Marching on International Women’s Day: Women globalize struggle for equality

By Kathy Durkin
March 17, 2016


Solidarity and struggle form the essence of International Women’s Day, as intended by its European socialist founders in 1910. Although capitalist governments hide IWD’s true history, women workers, progressives, socialists and national liberation and anti-imperialist forces put forward its real meaning.

In this epoch of capitalist globalization and economic crisis, corporations are intensifying their exploitation of the planet’s peoples and resources. They are grabbing and privatizing land, displacing Indigenous farmers and destroying the environment. Transnational companies mistreat workers in the factories, fields and sweatshops, denying them decent wages, working conditions and respect. But they do not pursue their mad drive for superprofits unchallenged.

Women of all nationalities and in all economic spheres are fighting back. They march, rally and sit-in to oppose wars, occupations, repression, all forms of oppression and social injustice. A vast number of heroes from every corner of the globe stand up to the exploiters and say “NO!”

Berta Cáceres ¡presente!

This year we honor our Honduran sister, Berta Cáceres, a world-renowned Indigenous Lenca leader and environmentalist who was fatally shot by gunmen in early March. Despite mounting death threats, this courageous woman successfully organized a campaign to stop construction of a hydroelectric dam.

A U.S.-backed coup that ousted elected president Manuel Zelaya in 2009 ushered in a pro-corporate government that is abetting transnational companies in their expropriation of Indigenous lands and erection of mines and dams, to Native peoples’ detriment. Cáceres bolstered women’s role and encouraged solidarity and collective action to resist capitalism’s crimes.

Cáceres’ execution sent shock waves throughout Central America. On March 8, hundreds of women marched in Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa, to demand justice for her. So did their sisters in Nicaragua and other countries in the region.

In Venezuela, thousands of women marched through Caracas to Miraflores Palace to support President Nicolás Maduro. They also honored the late President Hugo Chávez, leader of the Bolivarian Revolution, which has enacted concrete measures for women’s advancement.

In socialist Cuba, women’s gains since the Revolution have been profound. The Federation of Cuban Women, founded in 1960 by Vilma Espin, has been instrumental in this process. With free education, women are two-thirds of university graduates. Due to free, accessible health care, Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the U.S. Moreover, Cuban women make up 53.1 percent of the parliament, second only to Bolivia in the Americas.

Women in Haiti have a history of struggle. Some 300,000 people are still dislocated by the 2010 earthquake, while cholera rages on and women continue to report sexual assaults by U.N. troops. This year the Aristide Foundation in Port-au-Prince held a much-needed, all-day, free health clinic for IWD; some 1,500 women attended.

Athens protesters: ‘NATO out of Aegean Sea’

U.S./NATO wars have forced over 1 million desperate migrants to flee the Middle East and North Africa, but the warmakers won’t solve the massive refugee crisis they created. European governments are closing their borders, stranding many migrants in Greece. Yet, the Greek people — who themselves are suffering from a financial chokehold imposed by U.S. and European Union bankers — are showing generosity and solidarity toward the refugees, who the Feb. 29 Washington Post reported are 57 percent women and children.

More than 1,000 activists marched through Athens on IWD in solidarity with the migrants and protesting U.S./NATO militarism in Syria. Mairini Stefanidi, president of the Federation of Women of Greece, which co-organized the action, said, “With people’s solidarity, we reach out to the women refugees, who arrive in our countries with babies in their hands. They are victims of the inhuman interventions of the U.S., NATO, European Union and their allies.” The All Workers Military Front (PAME) also sponsored the march. (RT, March 8)

Turkey is increasingly suppressing political protests under right-wing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However, hundreds of women ignored a ban on their IWD protest and marched through Istanbul on March 6 to demand their rights. Riot police fired rubber bullets at the demonstration. Activists also resisted police repression in Ankara.

From Egypt to South Africa

IWD was commemorated across the African continent in many activities.

In Cairo, Egypt, outside the Press Syndicate, women denounced the military and interior ministry, and called for the release of imprisoned family members.

A statement from the Congress of South African Trade Unions raised the marginalization of Black women workers with disabilities; unemployment and poverty among young Black women; discrimination against lesbians; and exploitation of women migrants.

COSATU called on its affiliates to pay special attention to women who work in unsafe jobs “not always protected by law and where enforcement is weak,” including domestic workers, farmworkers and migrant workers. It reiterated its commitment to workplace struggles to ensure that women workers have the right to secure job opportunities, training, decent working hours, a living wage, social security and access to basic services.

Zimbabwean women affirmed that President Robert Mugabe has promoted gender equality and that advances have been made, including by affirmative action, in higher education.

End the occupation of Palestine!

The situation for Palestinian women is very grave, due to constant abuse by the Israeli military in occupied Palestine, especially in Gaza. Many are impoverished and unemployed and/or their homes destroyed. The Israeli armed forces have killed 190 Palestinians since October, including eight women and 49 children, and arrested 118 women. Fifty-seven Palestinian women are incarcerated; 13 are girls.

But Palestinian women keep protesting the U.S.-funded Israeli occupation and expansion in the West Bank and blockade of Gaza, with IWD marches in the West Bank. Human rights activist Manal Tamini from Nabi Salah was arrested that day.

Activists from many women’s organizations marched to the U.N. office in Gaza. They called for an end to Israeli violations of Palestinian women’s rights and for international pressure on Israel to lift the siege of Gaza.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition announced that March 8 marked the launching of a campaign to send a “Women’s Boat to Gaza.”

No to capitalist globalization!

In Asia, women workers rallied for their rights against corporate exploitation.

Garment workers and activists staged a rally in Dhaka, Bangladesh, outside the National Press Club. They remembered their sisters and brothers who perished in factory disasters, including at Rana Plaza in 2013. Global brands reap mega-profits from super-exploiting such workers.

Millions of women are forced to migrate to find work, often facing racism and abuse while denied any rights. In Hong Kong, migrant workers marched to the Indonesian Consulate, demanding that its government stop human trafficking.

Members of Gabriela, an umbrella women’s organization founded over 30 years ago in the Philippines, joined with a migrant workers’ union to rally near Malacanang Palace in Manila, and denounced the government’s “export labor policy.” Their banner called for “Justice for all victims of trafficking.”

Women’s oppression is based in unequal class society; imperialism, corporate exploitation and oppression of nationalities further impact millions of women. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, it is time to intensify the struggle against the horrors of capitalism, as its founders intended, and to lay the foundation for a truly just world under socialism.

New York City: On March 5th, members of the International Working Womens Coalition and their supporters gathered at the Harriet Tubman Statue in Harlem and marched across 125th Street in commemoration of International Working Womens Day. Many organizations were involved including AnakBayan-USA, Picture the Homeless, Gabriela-NY, Domestic Workers United, Laundry Workers Center, May First Coalition, NYC Students for Justice in Palestine, International Action Center, Bronx United in the Struggle, The Revolutionary Student Coordinating Committee, Students Without Borders, Peoples Power Assembly/TransJustice, Transit Workers Union, plus Florence Rice, 97 year old Harlem resident, Hertensia Peterson, Aunt of Akai Gurley, Marylin Zuniga, Brenda Stokely and U.S. Presidential Candidate, Monica Moorehead, Workers World Party.