Summary: This year’s International Women’s Day marches and strikes exemplified a powerful year of change around the world, especially in Spain — Editors
On March 8th, 2018 millions of women the world over protested for women’s rights after a powerful year of change in which many powerful men began to be held accountable over sexual harassment after the Feminist #MeToo movement spread like wildfire.
The early roots of International Women’s Day began after 15,000 women in the garment industry in New York City went on strike and marched for better working conditions in 1908. Despite this, International Women’s Day only really took off when hundreds of thousands of women went on strike and began the Russian Revolution of 1917 on March 8th. Women went on strike and led to the downfall of the Tsar. Ironically, many male Bolshevik leaders of the Russian Revolution had told the women not to go on their strike on International Women’s Day because they felt they were not ready. Women gained the right to vote in Russia later that year, earlier than women in the UK and US did.
In Spain this year, 5.3 million women and other people in 120 cities and towns participated in a Feminist strike supported by labor unions demanding an end to sexist discrimination and for equal pay for women. The slogan for the protest was “If we stop, the world stops!” The organizers, the 8th of March commission, made clear in a statement this was a Feminist & anti-capitalist movement: “Today we call for a society free of sexist oppression, exploitation and violence. We call for rebellion and a struggle against the alliance of the patriarchy and capitalism that wants us to be obedient, submissive and quiet. We do not accept worse working conditions, nor being paid less than men for the same work. That is why we are calling a work strike.” In a survey in El Pais, 82% of Spaniards said there were good reasons for the women’s strike. There were chants of “My body is mine. Only mine, mine, mine!” (¡Mi cuerpo es mio! ¡Solo mio, mio, mio!”). The women mayors of Madrid and Barcelona also took part in the protests.
In Seoul, South Korea, Feminists chanted “Me Too” and held #MeToo signs following a year in which several powerful men in South Korea, including a governor, were forced to resign after committing sexual violence and harassment. (The governor had repeatedly raped his secretary.) In the last year the #MeToo movement, which began against workplace sexual harassment in the United States, has seen the firing of dozens upon dozens of powerful men and more continue to be held accountable every day. South Korea has some of the worst rates of violence against women in the world, ranking only 114th out of 144 countries in terms of gender equality.
Elsewhere in Asia, in the Philippines, women protested for women’s rights and against President Duterte’s extrajudicial executions including of their loved ones and human rights abuses. Duterte has called for female communist rebels to be shot in the genitals and made a joke about wishing he were first in a gang rape. Women in India protested against sexual violence, having suffered in recent years a number of prominent gang rapes in addition to the more common types of sexual assault.
In Argentina, women protested against femicide and for abortion rights. In the vast majority of Latin America, abortion is banned, in some countries even in the case of rape or threat to the mother’s life. In the majority of Argentina’s provinces complications resulting from illegal abortions are a leading cause of maternal deaths. Its congress will soon begin debating legalizing abortion. Of all the the elected leftwing governments in Latin America, only Uruguay has fully legalized abortion.
Meanwhile, Ireland will be having a referendum on whether to legalize abortion in a few months.
Ironically, because of the association with socialism, International Women’s Day has historically not been as celebrated in the United States. Thousands of women celebrated International Women’s Day in the US this year, however. Hundreds of women in Los Angeles marched from outside the city jail to city hall in a protest organized by women of color the weekend before International Women’s Day with another protest on March 8th. The biggest day of protests for women’s rights this year and last in the United States was the Women’s March on January 20th when millions of women and allies marched against Donald Trump, who is accused of sexually assaulting over a dozen women, and for women’s rights. This year the Women’s March explicitly took up solidarity with the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and violence against women.
Women marched for their rights everywhere including in Greece, Italy, Russia, Spain, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Mexico, and Argentina. There is a very long way to go for women’s liberation around the world but it’s clear that women will continue to work together and fight for their full liberation.