Feminists reclaim the International Women’s Day as a day of action
By Saionara König-Reis
Today, on the International Women’s Day, feminist movements from over 30 countries are calling for a women’s strike, for a Day Without Women in their productive and reproductive functions.
For over a century, women in different regions of the world have united around national and international women’s days to fight oppression, discrimination and inequality. In different moments in history, these days have served as the stage for strong women’s mobilization for the right to vote, to work, to property, to safety at home and in the streets, to have authority over their own bodies, and more. Achieving these rights has been a battle, and we are still far from reaching the point where every woman is safe and every society provides equal opportunities for all.
During the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, women started joining the labour force under extensive working hours, low wages and environments that were unsafe for the most part. Since then they have been taking the streets to fight for better conditions at work and for their economic welfare. By current days, after over 100 years of fight, one could have imagined that the gender gap in the labour market belonged to the past.
Instead, in the European Union women get paid an average of 17% less for doing the same job as their male counterparts. Worldwide, only 20% of the executive positions are occupied by women. In 2016, 44% of women were inactive against 18% for men, thus accounting for 81% of the inactive population.
And while Western Europe is leading the close-the-gap race and is expected to close the economic gender gap within 47 years, women from Middle Eastern and North African countries won’t see it happening within the next 356 years!
The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Calculator provides detailed information on the brutal reality of the gender disparities in each one of 144 different countries, including time left before closing the gender gap, the country’s global ranking, amount of money earned by women vs men, maternity leaves, labour force participation and literacy, among other data.
In some countries, the economic gender gap is amongst the main reasons why women are striking today. Their motives however vary depending on their situations: today women are also striking to raise awareness on gender-based violence and sexual harassment, to guarantee access to sexual and reproductive rights, and above all to end the culture of gender inequality and discrimination that places women in constant vulnerability and disadvantage in their private and public lives.
The past months have been filled with women’s mobilizations in several countries, with remarkable movements raising in Argentina and other countries in Latin America, in the United States, and in Poland, Ireland and South Korea. Today, the strike is taking different shapes in different countries and cities, but we are all united to reclaim, once again, the International Women’s Day as a day of action.
The Women’s Strike movement in the US
Feminist movements in the US have been enlarging and multiplying ever since the last presidential election. In sign of resistance and as a reaction against the ultra-conservative governments elected in this country and overseas, the Women’s March of January 21 showed the power of collective actions and the commitment of millions of people across the globe for women’s rights and the rights of other minority groups. Furthering this momentum, feminists and activists across the US have responded to a call for worldwide women’s strike on 8 March, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, and in less than a month they have organized over 40 actions nationwide.
In the US the Women’s Strike is carrying a strong message for the raise of a new feminism. In the words of Nancy Fraser, one of the activists behind the call in the country and who last week spoke at an event to mobilize for today’s strike, “the legitimacy of the regime we’ve been living in has crumbled (…) it is time to break definitively with a ‘corporate feminism’ that is tailored for only a few privileged women; it is time to build the ‘Feminism for the 99%’ (the F99, as Fraser puts it).
The movement asserts that the feminism of this generation must understand the complexity of the issues faced by the different groups of women and must respond to them in all of their intersectionalities. Above all, this feminism questions the systemic structure of capitalism, neo-liberalism and imperialism, and it understands that in a system based on the exploitation of the other, gender equality and universal women’s empowerment will never happen.
In this moment of boiling energy around the meaning of feminism and of the word itself, there is a real and rare opportunity for women across borders to unite around our common struggles and goals, an opportunity to demand that societies respect, recognize, value, protect, and include us all.