International Women’s Day, March 8, was established at a 1910 European socialist women’s conference. It was proposed by German socialist Clara Zetkin, who recognized the struggles of women workers in the United States as well as in Europe. The goals of this annual event were to recognize the common struggles of working women, to build international solidarity among them, and to forge alliances to oppose war.
Capitalist governments and their media cover up the real history and meaning of the day with flowery speeches, award ceremonies and hollow proclamations. The true conditions faced by hundreds of millions of women worldwide are ignored — the poverty, forced migration, exploitation, systemic sexist, racist and anti-lesbian and anti-transgender discrimination, and the violence of wars, drones and occupations. Also unmentioned are the ravages of the global capitalist economic crisis, which drastically worsen conditions for women.
Nevertheless, millions of women, in keeping with the day’s traditions, poured into the streets to show their strength, put forward their demands and display solidarity with their sisters across the globe. Here are some of the highlights of the day’s events.
¡Hugo Chavez presente!
International Women’s Day in Latin America was overshadowed by the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Venezuelan women’s organizations dedicated this special day to honor their beloved leader, whose funeral was on March 8. Defending and promoting women’s rights has been a cornerstone of the Bolivarian Revolution, which has benefited poor, working and Indigenous women.
The support for Chávez by the masses of women has been so strong that when a U.S.-backed coup attempted to unseat him in 2002, the mobilization of women saved the revolution.
Minister for Women’s Affairs and Gender Equality Nancy Perez said that Chavez paid special attention to women’s rights. In fact, in 2009, he created the Ministry for Women’s Affairs and Gender Equality on International Women’s Day. In his 14 years in office, Chávez implemented many concrete laws and social services for women.
For this year’s International Women’s Day celebrations, Bolivian President Evo Morales enacted Law 348, a law prohibiting gender violence, setting up the Task Force to Combat Violence, and establishing battered women’s shelters, heeding requests by women’s organizations.
In Cuba, where millions are mourning the death of Comandante Chávez, a ceremony commemorated Vilma Espin at the Martyrs’ Mausoleum at the Segundo Frente Oriental. Espin was a revolutionary hero, who, in 1960, founded and then led the Federation of Cuban Women for decades. In socialist Cuba women have made great strides in every area, despite the U.S. blockade, as their equality is a firm goal of the revolution.
In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, at the Women’s Ministry, women demanded decent housing, better working conditions, an end to discrimination and anti-woman violence. The protest was organized by the International Lawyers’ Bureau.
Stop anti-woman violence
Demonstrations on several continents protested violence and sexual assaults against women, as well as human trafficking — all products of patriarchal, sexist class society. One in three women will be beaten or sexually assaulted in their lifetime, says The One Billion Rising campaign. Stopping all violence against women was a key demand of many March 8 activities.
Rallies and marches throughout India demanded equal rights for women, protested anti-woman violence, and called for justice for all women who are brutalized, especially the 23-year-old woman who died from gang-rape-inflicted injuries in New Delhi late last year. All India Mahila Sanskritik Sangathan (AIMSS) organized protests in several cities.
Pakistani women marched for their rights in Lahore and other cities.
Women observed this special day in the port city of Chittagong, Bangladesh, at rallies and other programs calling for their rights. The 112 mostly women garment workers who perished late last year in the Tazreen Fashions’ fire were remembered at many events held in Bangladesh. This tragedy revealed the lack of safety measures in factories tied to European and U.S. corporations, including Walmart, a byproduct of capitalist globalization and workers’ super-exploitation.
In downtown Cairo in Egypt, women marched to demand social and political rights. Protesters stressed that the demands of the January 25 revolution two years ago have not been met and criticized policies being implemented by the government of President Mohamed Morsi.
At a demonstration in Sanaa, Yemen, a call to pick up the “hammer and sickle,” a communist symbol, was raised.
Solidarity with Palestinian prisoners
A peaceful march of Palestinian women began to walk through Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem. As they showed solidarity with their 4,500 jailed brothers and sisters, Israeli police stopped them. Palestinians have been protesting the death by torture of imprisoned 30-year-old Arafat Jaradat last month.
A demonstration in Ankara, Turkey, called for an end to violence and discrimination against women. Kurdish women honored and demanded justice for Sakine Cansiz, Fidan Dogan and Leyla Soylemez, Kurdish activists who were assassinated in Paris in January.
Gabriela, a National Alliance of Women organized a march to the U.S. Embassy in Manila to protest imperialist oppression. The group coordinated protests throughout the Philippines to decry unrelenting attacks by the Benigno Aquino government on women’s political rights and their growing impoverishment.
Calls rang out for justice for Christina Jose, who was gunned down on March 4, as more than 1,000 activists marched in Davao City, Mindanao. Jose was leading a struggle to win benefits for typhoon Pablo survivors. Gabriela organizers denounced the government for her murder and other extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses.
At a ceremony hailing International Women’s Day in Pyongyang, north Korea, a large photograph behind performers showed a women soldier leading an artillery attack. Its caption read, “We are the General’s female coastal artillery troops.” This event came in the midst of increased bellicosity by the United States and its allies toward this socialist country.
Centennial of South Africa’s first women’s march
The African National Congress Women’s League is celebrating a century of struggle since the first women’s march in 1913 and calls for unity in their goal “to ensure the total emancipation of women across the globe.” The Congress of South African Trade Unions saluted all working-class women and held activities on March 8.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union, South Africa’s largest public sector union, hailed “our own heroes who kept up the struggles for women’s unionists. … Still today, the majority of working women are the objects of harsh exploitation by the vicious capitalist system. They work mainly in part-time, unprotected jobs, paid less than their male counterparts … with inadequate pensions and are the first to be retrenched during job cuts.”
The union “reaffirms its commitment to fight for the full emancipation of women.” (allafrica.com, March 8)
Women say NO to austerity
In Europe, year-round protests have objected to brutal austerity cutbacks imposed by the “Troika” — the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and the European Central Bank — in collusion with central governments, especially in Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy.
On International Women’s Day, more than 1,000 women, many of them from the Middle East and North Africa, demonstrated in Paris against draconian slashes in funding for social services, which will disproportionately affect women. Already, there is a pay gap of 28 percent and women are employed at 80 percent of low-wage jobs. Government programs are essential to many women.
In Berlin and Nuremberg, Germany, women’s groups, migrants’ organizations and anti-fascists protested under the slogan of “Women struggle internationally.” They honored the three murdered Kurdish women activists, as well as International Women’s Day founder Clara Zetkin, who died 80 years ago.