In at least 48 countries women are downing tools in protest against rape, murder, poverty and discrimination. NINA LOPEZ reports
THE times they’re a changing, and fast. This year International Women’s Day is not just a celebration but a mobilisation.
It’s a strike.
In at least 48 countries, women are downing tools — taking time off from waged and unwaged work for minutes, hours or the whole day.
Under the banner of “solidarity is our weapon,” different localities are organising their own actions and demands: against violence, discrimination, poverty, exploitation, the domination of the market.
The International Women’s Strike (IWS) is finally reclaiming feminism for the 99 per cent. This is not about a few women breaking through the glass ceiling — which is really a class ceiling — while the rest of us continue to struggle.
It’s about changing the world as our movement intended to when we formed it in the ’60s and ’70s before the market took over.
Different sectors are putting forward their own demands and expecting the support of every other sector.
South-east Asia has proposed the broom as our symbol: when the strands are together, we are strong.
Women in Poland, who have been co-ordinating, are asking employers to give their employees the day off.
It worked on October 3 last year when they organised a women’s strike against the criminalisation of abortion. The strike was massive and the government backed down.
Their success led them to get in touch with women in South Korea and Italy, who are also on the move. And with the Ni Una Menos (Not One Less) movement in Argentina, which has been mobilising hundreds of thousands for two years against the horrific rape and murder of a number of women. On October 19 2016, people walked out of their jobs and homes in cities and towns across Argentina and in other Latin American countries too.
Over 100,000 gathered in front of the president’s palace in Buenos Aires under heavy rain — a sea of umbrellas urging action.
With the IWS, the demands have widened — not only an end to violence but to poverty and discrimination and the rejection of capitalism. Marches have been called by 200 organisations and are backed by all three union federations.
In Uruguay a feminist coalition has been organising for three years. There too the strike call has union backing. They expect a whole-day strike in the capital and a partial one in other cities.
In Brazil, women are striking to make housework visible. New social security laws aim to level the retirement age between men and women, but women should be able to retire earlier because of all the caring work we do.
A similar demand has emerged in Britain, where over half a million people have signed a petition to bring down women’s pension age from 66 to what it used to be: 60. Many women are caring for sick or disabled husbands or relatives and can’t cope without a pension.
Australia too is concerned with older women facing poverty and homelessness after raising the country’s children, and the lower life expectancy of Aboriginal women.
In Ireland, the pro-choice movement, active North and South, is marching. In Galway University students and staff are picketing the university for pay equity from the bottom up and a living wage for mothers and other carers.
The Hungarian strike is for the right to abortion, equal pay and a universal basic income so women can live free from poverty, precarious work and economic dependency on men. They want the state to help women in poverty, rather than take their children away.
This is another common theme: children being taken into care and adopted against their mothers’ wishes. US women are calling for an end to sexism and racism in the child protection system which targets families of colour.
In Britain, following the publication of a dossier by Legal Action for Women documenting over 50 cases of mothers who have lost their children to biased social services and violent fathers, mothers will be picketing the Central Family Court in London at 10am.
In some countries striking can land you in prison or worse, so other means must be found to be heard.
Women in Russia are using social media to target new regulations which decriminalise domestic violence, reducing it to a civil penalty punishable by a fine.
In Honduras thousands of community organisers have been murdered since the US-backed coup removed democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009. The best known was Berta Caceres, an indigenous mother who opposed the construction of dams.
Indigenous rural communities face such assaults worldwide. In London we are holding a vigil on the steps of St Martin’s in the Field in support of the Southern Peasant Federation of Thailand and others who risk their lives to defend land and water from corporate land grabs.
In Turkey women are protesting against the dictatorial powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, especially against his brutality towards Kurdish people, and the murder of women for which, like in Argentina, there are no official statistics. They want the truth and an end to violence.
The anti-Trump women’s marches and protests in defence of immigrants have sharpened everyone’s sense of urgency, especially in the US.
Over 40 actions in cities and rural areas are planned — wide-ranging, anti-racist, anti-mass incarceration, anti-imperialist, anti-Islamophobia and pro-Palestinian liberation. Many are using the slogan: “No ban, no wall.”
Under the banner Women Workers Rising, major unions, including the National Nurses United which backed Bernie Sanders, and organisations of domestic and other low-paid workers and teachers, have called for a demonstration outside the Department of Labour.
On the west coast many sectors, including sex workers, queer and transwomen, will be marching.
In London, the Global Women’s Strike and Women of Colour GWS are holding a “speak-out” outside Parliament from 12 to 2pm. It’s Budget day.
What better day to call the government out on its policy of destitution which is killing thousands of disabled people and forcing single mothers and children out of their homes and away from their support networks?
The All African Women’s Group, asylum-seekers campaigning to end deportation and destitution, will be performing their short play on the sexism and racism they face — from Yarl’s Wood detention centre to the courts. The Scottish Kinship Carers are coming to tell it like it is. We hope some anti-austerity MPs will too.
At 6pm, join women round the world making a big noise together — wherever you are, bang your pots and pans, whistle, shout. Together we can win.
Nina Lopez is an activist with International Women’s Strike and co-ordinator of the Global Women’s Strike. For more information visit www.womenstrikeuk.com.