- Afghanistan 'most repressive' for women, U.N. says
- Demonstrators in Istanbul and Manila scuffle with police
- Latin American women protest femicides, sexual violence
- Canada and Ireland pledge rule changes
MEXICO CITY/ISTANBUL, March 8 (Reuters) - Rallies marking International Women's Day took place around the world on Wednesday with a focus on Afghanistan, where girls are denied the right to education, and Iran, which has seen mass protests on women's rights in recent months.
Activists donned purple and held demonstrations from Jakarta and Singapore to Istanbul, Berlin, Caracas and Montevideo.
In the Americas, reproductive rights were a key theme after the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. abortion ruling was overturned last year and with abortion tightly restricted in much of Latin America. Women have also demanded action on high rates of unsolved killings of women and girls.
In Mexico City, 67-year-old Silvia Vargas said she had been attending demonstrations since her daughter Maria Fernanda, who was lesbian, was killed in 2014.
"Not everyone gets human rights, governments and institutions determine them," she said, saying authorities had made her feel her daughter's sexuality and murder were shameful. "I'm going home to an absence that has marked me for life."
Across South America, from Montevideo on the Atlantic coast to the Andean city of Quito, thousands took to the streets, including indigenous people, students and workers.
In Brazil's Rio de Janeiro, women demanded the legalization of abortion and action on femicides, while in Chile's Santiago protesters, dancers, artists and even pets crammed the streets.
By nightfall in Mexico's second-largest city, Monterrey, protesters clashed with police and some set a local government palace gate on fire.
In Manila, activists calling for equal rights and better wages scuffled with police blocking their protest. "Girls just want to have fun...damental rights", read one poster. Turkish police fired pepper spray to disperse protesters in Istanbul.
In Paris, demonstrators marched to demand better pensions for women who work part-time and in Tel Aviv women formed human chains to protest against a judicial overhaul that they fear will harm civil liberties.
Protesters flooded the streets of several Spanish cities to demand equal rights and the rooting out of "machismo" but divisions in the feminist movement over issues such as transgender rights and prostitution led to competing rallies.
Many protests included calls for solidarity with women in Iran and Afghanistan.
"Afghanistan under the Taliban remains the most repressive country in the world regarding women's rights, and it has been distressing to witness their methodical, deliberate, and systematic efforts to push Afghan women and girls out of the public sphere," Roza Otunbayeva, head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement marking the day.
In London, protesters marched to the Iranian embassy in costumes inspired by the novel and television series "The Handmaid's Tale", while in Valencia, Spain, women cut their hair in support of Iranian women.
The death last September of 23-year-old Mahsa Amini while in the custody of morality police in Tehran unleashed the biggest anti-government protests in Iran in years.
In recent days, Iran's clerical rulers have faced renewed pressure as public anger was compounded by a wave of poisonings affecting girls in dozens of schools. Iran has arrested several people it said were linked to the poisonings and accused some of connections to "foreign-based dissident media".
As Washington marked International Women's Day, the United States imposed sanctions on two senior Iranian prison officials it accused of being responsible for serious rights abuses against women and girls.
Britain also announced a package of sanctions against what it described as "global violators of women's rights", while the EU announced new sanctions on Tuesday.
Some governments marked Wednesday with domestic legislative changes or pledges.
Canada repealed historic indecency and anti-abortion laws, French President Emmanuel Macron said he backed the inclusion of the right to abortion in the constitution, and Ireland announced a referendum to remove outmoded references to women in its constitution.
Italy's first female prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, said state-controlled companies should have at least one leader who is a woman.
In Japan, which ranked 116 out of 146 countries on gender parity in a World Economic Forum global report last year, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said progress had been made on improving women's working conditions but more had to be done.
"The situation for women, who are trying to balance household and workplace responsibilities, is quite difficult," he said. "Measures to tackle this are still just halfway complete."
In Russia, where International Women's Day is one of the most celebrated public holidays, the head of its upper house of parliament used the occasion to launch a vehement attack on LGBT lifestyles.
"Men and women are the biological, social and cultural backbones of communities," Valentina Matviyenko wrote in a blog on the Federation Council's website.
"Therefore, there are no dangerous gender games in our country and never will be. Let us leave it to the West to conduct this dangerous experiment on itself."
In the Colombian capital of Bogota, 45-year-old psychologist Paulina, who did not give a surname, said "invisible violence" was a problem for women everywhere.
"Even as we are victims of abuse, they say 'You had a skirt on, a shirt showing cleavage, you were looking for it, right?'."