March 8 Events Connect the Dots Between War and the Oppression of Women Worldwide

Amy L. Dalton, 15.03.2008

For about a century, communities across the globe have claimed March 8 as a chance to honor women's contributions to society, and demand policies that promote their rights and dignity. This year saw a refreshing upsurge in celebrations of IWD in the US, as coalitions organized convergences in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Houston, Philadelphia, Massachusetts, and New York. Marches brought together feminists, union members, community activists working against gentrification, environmentalists. The gatherings drew connections between these “homefront” issues and opposition to the ongoing war in Iraq, and lifted up the work of women over the centuries to bind up the wounds of war and oppression.

Pictured: IWD event in Houston, TX supports a female artistic movement: Audio and Photos

More Reports from the Newswire: NYC & LA | Los Angeles, CA | Worcester, MA | Philly, PA | Bay Area, CA





History

By some accounts, "International Women's Day" (IWD) began in exactly a century ago in New York City when garment worker's held a march demanding the vote and an end to sweatshop working conditions. (See histories by CWLU and CLUW.) The following year, the Socialist Party of America issued a declaration affirming the day, and in 1910 it was endorsed by the Second International. During World War I, women in Russia and Europe used the day as an opportunity for anti-war protests (see the UN's history). The UN endorsed the day in 1975, and today it is an official holiday in over 2 dozen countries, and celebrated in dozen's more.

Organizers of this year's actions, coming from a variety of organizations and political perspectives, want to see a resurgence of mass action around IWD. They all see a direct link between the funneling of trillions of dollars of tax money to the war budget and the underfunding of critical social services at home. Moreover, this is an important point of solidarity between women worldwide, as the same money that should be going to support communities here is instead going to decimate community infrastructure in war-torn countries. And in both places, working class women — and especially working class women of color — are almost always the ones to pick up the pieces.

"We're here to let people know that we are with women all around the world who think that the war is unjust and a waste of our government's money," said USC Social Work student Kathryn Cronin, who attend a march through downtown Los Angeles organized by the Mariposa Alliance/GABNet. The coalition organized a similar protest in New York City, which ended at the site of the famous 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.

Invest in Caring, not Killing

"The cost of war and occupation in Iraq is estimated at $3 trillion, yet our basic needs are not met," said Margaret Prescod of Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike, who chaired a panel discussion in Los Angeles. "Welfare for single mothers is cut as are resources for schools. Healthcare is unaffordable, and those in need of homecare and other full time care, including injured Vets, are tossed to the side with little support. The environment is devastated and racism and poverty ensures that the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world."

Over the past decade, the Global Women's Strike network has organized protests in dozens of countries — including Trinidad, Tanzania, India, England, and Venezuela — to draw attention to this link between war funding and grassroots poverty. “It is not enough to demand the end of the war,” explains Selma James, international coordinator of the Strike. “We must demand the end of military budgets, which ensure death and destruction, by depriving us of our most basic needs… We want that money invested in caring; then we will be sure the killing will stop.”

The Strike initiated its March 8 protests in 2000, after decades of organizing under the banner of the International Wages for Housework Campaign (IWHC). Founded in 1972, the IWHC pursued the counting and remunerating of the unwaged work that takes place outside of the formal economy ― work that is overwhelmingly performed by women. They see the counting of this work as the first step in reorienting our society's priorities away from war and destruction and toward life.

Making Visible the Invisible

Right now, the work that women do has a painful, tragic component to it. Women create and recreate the communities that are utilized and raped — both literally and metaphorically — for the gain of a tiny few rather than the whole. In situations of direct conflict, and in working class communities decimated by lack of resources, women bury the dead, give care to men who have returned from the battlefield with physical and emotional scars, hike miles and wait in line to get water and food, raise children alone ― and organize to help each other with these burdens. It is this realm of labor that life relies on.

“Women make the whole working class,” said James. “We have to recognize that we are in one giant factory, and we all want to get out.”

This year's IWD events provided a chance for healing and recognizing each other's participation in the creation of life. Speakers drew connections between the lack of basic provisions that our grassroots experience, the wanton funding of the military, and the labor that women do to fill in the gaps, clean up the messes, and glue the broken pieces back together. “All were welcome at the fire,” said Sha'Ifa Ma, one of the co-conveners of the Philadelphia protest. “[Each] could bring her memories of times past. We also had elders present who remembered celebrations for womyn in Philadelphia, that were older than some of our physical ages.... commitments were made, womyn's/people's work was energized, spirit world was honored. Ashe.”

From the Newswires:

From Los Angeles: A multi-racial panel of women including a formerly incarcerated woman, a survivor of domestic violence fighting for both welfare and higher education, a daughter taking care of her elderly mother, a young woman active in the urban farms movement, and a sex workers network, shared their experience of struggle for resources for basic survival needs for themselves, their children and other loved ones and their communities. Read More: Women Say Fund Caregiving Not War & Occupation

From New York: In New York, a heavy rainstorm dampened celebrations of International Women's Day. However, when the Ma-Al/GABNet speak-out began at the Washington Square Park, the rain stopped abruptly and kept away until the end of the event. Thus, led by GABNet Secretary-General Dorothea Mendoza, the poetry-reading, singing and chanting proceeded, on a make-shift stage of long strips of purple and red clothes spread on the soggy ground. While all the performers were women, they were from different ethnic/racial backgrounds, including African-American, Caucasian and Philippine ancestry. Read More: Women Close Downtown LA Street; Brave NY Storm in 8th March Commemoration

From Worcester-IMC: Women Together/Mujeres Unidas celebrated with a potluck and share of stories at the Pleasant Street Neighborhood Network Center. Around thirty women told wonderful stories of strength honoring their mothers and grandmothers. From an Indian poem, the mothers of Plaza de Mayo story, to anonymous immigrant mothers and their struggle to survive with their children made an energy of unity flow among us. Read More: International Women's Day

More Coverage: Philly, PA | Bay Area, CA

Related Links:

Iraqi Women Quietly Endure Horrors of War by Cyril Mychalejko
Working Toward Peaceful Resolution of Conflict on IWD by Raging Granny
Happy International Women's Day by Haitian Priorities Project
3 Women for Peace by Think Peace
This Moment and The Oppression of Women by Rosa Harris
Pesante-USA Solidarity Statement on LA IWD March




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