Women fight for rights, defend social gains

What is remembered about yearly International Women’s Day commemorations? Not official afternoon teas and receptions, where politicians toss off meaningless platitudes about women’s “equality” and claim “women have come a long way.” No. What stays in our memories is resistance.

March 8 honors women’s struggles worldwide. Its socialist founders aimed to promote global solidarity, too. Today, we must support our sisters who live under military siege; those who have to migrate to work and then face racism and assaults; part-time, low-wage and unemployed women; and those most impoverished and rendered homeless. We must show that women’s oppression is rooted in the capitalist system.

From the Philippines to Syria, from Bangladesh to Haiti, from France to Venezuela, women marked this special day opposing imperialist war; corporate globalization; oppression, bigotry, discrimination; and abuse. Here are a few highlights.

In Seoul, south Korea, working women rallied. Korean Confederation of Trade Unions members called for pay equity, improved working conditions, pregnancy and parental benefits, and an end to workplace sexual harassment. They denounced privatization of public services and the criminalization of abortions.

Thousands of their Filipino sisters, led by GABRIELA, marched in Manila to denounce President Benigno Aquino for following U.S. dictates, denying social services and allowing food prices to soar. There and in Baguio City, the Rising for Justice campaign slammed him for “criminal neglect” of typhoon victims and ignoring the needs of millions of “grassroots” women and farmers fighting for land reform.

Bangladesh: Garment workers seek justice

On March 8, women workers with their unions and labor organizations, including the Bangladesh Centre for Workers Solidarity, marched in Dhaka for workplace safety measures, the right to unionize, livable wages and maternity leave.

The Garment Workers Oikya Forum raised similar demands at the Rana Plaza disaster site in Savar. There, nearly a year ago, 1,130 apparel workers died, mostly women, and thousands were injured in the country’s worst industrial accident.

The National Domestic Women Workers Association rallied for legal protections for domestic workers, nearly all women and girls. Additionally, women with disabilities organized by the Bangladesh National Disabilities Forum demonstrated for their rights.

Sohel Rana, owner of Rana Plaza, is imprisoned, awaiting trial for culpability in the workers’ deaths. So is Delar Hossein, manager of Tazreen Fashion factory, where a horrific fire took 112 workers’ lives in November 2012. Workers’ protests, activists’ and lawyers’ pressure led to these state prosecutions.

Rana Plaza’s collapse focused world attention on Bangladesh’s unsafe garment factories. Recent inspections found dangerous conditions are still rampant. However, the global brands, which make mega-profits from clothing produced there, are avoiding blame for these disasters. Few U.S. corporations signed a safety accord; none contributed to a $40 million fund for Rana Plaza’s 4,000 victims and relatives.

Stop the war against Syria

The General Union of Syrian Women held sit-ins at the United Nations headquarters in Washington, D.C., and Damascus and simultaneous protests in other Syrian cities. On March 8, they called on their sisters worldwide to defend the Syrian people’s right to live in peace and to oppose regimes exporting terrorism and violence there. U.S.- and European-backed “rebel forces” are violently trying to oust Syria’s government.

Union chairperson, Majdeh Quteit said, “The achievements made for Syrian women over the past decades are at stake because of the terrorists’ crimes.” (SANA, March 8)

As Palestinian women marched to the Qalandiya checkpoint in the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces fired stun grenades and tear gas, injuring 11 women. The women were asserting their right to enter Jerusalem, the Palestinians’ historical capital, and affirming women’s key role in the anti-Israel struggle.

Gaza activists marched to the U.N. office in Gaza City and called upon the “international community to end Israeli violations of Palestinian women’s rights,” including prisoners. They seek global pressure to move Israel to lift the tortuous U.S.-backed eight-year siege of Gaza.

Turkish women resolutely marched toward Istanbul’s Taksim Square, site of last year’s anti-government protests, to protest gender inequality, poverty and sexist violence. Riot police used batons to stop the demonstrators, who pushed back and yelled, “Police go home, the streets are ours.”

Celebrations throughout Africa

Women across the African continent celebrated International Women’s Day at varied events. In South Africa, the African National Congress Youth League congratulated the women of the world in their struggles for equality. They pledged that their “branches will engage in programs that fight against the abuse and marginalization of women by demanding progress for all through inclusion of women and young women in particular in all activities and structures.”

The Congress of South African Trade Unions’ event and resolution supported “the gravely and brutally oppressed women of Palestine and their masses in their struggle for political emancipation.”

Austerity: No, solidarity: Yes

Women in Greece and elsewhere in Europe protested austerity layoffs, wage reductions and cutbacks in social programs imposed by European banks and their own governments.

Paris marchers expressed solidarity with women in struggle worldwide, including Palestinians. Kurds, Tamils and other immigrant and oppressed peoples joined union members, socialists and other women activists and progressives. Members of lesbian, gay, bi, trans and queer organizations participated in this pro-struggle event.

Thousands rallied in Madrid, Barcelona and other cities in the Spanish state for jobs, equal pay and workplace rights. They were united in their opposition to the conservative government’s move to criminalize abortions, contrary to 80 percent of the population’s views.

Women organize in the Caribbean

Women in Puerto Rico marched on International Women’s Day in support of teachers.

Haitian women in a newly formed political party, proclaimed at their press conference, “The women of the Desalines Koordination (KOD) say with force that March 8 is a day to stand against the bourgeois and imperialist violence that is waged against women, workers, laborers and peasants. … The women of KOD denounce all the maneuvers for a coup d’etat that the imperialists are preparing for Venezuela. We are in solidarity with President Nicolaás Maduro and with the women of Venezuela who are defending the Bolivarian revolution.”

In Havana, Cuba, the 9th Congress of the Federation of Cuban Women met on March 7 and 8 to plan further initiatives to promote the 4-million-member organization’s central role in the country’s social and economic transformation.

Due to the FMC’s work and the socialist government’s commitment to women’s full participation, their gains can be seen everywhere. Cuban women insist the U.S. end its 55—year blockade and free the Cuban 5’s three remaining U.S. prisoners.

Defend Venezuela

Venezuelan women are defending President Maduro’s government from violent U.S.-backed coup attempts. They have joined mass demonstrations, including on International Women’s Day. On Feb. 22, thousands rallied for Maduro and pledged to “fight for Venezuela.”

On March 8, Maduro saluted Venezuelan women at a peace conference in Caracas. He emphasized that to have socialism, women must have equality. Under President Hugo Chávez’s leadership, women — farmers, students and workers — made great advances. Importantly, they form one-third of the armed forces. The Women’s Battalion is crucial in protecting the Bolivarian Revolution.

Hundreds of campesinas (peasant farmers) traveled throughout Honduras to march in Tegucigalpa for full rights and land reform, opposing corporate land seizures. Others protested mining companies’ pollution. Everyone demanded government action against femicides.

Resistance is the essence of International Women’s Day. That and solidarity.