INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY ROUND-UP March 8, 2006
Report compiled by Jennifer Fasulo firstname.lastname@example.org A version of this report can be heard on the Joy of Resistance Feminist Multi-Cultural Radio by visiting http://www.wbai.org/, & clicking on the archives for March 23 at 11am.
All around the world on March 8, women took to the streets for International Working Women’s Day, showing unequivocally that women’s liberation and women’s rights are universal. The March 8th day of protest dates back to the radical socialist movements of the early 20th century. However, it was not celebrated in the US for many decades due to US anti-communism. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the celebration was revived by the Women’s Liberation Movement.
This year’s demonstrations emphasized equality and reproductive freedom, ending violence against women, particularly state sponsored and religious violence, as well as the sexist affects of poverty, exploitation and war. Demonstrations took place in every continent and women’s day events occurred in almost every country in the world. Many of the most powerful demonstrations could be seen in countries ruled by Islamic governments where misogyny and sexism are enshrined in law. Women of the Middle East and Asia set an example of feminist militancy for the world’s women to follow. Iranian women and their male supporters braved police assaults and arrests in order to demand their rights. Turkish women, savagely beaten in last year’s March 8 protest, returned in ever larger numbers, declaring, “we will not be silenced.” Mukhtar Mai, the Bangladeshi woman who was gang-raped by order of a village council, led thousand in a march against the kind of violence she was subjected to.
The United States, on the other hand, was notable for its lack of large scale protest, especially as Roe Vs Wade hangs in the balance. The South Dakota law banning abortion, even in the case of rape or incest, is designed to overturn Roe V Wade in the increasingly right-wing supreme court. It is just the most recent attack on women’s rights and freedom coming from the right-wing religious movement in our own backyard. While the US left remained more or less silent for March 8, the right-wing, led by George and Laura Bush, once again capitalized on the opportunity to co-opt women’s rights by holding an International Women’s Day event in the White House. Bush continues to use the rhetoric of promoting women’s rights to justify the public and foreign policies that are in fact undermining and destroying women’s rights world-wide.
The following report chronicles just some of the highlights of March 8 demonstrations around the world.
One of the largest demonstrations took place in Brazil where some ten thousand women, including representatives of 80 different organizations, marched to demand the decriminalization of abortion and end to violence against women. Women of all ages and races joined in the lively and colorful march. Brazil's Women's Health Network estimates that one million illegal abortions are performed each year, and are the fourth major cause of death in Brazilian women.
The Brazil march initiated a world tour for a Women’s Global Charter for Equal Rights that will go to 53 countries and end in Africa in October.
In other areas of Brazil, women protested in front of the Presidential Palace demanding the right to collect retirement funds for homemakers and 500 women of the Landless Rural Workers' Movement occupied the Toca de la Raposa ranch, to demand an agrarian reform which will include property rights for all women.
Women of the Landless Rural Workers Movement
PAKISTAN & BANGLADESH
"Women demand freedom! Women demand their rights!” chanted 5000 women and their male supporters in a demonstration in Multan Pakistan. Protesters decried rape and honor killings and demanded repeal of the Hudood Ordinance, a law based on Islamic Sharia which legalizes religious practices and is highly discriminatory against women.
Among leaders of the rally was Mukhtar Mai, a woman who was gang-raped in 2002 on orders by a council of villagers near Multan as punishment for her brother's alleged affair with a woman from a higher caste family. Mai has emerged as a powerful symbol of women fighting back against victimization.
"I have dedicated my life to women's rights. Wherever a woman is oppressed, I will go there and fight for her rights," Mai told reporters at the rally.
Women also marched by the thousands in cities in Bangladesh, pressing similar demands and denouncing acid attacks against women. Acid attacks are when men throw acid in women’s faces because the women refuse their advances or otherwise are perceived as not adhering to religious or cultural norms. Men in Dhaka held their own rally in solidarity with the women and added their condemnation of acid attacks which have permanently disfigured an estimated 2000 women in the past 5 years in Dhaka.
4000 women sex workers, transgender and sexual minorities staged a protest march in the capital of India. They demanded their right to be treated as other workers and opposed amendments of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act (ITPA) which empower police harassment and deny them of their means of survival. Representatives from 16 states, including sex workers organizations, women’s and AIDS organizations came together for the march. The march began at the Bharat Scouts and Guides camp and ended at Jantar Mantar. National Aids Control Organization (NACO) director Sujatha said, ''With the community of women taking control over their life, I see this massive celebration as a positive sign,'' she said. Participants sought recognition of their work in reducing HIV/AIDS. National Aids Council member Smarjit Jana said’ We are not against laws to check trafficking but the government's sole focus has been on pulling people out of sex work, while ignoring the very factor that pushes individuals and communities in the business,'' she added. A representative of the transgendered demonstrators, Ashodaya Mahila Samanwaya said 'Hijras' faced the worst oppression. ''We are criminalized by both the laws - ITPA and Section 377 IPC. We are not recognized as having a gender. She added. ''We are in this profession not just out of choice but by default... We can only do this work or beg. If this amendment comes into force, our only option is death... “
International Women's Day was celebrated in several cities in Iran, despite government crack-down on opposition. In Tehran, a thousand women activists and other human rights defenders gathered under the banner: “March 8, A Day of Women’s Liberation.” The peaceful gathering was attacked and women were assaulted by anti riot forces, soldiers and police. Ms. Simin Behbehani, a well-known feminist poet, who is elderly and partially blind was also beaten with a baton and then kicked repeatedly by security guards, amidst objection by women protesters. Protesters chanted slogans and held signs reading, “Violence Against Women is Violence Against Humanity” and “Long Live March 8!”
Other large celebrations were held in Sanandaj where participants condemned the Islamic Republic’s atrocities against women, demanded equal rights for women and condemned the US government’s military threats against Iran. A 4 day march was held in Europe organized by the Campaign for the Abolition of All Misogynist, Gender-Based Legislation & Islamic Punitive Laws in Iran. A caravan of Iranian women and their supporters traveled from Frankfurt Germany to the Hague Netherlands, holding rallies outside the Iranian embassies. A skit was performed in which a mullah (Islamic cleric) led a veiled woman by a chain into the public square. The veiled woman then rose up, threw off her veil and together with other women, broke her chain and used it to chain the mullah. This was met by cries of jubilation from the audience. Solidarity rallies with the European march were held in Berkeley and NYC.
Other Iranians in exile also held protests in many cities around the world, as they do every year, including a conference against honor killings in Germany that was attended by several hundred women and organized by the Organization of Women’s Liberation in Iran.
16/03/2006: In Egypt, the Egyption Center for Women’s Rights planned a celebration to raise awareness about Egyptian women’s Rights and announce new draft legislation to increase women’s political participation. It was to be attended by 800 women and 25 women’s and development NGOs. Hours before the event was to take place, it was cancelled by the Ministry of Education, which cited the event as a “security threat.” The Center for Women’s Rights decried the decision and called for an investigation of the reasons for the cancellation.
Women in Ramallah marched from Al Manara (the city centre) to the Palestinian Presidential compound. But the march was challenged by a counter demonstration of Hamas supporters, who want to annul Women's Day, under the pretext that it is a “Western phenomenon,” and therefore alien to Palestinian culture and traditions. Margo Sabella, a member of MIFTAH, a secular pro-Palestinian organization responded, “The Palestinian women's movement can be traced back at least to the early 20th Century, and is unquestionably part of the universal women's movement which must be encouraged in order for humanity to truly achieve justice, liberty, freedom, and equality for all.”
Every year on 8 March, Palestinian women commemorate International Women's Day, despite the enormous obstacles of living under the Israeli Occupation. By law, the Palestinian constitution provides for equal rights between women and men, but in practice women experience widespread discrimination in the public and private areas. Furthermore, as Hamas takes the helm, many are concerned that whatever basic rights Palestinian women have will be taken away and reformulated according to religious practices and values.
NEW ORLEANS, USA
In New Orleans, a mock funeral demonstration and rally was organized by the Global Women’s Strike for Peace to highlight the ravages of racism and sexism in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Protesters went into the streets for a “Second Line” march – a traditional New Orleans funeral celebration . They honored those who died in New Orleans and gave tribute to the mobilization of survivors, which was being led primarily by women. Elders led the “Second Line” march, carrying a banner that read “From New Orleans to Haiti to Iraq to LA: Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives: Fighting for Our Loved Ones’ Lives” in English and Spanish.
March organizer, Margaret Prescod, asked, “Why are women the poorer sex? Why is it largely women who do the clean-up work after disasters like Katrina? And why doesn’t anyone know this?” For hope, Prescod pointed to the Global South, where the Venezuelan revolution is paying women for housework after years of women activists pushing this demand.
Global Women’s Strike events also took place in Guyana, India, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, Peru, Ireland and the UK.
Women in the Phillipines also risked arrests and police intimidation when thousands of women marched in cities throughout the country. Many of the rallies focused on opposition to the current president Gloria Arroyo for her attacks on women’s rights and civil rights generally. "We're certainly not celebrating her. We're repudiating her on International Women's Day. You cannot celebrate the struggle to liberate women without denouncing this particular woman," said Carol Araullo, chair of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
Women activists criticized Arroyo for her lack of commitment to women’s rights, pointing out that she has put women’s lives and health at risk by denying support for reproductive health and family planning services. They also charged her with contributing to the feminization of migration and poverty and not giving sufficient funding to the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women. “We want a government that truly respects, protects and promotes women’s human rights,” declared the Women’s Groups Statement, “Oust Arroyo!”
One demonstration at the border of Quezon City also raised issues of violence against women and child pornography. The police forced the dispersal of the crowd, using violence and arresting two of the march leaders. Jean Enriquez of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women-Asia Pacific, said the dispersal was an "insult" to the women who had no plan of violence in staging the protest action. She said the violence clearly originated with the police.
Women took to the streets in Istanbul and Ankara Turkey, despite brutal assaults by police in last year’s March 8 demonstration. Last year when women gathered in Istanbul for a peaceful celebration, the police attacked them, beating them with batons, and spraying them with pepper spray. Women, young and old, were dragged on the streets, kicked and beaten until they fell. When a film of the beatings was shown in Europe it caused an uproar. According to Mehmet Bayram of the Middle East Radio Project, this year, “The female police tried handing flowers to their ‘sisters.’ But many people rejected this gesture.”
Women marched, sand and chanted slogans, “We Won’t Be Silenced” Long live Women’s Solidarity”, “Free daycare, Free Healthcare”, and “We won’t be somebody else’s honor” referring to the honor killings of women that has swept the country. Many demonstrations were organized by the Peoples Houses Organization, a militant community and worker association organizing among the poorest neighborhoods in Turkey.
In a report to the press, Ilknur Birol a member of the Peoples Houses Organization, declared, “We the women, hard-working laborers of society; we are celebrating March 8th with all the women of the world to take control of our lives from the claws of poverty and exploitation. We join to take back our lives from the quiet corners of workshops, from our houses that have turned into jails, and from the street corners that we were pushed into. We are struggling against the system that pushes us to more poverty everyday, that feminized poverty; We are struggling for a system where honor killings or women’s suicides do not exist, where we can send our kids to free schools and pre-schools, where we are not subject to any aggression from fathers, husbands or the state, where we are not the cheapest workers in the factories, free workers in the fields, forced workers at homes!”
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