By Doug Porter
We should all be thankful that retailing moguls haven’t been able to figure out a way to make International Women’s Day a sales event.
In San Diego, a mid-day downtown (7th & B) demonstration heralded the struggles of Immigrant Women around the world, calling out poverty, abuse and exploitation in the janitorial workforce.
Today we’ll take a look around the media world to see what is happening with regard to women on March 8, 2016.
A Strong and Well-led Protest
What if you gave a demonstration and too many people showed up? That’s a good problem to have, right?
A coalition of local groups made this year’s International Women’s Day observance in San Diego about working conditions in the custodial industry and the plight of immigrant women in the US.
A picket line was to start at 11:30am at 7th & B outside the Copley Hall building, home to a janitorial operation with a record of treating their workers poorly. The Service Employees International Union has been seeking to organize those workers.
There’s room out in front of the building for maybe 250 people to march in a picket line. By noon, the line wasn’t moving anymore. Successive waves from sympathetic groups like the United Domestic Workers grew the crowd to more than 500.
What was supposed to be a march down one-half of B Street turned into a sea of people chanting Si Se Puede (and many other things) and filling the whole street. They were loud and they were proud, heading down towards what was promised to be a very short rally on the plaza outside city hall.
Waiting for them were a half-dozen anti-abortion demonstrators, displaying blown-up pictures and signs with slogans about how everybody was going to hell. It could have been ugly, but it wasn’t, thanks to quick thinking by the organizers’ security. Each of the anti-abortion people was surrounded by monitors, who kept them engaged and away from any would-be hotheads.
The Good Old Days (NOT)
The acceptance of women as human beings, having human rights and an equal role in society only goes back a couple of centuries in western culture. And changing those attitudes has come from ongoing political struggle.
In the United States, the women’s movement paralleled the growth of abolitionist activism. It was also deeply rooted in the struggle to organize workplaces against exploitation.
Some say International Women’s Day started as an event organized by the Socialist Party of America honoring the first anniversary of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.
Others say it was organized in remembrance of an 1857 action by garment workers in New York City marched and picketed, demanding improved working conditions, a ten hour day, and equal rights for women. Their ranks were, needless to say, broken up by the police.
For much of the 20th Century, the day honoring the struggles of women for equality was linked to the socialist and communist political movements around the world. Leon Trotsky made the claim that International Woman’s Day and meetings and actions triggered the 1917 Russian Revolution.
In 1977, the United Nations General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women’s rights and world peace. A rising feminist movement in the United States had already adopted the day as a mechanism for organizing and raising consciousness.
While many countries still recognize March 8th as a day to recognize the political, economic and social challenges faced by women, others observe the day as an occasion to honor the “specialness” of women.
From the Washington Post:
Yes, there is a Google Doodle. But around the world, people took the celebration of International Women’s Day from the virtual realm into the streets — marching, chanting slogans, weeping and buying flowers to celebrate the day from the Philippines to Afghanistan to Poland and beyond.
Celebrated on March 8 for more than 100 years, International Women’s Day comes with a U.N.-approved theme. This year’s is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality” — a reference to the U.N.’s “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” the goals of which “seek to realize the human rights of all and to achieve gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”
In the Philippines, a women’s group celebrated a court decision that cleared the way for a female presidential candidate to run. In Taiwan, a former “comfort woman” — a woman forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during World War II — appeared at a museum memorializing her ordeal. In India, protesters demanded equal representation for women. In Bangladesh, garment workers demanded equal pay, an end to violence against women and safe working conditions. And in Poland, men bought flowers.
Newsweek ran with a feature asking six women one idea they think would, if carried out, make the world a better place for women.
Mona Eltahawy—author of Headscarves and Hymens
Talk About Sex -”The more women talk about sex, unashamedly, the more we smash taboos and silences which hurt the most vulnerable—girls and women.”
Jodi Nelson PhD—Senior Vice President, Policy & Practice, International Rescue Committee
Commit to Results -”For some 30 million conflict-affected women and girls around the world, the rhetoric of equal opportunity does not translate into reality.”
Jess Phillips—U.K. Labour Party MP
Equal Paternity Rights – “If men were entitled to exactly the same as women when their babies were born, eventually we would narrow the gender pay gap.”
[That, of course, assumes there are maternity rights, which for much of the US workforce don’t exist.]
Vicky Pryce—Chief Economic Advisor at Center for Economics and Business Research
Financial empowerment – “Women need… …free childcare to allow them to work and earn and there should be quotas for women across the board for senior executive positions and in politics and society more generally.”
Ms Afropolitan—African feminist blogger
Teach feminism in schools – “Teaching girls about girls and women’s history, as well as teaching them about their rights—to control their bodies, finances, choices etc. would make the world a far more progressive, interesting, and just place.”
Catherine Murphy—Policy Advisor, Amnesty International
It’s my body – “Women should be able to tell their governments “back off, it is my body, and my rights.”
US Ranking on Gender Parity Falls
The fact mongers at Vox.com delved into some stats about gender parity worldwide:
The World Economic Forum ranks 142 countries on women’s equality on a scale of 0 (no equality) to 1 (full equality).
The highest score of all is Iceland, clocking in at 0.881. Definitely not bad, but not fully equal either.
The United States is 28th, with a score of 0.740 — a pretty big drop from its 20th place finish in 2014.
Dead last is Yemen, at 0.484.
The score is based on many factors, like how many women participate in the workforce and how well they’re paid compared to men; health and educational outcomes; and political empowerment and representation in government.
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has a terrific web site and report examining the aspects of the Gender Pay Gap. Suffice it say the situation is more complicated and in many ways (especially for women of color) worse than imagined by the public.
The War on Women
Contemporary efforts targeting women by domestic reactionaries are focused on state control of their reproductive health. The very same people lamenting Big Government are working overtime to harness state power in their cause.
Cloaked behind their agenda on access to abortion is their ultimate goal: limiting birth control. And if you dig down far enough, this control is really about keeping women in their place.
In addition to the faux Planned Parenthood scandal, nearly 300 restrictions on access to abortion have been imposed by states over the past five years. The Oklahoma legislature is considering a bill to make getting an abortion classified as first-degree murder.
Beyond the front lines of the attacks on women’s health, there is the reality that injustice ion all its forms is rarely gender-neutral.
In Flint, widespread lead poisoning is devastating the community. The effects of lead poisoning, like Zika, can be passed down from mother to baby, with increased rates of gestational hypertension, low birth weight, and preterm deliveries, as well as effects on fetal neurological development. Just like the women affected by the Zika virus, those affected by lead poisoning, especially in Flint, are more likely to be living in poverty. Flint, a city where over half of its residents are African-American, has 40 percent of its people living below the poverty line. In Flint and across the United States, African American children are five times more likely to be poisoned than white children. And to compound the challenges the mothers of Flint are facing, Michigan’s funding for pregnancy prevention is entirely has faced dramatic cuts, dropping from more than $7 million in 2001 to just over $600,000 in 2012.
The Zika virus and the lead poisoning of Flint make it clear that environmental injustice isn’t gender-neutral and for women, when climate catastrophes, pollution, and public health crises hit, they hit hard.
Reproductive justice isn’t only the right to choose to have children, but the right to have children in safe and healthy environments. The women of Flint and Latin America with little to no access to contraception and surrounded by unsafe environments have lost both sides of reproductive rights: the right to choose when to parent, and the right to parent in a safe and healthy environment. Without access to voluntary contraception, these women physically aren’t able to stop the effects of this devastating environmental injustice.
The Global Forum for Women has posted a bunch of inspirational quotes and images in celebration of International Women’s Day. Be sure to check them out…
On This Day: 1926 – New York members of the Fur and Leather Workers Union, many of them women, strike for better pay and conditions. They persevere despite beatings by police, winning a 10-percent wage increase and five-day work week. 1970 – Diana Ross opened her first outing as a solo performer in Framingham, MA. 1979 – César Chávez led 5,000 striking farmworkers on a march through the streets of Salinas, Calif.
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