It is an unfortunate reality that International's Women's Day has often become a relatively apolitical event.
To remind of us the political struggle, here is a message that was released from The Global Women's Strike in celebration of International Women's Day 2007:
IWD began at the beginning of the 20th century by mobilizing against women’s exploitation and for a living wage and decent working conditions. In 1911, it protested the deaths of 140 immigrant garment workers killed in a fire in a New York factory from which they couldn’t escape (doors and windows were locked and barred). It also marked the struggle for women’s right to vote.
But IWD was also about ending war. Ninety years ago on IWD, women in Russia went on strike against the orders of their political parties. They marched with housewives to demand bread – to feed their families – and peace – two million Russian soldiers had already been slaughtered in World War I. Their strike started the 1917 revolution, which brought down the tsarist government within days.
2007 marks the anniversary of two other key events, each a step towards the liberation of the human race.
Two hundred years ago, in 1807, the British slave trade – but not yet slavery – was abolished.Two crucial factors in ending the trade in humans were the struggle of the people enslaved, which never ceased, and the grassroots movement of both Black and white people in Britain for abolition, which is hardly known.
150 years later, on the 6th of March 1957, Ghana became the first Black African country to achieve political independence from the British Empire. Julius Nyerere, first president of an independent Tanzania, referred to Ghana as Africa’s ‘first liberated zone’ The 50th anniversary of that momentous political event recalls to us the long and painful struggle of all the colonies to achieve independence, a struggle that is renewed today against the US empire.
In the decades since Ghana’s independence, many of us have learnt to search for the women whose work in every struggle is hidden from history. We learnt that the Ghana revolution had been funded by its market women – the mother of Kwame Nkrumah, leader of the movement, was one of these powerful women. They used their economic power to drive forward the movement to throw the imperialists out of Africa.
Women are often bolder and more practical, more likely to prioritize what’s good for the children and for the whole community, because we spend so much of our time caring for people as mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, partners, aunties, grannies… the work of survival is first of all women’s work. And given that the market which is in charge of the world’s economy has no interest in either our survival or our welfare, keeping humanity alive is revolutionary work, a struggle to prevent the market from destroying us and our world for the sake of profit.
Justice work – the work of defending ourselves and our loved ones when we are robbed of our work, our land, our time, our income, murdered, raped and tortured in other ways, imprisoned, deported – is an extension of that caring work. Women have been central to anti-war movements, fighting to defend sons, daughters, partners who refuse to be conscripted into the military and for soldiers who refuse to go to war. As many mothers have said: ‘I didn’t give birth to my son so he could kill your son.’
No wonder that women are often the hidden majority in justice campaigns:
From the mothers, grandmothers and other relatives in Argentina, Chile and elsewhere, who are still organizing to demand justice for those disappeared by the dictatorship over 30 years ago, to the women in Oaxaca, Mexico, marching to get rid of their repressive governor and for the release of those he has imprisoned; and the women in Trinidad & Tobago and Peru who, despite enormous obstacles, have formed a domestic workers union and have won recognition as workers.
From the women in northern Uganda who are demonstrating to demand an end to military atrocities and for resources to be invested in water and food; to the women in India campaigning against bonded labour who, for the first time, are bringing together women who work on the land and the city’s domestic workers; and the women in China who are discussing the situation of rural women under the new economic expansion.
From the women in Guyana who have united across race – African, Asian, Indigenous and Mixed race – to press for an end to racist violence; to the women in Haiti demonstrating in front of the UN to demand the end of US-UN military occupation which has cost the lives of thousands.
From the mothers in the US fighting to get their children back whom the State has stolen from them because they were poor or because their partner was violent; to the women in the UK campaigning against rape, for the right to asylum from war, dictatorship or homophobia, for protection for sex workers and a decent income for single mothers, women with disabilities and older women.
From the women in Ireland, North and South, who demand that the constitution recognizes women’s caring work as Venezuela’s already does; to the women in Spain who have won some wages for carers in the home.
Everywhere women are struggling with a double and triple working day, the rich have got richer and most of us have got poorer. While feminism has helped to ensure that more women are in positions of power, most of them have followed orders rather than respond to the needs of the grassroots. Now is the time for our movement to challenge everyone with power (woman or man), to win their accountability or to reject them.
Today the perspective that the carer must be acknowledged as a worker who is central to survival, who challenges the primacy of the market, and who is entitled to wages for that work from military budgets, is far more understood and accepted than when it was first put forward 35 years ago.This perspective, of Invest in caring not killing, excites not only enthusiasm but increasing support from many sectors of society, not only women but men who accept this political direction from women, and who reject exploitation and militarization.
As we confront the poisoning and destruction of the soil, the air, the water, the food, the climate and thus the health of the planet and of all of us, we are aware that our ongoing connection with the revolution in Venezuela is a power for all we do. In one country at least the creative efforts of the to reshape the whole society from the bottom up are being supported and strengthened by its president Hugo Chávez, the ‘president of the poor’. And that begins with women.
On IWD stop the world and change it. For an economy at the service of human beings and the planet, invest in caring not killing!