International Women's Day - a world wide report
Updated: Mar 13
International Women's Day March 8, 2020 once again marked a historic development of feminist struggle around the world. The coronavirus made mass mobilizations impossible in some countries where they would otherwise have become very large, including Lebanon and Italy and yet, several records were broken this weekend of March 6th-9th.
Just as at the onset of the third great era of world feminist movements, the struggle has its strongest engine in Latin America.It is incredibly fascinating to watch the videos of huge masses, one to two million people, flowing through Santiago. The crowd itself transformed into a performance, it opened up and gave way to the street painting with the word “Historical” in huge letters that could be seen from the point of view of the camera drones.
“It may be the largest demonstration in Mexico's history, between 0.5 million and one million people”, says Mauro Espinola of ISA's group in Mexico, Alternative Socialista México, about the March 8th demonstration:
The day after, called “a day without women”, there were women striking throughout the country against violence and femicide, and to make women visible through their absence. It was estimated in advance that 36 million women would go on strike, which in practice had the effect of a general strike.
This had a massive impact. One of the country's largest banks could only open 400 of their 1,400 offices and hundreds of schools remained closed all day. In a protest against consumerism, women would avoid doing any shopping as well. It is estimated that the country's economic losses amounts to $1.1 billion.
The strike partially targeted left-wing president Lopez Obrador, who has not done enough to address the deadly violence against women which has more than doubled over the past four years. Parts of the right and the capitalists attempted to infiltrate the women’s strike in their agenda against Obrador, which points to the need for an independent class-based women's struggle that places its own demands on the redistribution of the country's resources - against the power of the big corporations and the banks.
On March 9th, there was also a women's strike in Argentina that largely put the country on halt, with tens of thousands in the streets both against violence against women and for abortion rights. New President Alberto Fernandez has again presented a bill to legalize abortion.
In many other countries such as Colombia, Uruguay and Bolivia, people of all genders were out in the streets together. In São Paulo, Brazil, between 10,000 and 15,000 people demonstrated in the rain on March 8th. Jane Barros, one of the members of ROSA's coordination group (and ISA's women's bureau) was one of the speakers.
“The construction of socialist feminism is urgent and it must be international. Specific cultural differences and demands are no different when it comes to attacks from chauvinist capitalism. Even the small improvements can disappear. We see how cuts in welfare, such as health care and school, and even things like the right to abortion are removed. Abortion clinics are closed. Networks that support women who are exposed to men's violence receive reduced grants. In Brazil, there is now a zero budget in support of victims of domestic violence.”, said Jane Barros.
In the Spanish State, the March 8 demonstrations were about half the size this year, but still very large across the country in 800 places. In Madrid, for example, 120,000 people compared to 350,000 last year, in Seville there were 20,000 compared to 50,000 last year. This is the third year of tremendous feminist strikes and mass struggles. Now, on the one hand, "all" politicians have started calling themselves feminists and the right-wing party PP joined the demonstrations; on the other hand, the right-wing extremist VOX is opposing the feminist movement . VOX and the right have introduced a new law that will be used to stop meetings on LGBTQ + struggle and feminism in schools. In addition to the fear of the coronavirus, the fact that March 8th fell on a Sunday was a cause of lower attendance. Another was the split in the movement between petty-bourgeois feminists and the trans community - in Seville, for example, there were two parallel demonstrations of about 10,000 each.
The student union Sindicato de Estudantes had called for a student strike on March 6. 100,000 students demonstrated in 40 cities. They demanded sex education and a stop for the new VOX law. Another common slogan was the struggle against increased violence. The PSOE government has just introduced a sexual consent law, but there are big questions about how it should be implemented.
ROSA and ISA received a very good response to our socialist feminism in Seville. 300 people bought our magazine La Brecha and 88 people reported their interest in becoming active. We argued against bourgeois feminism that triggers moral panic against transgender people while refusing to question the distribution of resources. A positive example was from the city of Huelva where hotel cleaners, street vendors and strawberry pickers merged with the feminist movement and demanded, among other things, the fight against cuts, increased wages and decent living.
In Germany and France, the feminist struggle is on the rise. In Germany there were demonstrations in 30 cities with a total of 63,000 participants, of which 25,000 were in Berlin - this is in contrast with two small demonstrations throughout the country seven years ago.
Last year, Emmanuel Macron tried to divert the grassroots struggle of the Yellow Vests movement against right-wing politics by, among other things, conducting consultations with popular meetings on men's violence against women. This failed both because the militant far-reaching strike against pension reform started and because the talks developed into a feminist struggle from below which was already massive on November 25th. On March 8th, 60,000 people demonstrated in Paris and several thousands in other cities. Anger in France had been accentuated by the recent decision to give the ‘César Awards’ for best film director to notorious child molester and rapist Roman Polanski. While green is the colour of the feminist struggle in Argentina and Spain, and in Italy it is purple, in France it is blue after worker Rosie the Riveter (“Yes we can do it”, USA during the Second World War).
Also in Switzerland, March 8th was larger this year than in previous years with a full week of activities as a result of the massive women's strike for equal pay last summer.
The fact that there was a feminist strike in Cyprus was a new feature, with a one hour women's strike on March 6th. ISA / ROSA said they supported the idea of a strike but not a strike like this which had blessings from the bosses and the state. We need demands on the bosses and the state in order to fight against sexism, inequality and capitalist exploitation. There were human chains organized during the time of the strike in which the women working in the public sector participated. The majority of the private sector did not participate, except for some companies that called in support of the strike.
Thousands of women demonstrated in Pakistan, among other things under the slogan “My body, my choice”, in some of the biggest women’ rights demonstrations the country has experienced in recent history. Pakistan is the third worst country in the world for women according to the World Economic Forum. The newspaper DW reports that the growing women's movement is also being met with growing opposition from conservatives and right-wing islamists. In Islamabad, the March 8th demonstration was attacked with stones and sticks and several participants were injured.
Fascist attacks on March 8th demonstrations took place in, among others, Moscow, Mexico City and in the Spanish state.
The Chilean leadership in the wave of feminism is shown by how the performance “Un violador en tu camino” from the end of last year was spread and continues to spread throughout the world. The text points out that the state is responsible for the sexist violence and even on International Women's Day, feminists were attacked by police in countries such as Chile, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan. The BBC reports that women's rights activists in the capital Bishkek were first assaulted by men in masks and then detained by police. Women's rights are deteriorating in the country.
Despite the ban, the women's movement in Turkey managed to gather thousands of people in the demonstrations. In both Athens and Turkey at the border with Greece, feminists and refugees organized demonstrations with placards that read "do not kill us - we are human beings".
In Russia, the SFA - Socialist Feminist Alternative called for an hour of feminist strike on the last working day before March 8, ie March 6. They play a pioneering role in a political situation where the repression against women has hardened dramatically under Putin. The strike call received tremendous support and actions were planned in Kaliningrad, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, Yakutsk, the Ural Mountains and also in Ukraine. Strike campaigns were carried out at 11 universities and three schools in Moscow.
However, the state spent a lot of resources trying to stop the struggle. In Moscow, "Department E'' was activated within the police for this purpose. So far, big strikes are not possible in Russia, but the point is to break the political hegemony and back up pioneers who, through smaller actions, are raising femnist ideas.
For many years, there have been no demonstrations on March 8th in Vancouver, Canada. Socialist Alternative took the initiative to change this and organized a demonstration with the UNITE-HERE club 40 trade union and the new left party COPE (which recently got a municipal councilor elected). UNITE organized a successful strike with 1,200 hotel employees last year. All this and much more, such as the climate struggle and the struggle for the indigenous peoples, were given a voice at the demonstration.
In Sweden, ISA was a co-organizer of the International Women’s Day committee’s demonstrations in Luleå, Stockholm and Gothenburg. A major theme was the fight against cuts, not least in health care. Even before the coronavirus, Swedish healthcare was in deep crisis because of extensive cuts and privatizations and now Swedish society is at a standstill and cannot cope with the spread of infection. In the world over the past two years, labor and women's struggles have been fueled by teachers and healthcare workers' strikes and demonstrations. The demands of redistributing resources from bank speculation and military expenditures - into major investments in health care, education and child/elderlycare are, now with coronavirus, a crucial issue.
In Belgium, too, March 8th was very sizeable. Despite the rain, over 10,000 people took part in the national demonstration in Brussels, where the main slogan was defense of social security ROSA's block of 1000 was very successful and 100 new people signed up to become active. On March 9, ROSA students were on strike together with cleaning and dining staff at Ghent University. Through this action, 8 out of 12 restaurants had to remain closed. The week continued with a planned trade unions demonstration on March 14th also there with the demand of 14 euros in minimum wage, but it has been cancelled due to coronavirus.
In Linz, Austria, the network Nicht mit mir, “Not in my name,” (affiliated with ROSA) organized a demonstration of 300 participants, larger than in previous years. Unlike past arrangements that have been close collaboration of various leftist groups, Nicht mit mir opened up. They invited activists among social movements who, through major democratic discussions, came forward with what program is needed. A list of demands was set up such as free childcare, cheap rental rights, minimum wage and shortened working week all connected to the need of system change. Capitalism itself is built on repression and must be abolished.
The SLP, the Austrian section of the ISA, dosen't want to put the question of a women's or a feminist strike very abstract: our activists were not only part of the demonstrations in Vienna, Graz and Linz. Everywhere we put our focus on the strikes that are taking place in the social sector at the moment, for a reduction of working hours at full pay.
ISA and ROSA were active in many other countries that took action for International Women’s Day, such as Poland, Israel/Palestine, Côte d'Ivoire and Greece. In London, Socialist Alternative held its first ‘Bread and Roses - Socialist Feminist Convention’. In Dublin ROSA led an amazing demonstration alongside activists from Argentina who celebrated the upcoming abortion victory.
Back to Chile. A feminist party has been formed in Chile this year, which is a step away from the widespread party skepticism that is often and understandably dominating in movements. It is a step toward political organization. “March 8 The Committee” in Chile has pointed to the important role of the women's struggle, along with other social movements, for many years leading up to the uproar against neoliberalism and state oppression. Now the question is how to proceed.
After various social movements and the left agreed to join a referendum on a new constitution together with the holiday period in the country, the movement has cooled slightly. But with March 8, the movement will regain momentum. Everything is questioned. The constitution, gender oppression and the class system. These are issues that are completely interwoven and require a pervasive socialist revolution to be solved. It will not suffice with feminism but also needs a socialist view of how grassroots committees can become the permanent base in a new constitution for labor power that also needs to claim the companies and the banks' economic activities.
To summarize, International Women’s Day 2020 demonstrated that the movement is still growing in many countries and can inspire millions and millions again. It is the lesson from Spain and Cyprus that a socialist leadership and organization is needed to take the fight forward, while bourgeois feminist leadership will demobilize the movement. The attacks from the men of the state - the armed police - in many countries and also from the extreme right show how dangerous the reaction is, as well as obstacles such as coronavirus specially handled by the hostile capitalist powers. It will not be enough to demonstrate. It will require a conscious organization of the working class to lead a massive takeover of power. Capitalism needs to be abolished, and in its place a democratic socialist society must be established in order for real equality and freedom for everyone to see the light of day.