Thousands protest on International Women's Day in Brazil

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro kisses his wife, Michelle Bolsonaro during a ceremony marking the International Women's Day at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil March 8, 2019. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

SAO PAULO/RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Thousands of people, mostly women, took to the streets of several Brazilian cities late on Friday, calling for gender equality and an end to violence against women, as well as to criticize Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his policies.

The protests on International Women’s Day were organized by activists in nine Brazilian cities, including Sao Paulo, capital Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro.

In Rio, demonstrators remembered the assassination almost a year ago of city council member and civil rights activist Marielle Franco, a crime still under investigation that has yet to lead to any arrests.

Brazil is among the five countries with the highest number of murdered women in the world, according to the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, a nongovernmental organization. Hundreds of women are hurt each hour in the country, mostly by men with whom they have or have had relationships.

Leftist activists made a strong showing in the protests, with banners asking for the release of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who is imprisoned on corruption charges.

Protesters criticized Bolsonaro for some of his past remarks, considered sexist by many.

As the protests took place, Bolsonaro took part in a ceremony in Brasília to mark International Women’s Day. But he ended up prompting further criticism when he said his Cabinet “for the first time ever” had achieved gender-parity, even though two out of the country’s 22 ministers are women.

“It means each woman here is worth 10 men,” he explained.

Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto and Sergio Moraes; additional reporting by Ricardo Brito in Brasília; writing by Marcelo Teixeira; editing by Jonathan Oatis