Fiona Wong – ECR Spotlight

Forging solidarity in the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong

by Fiona Wong

‘Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong!’ – a slogan resounding through Hong Kong in 2019. A large-scale anti-extradition movement was unfolding that brought Hong Kong into the global spotlight. As protestors lined the streets and fought off tear gas and grenades, many observers wondered where the women protestors were. I became interested in which kinds of women were joining these protests and why.

Young people sitting on top of a low wall, their legs dangling over the edge

Image provided by the author’s friend who wishes to remain anonymous

Women participated in the movement differently across demographic backgrounds. Susanne Choi, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, discussed that frontline female protesters are generally young and highly educated (Choi 2022). Housewives and mothers initiated petitions supporting the frontline protestors and condemned police violence. In a documentary, Revolution of Our Times, a number of protesters regardless of gender, provided shelters and material resources to teenage frontline protesters who had quarrels with their parents and became homeless.  My PhD research focuses on the role of female protesters and women’s organisations in a decentralized movement by examining the anti-extradition movement as a case study. I used a mixed method to analyse how the availability of movement resources between protesters and organisations influence forms of solidarity in the anti-extradition movement.

Social movement theories show us how key actors provide, receive, and exchange social movement resources (including materials, humans, social-organisations, culture, and morality) to produce interactions and networks, as well as solidarity. Female protesters and women’s organisations in the anti-extradition movement widely accepted the narrative notion of brotherhood. Brotherhood refers to a collective relationship with a group of people that share common interests, religion and/or ideology. It emphasises a ‘we-ness’ with a strong sense of collective solidarity (Sunderberg, 2019). Political ideology and belief are essential to the representation and construction of brotherhood to network solidarity. As female protestors made direct demands on the Hong Kong government, and advocated for public awareness on police brutality and sexual violence against protesters, they could be thought of as acting in “brotherhood.”. Frontline protesters and supporters often describe the relationship with their companions as ‘hands-and-feet’ (sau2zuk1) literally that signifies brotherhood, comrades and solidarity. Some slogans involved the elements of brotherhood further, such as ‘no splitting and no severing of ties’ (bat1fan1faa3, bat1got3zek6) and ‘brothers climbing hills, each one put their effort’ (hing1dai6paa4saan1, gok3zi6nou5lik6).

But as a feminist researcher, I also consider affect and emotions as a resource type to account for relationship network solidarity. For instance, thinking historically, Taiwanese women demonstrated the transformation of sisterhood into the basis for their politics by evoking sympathy for other women. During the White Terror period between 1947 and 1987, Taiwanese women distributed and shared resources in protests, detention centres and prisons. When they were sentenced, they listened to the difficulties of each other, shared experiences and offered emotional support. These forms of emotional solidarity were visible in the anti-extradition movement as well.

Female protesters not only participated in the front-line protests, but collaborated with women’s organisations to shape a #ProtestToo campaign to expand the influence of feminism and exhibit sisterhood in the movement. #ProtestToo was held on 28 August 2019 and drew over 30,000 participants to demand the end of police brutality and sexual violence against protesters.

Image: Online propaganda photo to call for participants joining the assembly, source unknown.

Participants wore all-black outfits to shout the slogan ‘Stop Hong Kong police’s use of sexual violence’. They used lipstick scribbling ‘#ProtestToo’ on their forearms and displayed a purple ribbon. Women involved in unnecessary strip-searches and exposure of their underclothing and crotch during arrest shared their experience and feelings on the stage, and supported each other in the movement. In a broad sense, participants in the anti-extradition movement, including individuals, formal and informal organisations, and groups, can be considered to be united by sisterhood. Emotional resource exchanges between them provided mutual affective support and material aids.

Different relationship network solidarities shape the participation of female protesters and women’s organisations in a widespread protest like the anti-extradition ones in Hong Kong. Compared to the existing quantitative academic literature and media posts regarding this topic, the testimonies from affinity groups and focus on women’s organisations and protesters is critical. Recognizing the role and significance of affective ties and feminized forms of care, I am shaping my research to conduct social network analysis and in-depth interviews with protestors to scrutinize the varied forms in which network solidarities are expressed and strengthened. I hope that my research will render a more comprehensive picture of and lead to a further discussion on how women decide their involvement in, and shape the structure of, a social movement.

Fiona Wong is a second year PhD researcher in Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Her doctoral research is about how female protesters and women’s organisations participating jn decentralised mass movement. She tweets at @fionahywong