gathered in Kabul to remind their leaders that plenty of work remained to be done to give Afghan women a voice, ensure their education and protect them from increasing violence.

And in China, students at Tsinghua University used the occasion to make light of a proposed constitutional amendment to scrap term limits for the country's president.

In Cairo, the Egyptian museum displayed three artifacts highlighting the role of women in antiquity, including a stone head of of Nefertiti, the queen who wielded political and religious authority in tandem with her husband, Pharaoh Akhenaten, about 3,300 years ago.?

In Photos: International Women's Day

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