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Celebrating International Women’s Day and Reclaiming Feminism for the Grassroots

“On the 8th of March 2018, International Women’s Day, we from the World March of Women, diverse women from all peoples, races and ages, come together once again to reaffirm that we will keep marching until we are all free from all the oppression from the patriarchal, capitalist and colonial system; we will continue to use our feminism as a way of life, and the streets as the space to amplify our demands.” These are the opening words of the international World March of Women declaration released on February 21st for this year’s International Women’s Day. (Read the full declaration here.)

International Women’s Day, celebrated around the world on March 8th, was started by labor activist and socialist Theresa Malkiel in 1909. From its inception it was a day to take action for women’s rights, to demand safe and fair working conditions, recognition of women’s paid and unpaid labor, and the right of women to fully participate in civic and political spheres of society.

Today women around the world are calling for the transformation of society away from one based on the exploitation and disenfranchisement of women – rooted in patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism – to one that values women everywhere.

Representatives of the World of March of Women gather in Mali, June 2017.

Lifting up the voices and leadership of the women most impacted by the intersection of oppressions is what grassroots feminism is all about. Immigrant women today are fighting for their right to not be separated from their families, making immigrants’ rights a feminist issue; peasant and rural women are fighting for the right to land and to be able to produce healthy food in a way that best fits their context and environment, making peasants’ rights and food sovereignty a feminist issue; women in militarized zones are struggling to protect their communities and end the weaponization of their bodies, making demilitarization a feminist issue.

Last fall we saw a powerful expression of this intersection when women farmworkers from the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas published a letter in Time sharing their solidarity with women in Hollywood coming forward with their #MeToo stories of sexual assault.

Making the connections between grassroots feminist movements on the local, regional and international levels is our global partner the World March of Women (WMW), along with Sector de Mujeres (Guatemala member of the WMW and a Grassroots International partner) and the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (US member of the WMW). The World March of Women is an international feminist movement that organizes through taking collective action to eliminate the root causes of poverty, violence, and all forms of discrimination directed at women. Its international secretariat is currently located in Mozambique. The four main action areas of the WMW are:

  • Women’s Economic Autonomy: In order for all women to have economic autonomy, we have to build a society in which work, in all its forms, is recognized and valued. This means rethinking the sexual division of labor and ensuring that work that has traditionally been done by women be compensated and that women have the option to work in the field of their choice.
  • Common Good and Public Services: The rights of communities to have basic needs met to be able to live with dignity, such as the right to food, water, land, housing, knowledge and public services (education, health, energy, etc.), and the right of the community to define how these services will be managed.
  • Peace and Demilitarization: War is a way for dominant forces in society to maintain power. Women suffer the psychological, social, economic and physical harms of war; rape has been a tool of war throughout history. Military institutions train young men to fight for power over each other and to maintain dominance over women. The WMW calls for demilitarization, an end to imperialism and for the inclusion of women in all peace negotiation processes.
  • Violence Against Women: The WMW calls on everyone to take action to challenge and change the patriarchal culture that leads to the perpetration of violence against women and to promote women’s economic, sexual, reproductive, and personal autonomy and self-determination.

One example of grassroots feminism at the intersection of women’s rights and food sovereignty was a learning exchange organized by the World March of Women West Africa region last year. It was held in Mali and brought together rural women farmers from Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Benin, Tunisia, Mali, Niger, Togo, Guinea Conakry, Senegal and Mozambique, including members of We Are the Solution. The focus of the event (which was supported by Grassroots International) was Agroecology and Food Sovereignty. The participants shared experiences and built alignment around the need for rural women to be able to produce healthy food using agroecological methods that are appropriate to their local environment and their needs. They also discussed the need to defend the right to produce and save their own seeds and keep them under the control of farmers and not corporations.

In the US, the World March of Women is bringing together people from the climate and environmental justice movements, the food justice movement, people fighting for housing rights, immigrants’ rights, domestic workers and other sectors. People from these groups are invited to bring a feminist lens to their work. For some, this is what they have been doing all along; for others, this means introducing a new way of thinking about their work.

In October 2017 the US WMW held its second Feminist Organizing School (FOS). For some participants this was their first time thinking about feminism as something that they could identify with. June Barrett, who came to the FOS as a member of the Miami Workers Center, shared this reflection:

Before coming [to the Feminist Organizing School], the word feminism, I’ve been hearing that term and the word over and over, but for women like myself who are working six, seven jobs, raising children, we could not connect with that. But coming here to this school and learning about feminism and the different waves, learning about capitalism, patriarchy, suddenly it all started coming together for me, and I’m leaving with a better understanding of what feminism really is.

For March 8th the US chapter of the WMW is organizing a social media campaign centered around completing the phrase “I am reclaiming feminism for the grassroots because…” Grassroots International is participating in this campaign and has already shared the following video compilation from staff:

You can share these videos and make your own, too! Please use the hashtags: #IWD2018 #GrassrootsFeminism #8M

Following the rallying cry of the World March of Women, We will keep marching until we are all free!

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