International Action Network on
Small Arms (IANSA)
IANSA woman Rebecca Johnson wrote this article for International Women’s Day and says, “When millions of women rise around the world, we'll be able to harness all the days, years and resources we need to deal with climate change, poverty, violence and war.”
Dreaming on a Mountain: from Women's Day to Women's Power
Women in Black
What is the point of International Women's Day on March 8? It was first established for working women's rights in 1911 and for decades was barely observed outside the Soviet bloc, where its origins in women's struggles were suffocated in rituals of men giving flowers and chocolates to female family members and employees. Such belated Valentine's gestures may be enjoyed by some, but they hardly make up for the high levels of alcohol-fuelled violence and the post-Cold War erosion of women's rights in Putin's Russia, including access to jobs, training and equal pay.
Moreover, I've witnessed how this patronising ritual can be used to embarrass and undermine rather than empower women. When Russian diplomats made a great show of chivalry by doling out red roses to the few women ambassadors at a United Nations meeting some years ago, the recipients had to smile woodenly, but they shared their fury in the privacy of a women-only gathering afterwards. The occasion was an International Women's Day debate on disarmament and development but the romantic parody of the Russian action diverted attention from the serious issues of armed violence and women's security needs and prompted other male delegates to chuckle indulgently at their female colleagues' discomfort.
Yet for all the smiles and chants about
women's power, the Million Women Rise demonstration was not so much a
celebration of this symbolic day as a call for us to commit every day to
resisting violence and oppression. One after another, women from the
The harrowing experiences of many speakers spelled out how militarism and violence against women are inextricably connected. Speaking on behalf of Women in Black, I also made links with the work of women in the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) to halt the arms sales and trafficking that put guns into the hands of the marauding gangs and rapists who prey on women and children in Africa, Latin America, Asia and also our own cities here in Britain and beyond.
From knives to guns and on up to nuclear
weapons, these are the tools that underpin the continuum of patriarchal
violence that movements like Million Women Rise, Women in Black, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Code Pink have been confronting for many years. Last
year, the 9 nuclear-armed countries -
In just that one year, 2011,
Speakers from the British Asian and Chinese communities, from student organisations, and the trade-union-based Coalition of Resistance described how women and girls are being badly hit by the Coalition Government's cuts in social services and disability, housing and other benefits. Despite several waves of feminism since International Women's Day was instituted in 2011, women in most countries still carry the major burdens of caring for children and the sick, elderly and disabled. As explained by a speaker from the campaigning group Women in Prison, women are also more likely to fall through the cracks when cuts are made to services that provide help to deal with problems related to alcohol, drugs, homelessness and domestic violence.
At the end I sang "The Mountain
Song" by Holly Near. Written in the 1970s to support
Standing in the way of our human rights, democratic choices, freedoms and political power is a high ugly wall of military-industrial profiteering. We have to break militarism down to size in order to see and reach the mountain of our real security.
When millions of women rise around the world, we won't need an International Women's Day. When millions of women rise around the world we'll be able to harness all the days, years and resources we need to deal with climate change, poverty, violence and war.
Rebecca Gerome and Sarah Masters
Development House, 56-64 Leonard Street, London, EC2A 4LT, UK
Tel: + 44 207 065 0876