By Freedom Road Socialist Organization
On March 8, millions of people across the globe will celebrate International Women’s Day. Protests, events and declarations will recognize the contributions of women as leaders of progressive movements past and present and advance our demands for change in the future.
The story of International Women’s Day began in New York City in 1909, when 20,000 women garment workers went on strike for 13 cold winter weeks to win better pay and working conditions. They worked seven days a week for less than a living wage. Their strike won improvements in wages as well as working and safety conditions. Two years later, German revolutionary Clara Zetkin, inspired by the women of New York, proposed that March 8 be celebrated around the world as International Women’s Day.
Nearly a hundred years after this amazing strike, women in the U.S. are still fighting for basic equal rights – equal pay for comparable work, affirmative action, full reproductive rights and quality, affordable childcare.
Working women are paid less than 80 cents on the dollar compared to men working the same jobs. The wage gap is even bigger for women of color. If women earned the same as men (working the same hours with the same education, age and union status and living in the same area), our annual family incomes would rise by $4000 and U.S. poverty rates would be cut in half.
Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women, many of us single mothers. The minimum wage increase debated in Congress is not enough – on $15,000 a year, our families will still be living in poverty. As the government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on wars abroad, the government balances the budget on the backs of low-income women and our families. Billions of dollars are cut from social programs like welfare, while millions of people are forced to work for free in workfare programs. Women are more than a third of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S., now facing repressive and inhumane reforms proposed by Congress.
Women face inequality and injustice across the globe. 70% of the world’s hungry are women and girls. 80% of the world’s refugees are women and children. 33% of women report domestic abuse at some time in their lives. Women face the greatest challenges in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Afghanistan, where U.S. bombs destroy their homes and U.S. bullets kill their loved ones. Women care for their children alone as husbands fight and die on the frontlines in U.S.-led and sponsored wars.
Colombia is one place where women have joined unions, peasant organizations and even guerrilla armies to confront a violent and undemocratic government supported by the United States. One such woman is Sonia, an important member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). She was captured in 2004 and is now on trial in the U.S. Sonia denies the charges against her and insists she is on trial only because she is, “a woman guerrilla fighter of the FARC.”
It should not be a crime for a woman to stand up and fight. Women will always be leaders and fighters in the people’s struggles. When women take a stand, it is something to celebrate, not prosecute. Progressive people must advance our demands for equality, justice and liberation for all. And in the spirit of international solidarity, we must oppose U.S. wars abroad and recognize women who fight for their people’s freedom.
International Women’s Day, like May Day, was born out of the struggles of the U.S. working class. With this great history in mind – and much important work before us – let us mark March 8, 2007.