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Women Around the World Explain Why They're Striking

This year, International Women's Day will be celebrated with a mass global strike designed to advance "feminism for the 99 percent." We spoke to organizers in Europe, North and South America, and Asia about what the collective resistance movement means...

Linda Yang

Linda Yang

Photo by Amandalynn Jones via Wikimedia Commons

This Wednesday, women from more than 30 countries are going on strike.

Last month, a diverse group of feminist activists and academics announced the plan for an international strike on March 8th in an op-ed for the Guardian. They called for what was later named A Day Without a Woman: a mass mobilization of "women, including trans women, and all who support them in an international day of struggle."

The organizers hope to achieve "a day of striking, marching, blocking roads, bridges, and squares, abstaining from domestic, care and sex work, boycotting, calling out misogynistic politicians and companies, striking in educational institutions." With this protest, the organizers are also aiming to achieve "feminism for the 99 percent," to represent the women that "lean-in feminism ignored," the women working in the formal labor market, in social reproduction and care, and the unemployed.

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Now the day of the strike is quickly approaching, and throughout the world women and their allies are being called to action, ready to ring in this year's International Women's Day with an international strike. A map of planned protest activity depicts an Earth splattered with pinpoints representing 250 locations. The planned protest activities are broad in scope, and the size of each varies by locale. However, one thing resonates across all: the notion that women are here, women are powerful, and women will demand for what is right. What should scare the old guard most is that all these women know each other; they are connected by both the internet and shared goals and are creating an international coalition of resistance. Broadly spoke to organizers of women's strikes in Argentina, Australia, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, the US, and Thailand to learn about the connections that have created such an international movement, what they are striking for on Wednesday, and what they hope happens next.

In Argentina, Ni Una Menos, a collective that is doggedly fighting gender-based violence and discrimination in that country, is organizing a portion of the planned strike activity, and Cecilia Palmeiro, a college professor of cultural studies and member of Ni Una Menos since its early founding days, is a leading organizer. While the strike activities of Ni Una Menos have been widely publicized—last October, Palmeiro also took part in organizing a national protest in Argentina against gender-based violence—she says, "Our demands have not been heard by the government here, or elsewhere, [and] we are taking the next step: the first international women's strike." She hopes that the strike's effect on the economy will be felt and reverberate throughout the world.

The seeds for Argentina's Women's Day strike were planted early: After the October strike against femicide, Ni Una Menos was contacted by the women who had recently conducted their own strike to protest proposed laws that would outlaw abortion in Poland. Shortly after that initial contact, Palmeiro says, "We joined them in the organization of an international, intersectional alliance of women from 35 countries."

Indeed, as shown by the sea of women who gathered in DC and cities around the world for the Women's March, a historically unprecedented number of people are now rising in protest. Many protesters are first-time activists pushed to protest by inequality, violence, despair and hope for change. "Considering the enormous quantity of people attending our rallies and protests, [I assume] most of them are taking the streets for the first time." said Palmeiro. "We have spoken loud, [that] this is the time of our revolution. Misogyny will no longer be tolerated, and machista bullshit will no longer be entertained."

A Ni Una Menos march in Buenos Aires in 2015. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

After the strike in October, Palmeiro says, "Micropolitical change was evident in our everyday lives. Nobody felt the same about our bodies, our duties, our rights and prerogatives." She expects Wednesday will feel like a similar shift. "March 8th will be the first day of our new lives," she added.

Camilla Strand is an organizer of one of the strikes taking place in Australia. She, too, was contacted by an activist involved with the Poland strikes. Feeling galvanized by the events in Poland—where after the strike, the country's historically right-wing government voted down legislation banning abortion—Strand joined the organizing efforts for A Day Without a Woman, which she believes is proof that "the second wave of feminism has not ended."

In Europe, Natalia Medina and Clara Lee-Lundberg are two strike organizers in Sweden. Medina is a socialist and activist working for the political party Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, a sister organization to the US Socialist Alternative party, and Lee-Lundberg is an activist working in the feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonialist movements. Lee-Lundberg divides her work between Stockholm and Buenos Aires, and while in Buenos Aires, she became involved with Ni Una Menos. She returned to Sweden inspired and prepared to organize part of the Swedish branch of the strike.

For Lee-Lungberg and Medina, March 8th does not only coincide with International Women's Day but with the centennial of the Russian Revolution, a revolution of which "women were an active and fundamental part," Medina says. She believes that the strike will restore awareness of women's strength as a group. "I hope we will see the rise of a new international movement that connects different groups," Medina says. "Our strength is that we are many. A big strike can paralyze a whole society and hit where it hurts."

In Berlin, strike organizer Alicja Flisak knows of other demonstrations and marches happening on Wednesday, but she pointed out that all the city's disparate groups have planned to meet at the same square. "By unifying at the end [of the day], we want to show that besides all our differences and focuses, we can still unite," she said.

We will not be the shock absorbers of a bad economic policy. There is a breaking point, and this is it.

In Ireland, Strike for Repeal, the country's primary strike organizer, is using March 8th as a platform to push their demand that the government of Ireland call a referendum on the 8th Amendment of Irish constitution, which essentially prohibits abortion by acknowledging an embryo or fetus's "right to life" as equal to that of a pregnant woman.

"This amendment has resulted in the deaths of women in Ireland and forces 12 people a day to travel overseas [to seek abortion care]," says Avril Corroon, a Strike for Repeal organizer. For Wednesday's protests, Corroon expects a large turnout. "We have over 40 regional and international groups planning actions for the day," she said. "We have walkouts from every university, and businesses are shutting for the day."

In the US, Sarah Leonard, a member of the national committee for the International Women's Strike US, believes that the strike will remind the world that feminism for the 99 percent is still very much necessary. "Wages are falling, and the social safety net is shredding," she says. "All of the work that the state won't do—health care, child care—falls on women. We will not be the shock absorbers of a bad economic policy. There is a breaking point, and this is it."

Though there are fewer planned strikes in Asia, in Thailand, where political assembly of five or more people is illegal, Chiang Mai Women Act, a group of Thai, indigenous, migrant, disabled, lesbian, mothers, sex workers, and community human rights defenders, has been coming together on March 8th as a day of solidarity for years, explained Julia Davis, a member of the group.

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"When we saw women on the move for feminism for the 99 percent, we recognized that we were already part of this movement," said Davis. "We must be seen and heard in it. We are claiming our land, declaring our bodily sovereignty, asserting our democratic freedoms, and refusing poverty."

While the country's prohibitive laws mean that they cannot strike, they do plan to support the women and allies who can strike in the rest of the world; as an act of solidarity on Wednesday, 200 women and allies plan to walk through the streets in northern Thailand, "to make our lives, work, and concerns visible," said Davis. "This alone is a victory for all women and all of Thailand."

For many groups, resistance on social media has been crucial to fostering networks, support, and organization, but in Thailand and other parts of the world, where, as Davis says, "women are not online," they "use the old woman's method: word of mouth."

"We don't network," she said. "We gossip and grapevine: one to two, two to five, five to ten, ten to 100."

The members of Chiang Mai Women Act believe that the "women in Asia and Africa, poor and working-class women around the world commit daily acts of resistance." They hope that after Wednesday, the rest of the women of the world, in North America, South America, and Europe, "catch up to the women of Asia and Africa" and remember "our strength is your strength."