Is global feminism really ready to strike this International Women’s Day?


In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, and the resultant Women’s March on Washington – an event which also saw solidarity marches happening all over the globe including particularly large turnouts in Melbourne and Sydney – there has been a call from the Women’s March organisers to continue the momentum this International Women’s Day (March 8, for those still unaware) with an International Women’s Strike. So far, women in more than 30 countries are set to participate in ‘A Day Without A Woman’.

There are three ways women can participate in this action, organisers suggest. They can take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor, avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses), and wear red in solidarity with the movement.

International Women’s Day marches kick off. Women have started marking International Women’s Day with marches in cities across the world, to highlight issues from equal pay to access to abortion.

Now, I’m not opposed to the idea of women walking off for an entire day. In a local context, I admit to being amused by the sheer idea of men trying to cope for an entire day while roads descend into chaos because only bad male drivers are left navigating them while trying to keep their entitlement in check. Or only being able to watch inferior men’s sport on their televisions while the AFLW hang up their boots for a day.

That being said, perhaps women – while in desperate need for a revolution – also have more work to do before it cantruly be pulled off.

Women in "pussy hats" listen to speakers at the Women's March on Washington in January.

Women in “pussy hats” listen to speakers at the Women’s March on Washington in January.  Photo: Getty ImagesFrom the United States perspective, organisers have stated:

“United States March 8th will be a day of action organised by and for women who have been marginalised and silenced by decades of neoliberalism directed towards working women, women of colour, Native women, disabled women, immigrant women, Muslim women, lesbian, queer and trans women.”

It’s interesting this time around that the voices of additionally marginalised women have been centred in the call to strike in the US. While the January march gained much support, it also drew criticism from women of colourand Native Americans.

This criticism regarded the long history of isolation these women have felt within a feminist movement that has focussed on the struggles of white, middle class women. It also didn’t help that when the voting statistics came through they showed 53 per cent of white women voted for Trump.

Thousands of women participate in the nationwide Black Monday strike to protest a legislative proposal for a total ban ...

Thousands of women participate in the nationwide Black Monday strike to protest a legislative proposal for a total ban on abortion in Warsaw, Poland, in October last year.  Photo: APAnd certainly, when you consider the vile specimen that is Trump and add to that the rise of the alt-right – who manage to be racist and homophobic along with capitalist and misogynist – the urgency of the need to create a movement which not just includes but galvanises these additionally marginalised women is clear.

Women’s Strike organisers Magally A. Miranda Alcazar and Kate D. Griffiths have noted working women of colour and low socioeconomic women have long been striking for equality. The national strike is, therefore, an opportunity to build upon their already existing activism.

I agree with their sentiment that the ability to strike is not a privilege (as some critics of the strike have claimed). Not having the need to strike is the real privilege here. But I do wonder, on the ground, how many women earning $7 per hour currently feel empowered enough by solidarity in the feminist movement to join in the walk-off.

Perhaps the reality is that the feminist movement is a long way off being able to create the solidarity needed for women workers (paid and unpaid) to feel empowered enough to collectively down tools and shut down countries. Or perhaps there is an inherent fault – as argued by Jessa Crispin – in the idea that there can be a universal feminist movement that has any real impact. In appealing to women across the board, is feminism not diluting its radical message?

Withdrawing women’s labour for the day could highlight the sheer volume of unpaid and underpaid work many women do, but what about the other struggles faced by some of the most vulnerable women in the country?

Indeed, I often wonder if the voices of additionally marginalised women who so desperately need the feminist movement to understand how structurally oppressive forces of gender and race (for example) intersect are only further marginalised by a movement that tells women feminism is about “choice” and “equality”, and an individual figurehead such as Trump becomes the rallying point rather than the structures that enabled his rise in the first place.

Meanwhile in Australia, the battles for working women just seem to be mounting. Although there is no national strike of working women being called for International Women’s Day here, there are women’s actions happening on the 8th of March.

The announcement over the weekend, for example, that childcare workers will be walking off due to the severe disparity in pay they receive largely because their industry is 95 per cent women, engaged in what society deems “women’s work”.

Similarly, recently the Fair Work Commission ruled to cut penalty rates for Sundays and public holidays for workers in retail, fast food, hospitality and pharmacy – industries which are not only highly casualised, but are also women-dominated.

Then there’s the fact that in many regional and remote communities, Aboriginal women are engaged in continual unpaid labour sanctioned by our government under the ironically-named Community Development Program. Considering that the only pay they are receiving for this labour is their Centrelink benefits, a day’s strike could not only lead to them being cut off from payment for several weeks, but it could also mean entire communities go hungry; an issue already detailed by a recent report by Jobs Australia that additionally labelled the program “harmful”.

Would a national strike work here? Withdrawing women’s labour for the day could highlight the sheer volume of unpaid and underpaid work many women do, but what about the other struggles faced by some of the most vulnerable women in the country?

How can marginalised women best be mobilised and supported nationally, and without penalty? Despite the majority of union members now being white collar women, men’s voices still dominate the workers’ rights sphere. So how can we actually count on them recognising a withdrawal of women’s labour for what it is – or will it just be seen as a mere inconvenience for a day until we get back to the business of supporting the “real workers”?

Withdrawal of labour is a fundamental human right, but for a significant number of women it’s not going to be as pressing an issue as the right to earn and retain pay.

International Women’s Day initially sprung out of activism by working women. This year, it is an opportunity to draw attention to the injustices which are continually inflicted on the women in our communities who have the least capacity for recourse.

Yet when it boils down to it, we still have a long way to go when it comes to best supporting our sisters who need it the most so they feel confident in taking a stand against the system designed to keep them subordinate.

We can start by using this International Women’s Day to build this educational base. We can then continue the momentum throughout the year, ensuring that we keep women’s voices front and centre when it comes to labour struggles. Following all that, when we do hit the streets in a national strike, the patriarchy will have no choice but to listen.

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