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IWD march hits war, economy, bigotry

Published Mar 11, 2009 4:32 PM

For the second year in a row, the International Women’s Day Philadelphia Coalition has brought together women from diverse communities, cultures and struggles.

Construction workers march
in Philadelphia.
WW photo: Joe Piette

This year’s event included strong participation from Latina, Asian and Black women, as well as many activists from Philadelphia’s LGBT community. With the growing economic crisis hitting women the hardest, many speakers addressed social and economic justice issues, including the mortgage crisis, health care reform and the struggle to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Jaci Adams, representing Transgender Women of Color, spoke at a City Hall rally, noting that it was the first time she knew of in Philadelphia that a transgender woman was invited to speak at an IWD event. Helen Gym of Parents United for Public Education and Asian Americans United described her community’s fight against attempts to build a gambling casino in Chinatown, already impacted by gambling addiction.

The rally featured many young women who presented the history of IWD and read from a resolution honoring the day passed by the Philadelphia City Council on March 6. Louise Francis of NOW addressed corporate greed and the drive for profits as the root causes of the mortgage and foreclosure crisis. The outdoor event was followed by a march to an indoor afternoon rally at the Family Planning Council office on South Broad Street.

After a ceremonial opening featuring Aztec drumming and dance by Fuego Nuevo from the Raíces Culturales Latinoamericanas and songs from the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, Afghan activist Suraya Pakzad addressed the crowd. In 1988, this Afghan mother of six founded Voice of Women, one of only a few women’s nongovernmental organizations in Afghanistan.

Pakzad explained that while by law, women in Afghanistan have the right to go to school, to work and to walk on the streets, real practices concerning women haven’t changed. Every 13 minutes a woman in Afghanistan dies in childbirth and many children do not survive to their fifth birthday.

Other speakers included Kathy Black of the Coalition of Labor Union Women and U.S. Labor Against the War, who said women are disproportionately the victims of war, of suffering in countries under occupation and from the economic impact of a wartime economy and suffering as soldiers subject to sexual abuse and rape.

Pattie Eakin, president of the Pennsylvania Association of Nurses and Allied Professionals, spoke on the need to pass HB 676 for Universal Single Payer Healthcare. She noted that, because of lack of health care, women in the U.S. are far more likely to die from childbirth due to medical complications than women in 32 other countries.

Focusing her remarks on the importance of passing the Employee Free Choice Act, Roni Green of SEIU spoke on the conditions working women face in today’s near-depression economy. “It’s a race to the bottom,” she noted, referring to the decline in wages and employee benefits. “Women need union protection to fight for a livable wage, health care and a guaranteed pension.”

Green described conditions for women working at Wal-Mart who are paid minimum wage and must rely on government programs for health care and food stamps. She noted, “During his election campaign Obama was attacked for suggesting ‘a redistribution of the wealth.’ But workers are the ones who create the wealth and we’re only asking for what is ours. The fight for the Employee Free Choice Act may be one of the most important struggles in the upcoming period.”