International Women’s Day has seen demonstrations across the globe, with an unprecedented strike by millions of Spanish women, and a crackdown in France on companies violating gender-equal pay policies.

Many of the events on Thursday echoed the #MeToo movement that has mobilised women against sexual violence and workplace harassment.

In Spain, unions estimated that 5.3 million people joined the strike, which targeted gender violence and unequal pay.

Argentina Women’s Day (AP)Demonstrators in Argentina (AP)

The day culminated with street protests in several cities, with the theme “If we stop, the world stops”.

Social services worker Teresa Sonsur, protesting in Madrid, said she wanted to end workplace discrimination at her agency.

“The women are doing all the hard work, dealing with the customers, but in the positions of management it is always men,” the 38-year-old said.

Meanwhile, French companies that treat women unequally may soon face new pressure and penalties, with president Emmanuel Macron stating his government is going to name and shame such firms.

Another government initiative would fine companies with more than 50 employees if there is an “unjustified” gender wage gap.

In Russia, the head of parliament’s foreign affairs committee apologised after being accused of sexual harassment by several female journalists.

Noting it was International Women’s Day, Leonid Slutsky said on Facebook: “I am using the occasion to ask forgiveness from those of you whom I freely or involuntarily caused suffering.”

The apology came after demonstrators, including opposition presidential candidate Ksenia Sobchak, picketed outside Parliament, demanding Slutsky’s resignation.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the world’s most powerful women, said in a video message that the quest for greater gender equality in Germany and worldwide must continue.

“Many women before us have made sacrifices and fought persistently so that women would have more rights,” she said.

“But there’s still a lot to do.”

In Rome, Catholic women challenged Pope Francis to give women a greater voice in church affairs.

Former Irish President Mary McAleese, an advocate for women’s ordination and gay rights, accused the church’s all-male leadership of refusing to change women’s second-class status.

“The Catholic Church has long since been a primary global carrier of the toxic virus of misogyny,” McAleese said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on men to join in making gender equality “a reality for all”.

He said: “This is what women and girls want. And that is what I want.

“It is what every sensible man and boy should want.”

The White House meanwhile announced that first lady Melania Trump would present State Department courage awards to women from around the world at a ceremony on March 21.