Police fired tear gas Friday at thousands of women who took to the streets of Istanbul on International Women’s Day in defiance of a protest ban to demand greater rights and denounce violence.

Security forces in riot gear pushed the crowds of women – some wearing colorful wigs and masks – at the entrance to the city’s main pedestrianized shopping street Istiklal Avenue, an AFP correspondent reported.

Police then used tear gas on the demonstrators and menaced them with dogs, causing many women to flee onto side streets.

The event took place peacefully last year but authorities issued a statement banning any demonstration on the city’s central avenue just before this year’s march.

Ahead of the event, the area was teeming with police officers, who set up cordons around the central Taksim Square, while many local businesses were closed.

One woman, called Ulker, speaking to AFP from behind a barrier, said: “Here is the bitter truth: There is a system, there is a state that is scared of us. I condemn this.”

Thousands of women were eventually allowed into a small part of the avenue to stage the protest.

They unfurled banners that read: “Feminist revolt against male violence, and poverty” and “I was born free and I will live free.”

The demonstrators also chanted slogans including “We are not silent, we are not scared, we are not obeying.”

The protesters then became trapped between two police cordons and were subsequently dispersed by the police using tear gas.

Women’s rights activists have long accused President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist government of not doing enough to stop violence against women.

In 2018, 440 women were killed in murders linked to their gender, according to the women’s rights group We Will Stop Femicide, compared with 210 in 2012.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse