By Anita Wright
International Women’s Day (IWD) is an occasion on which to celebrate each year the struggle of generations of women across the world for equality and justice – the strides we have made, the crucial things for which we have fought and won and the gains we have successfully defended against the ever-present threat of their reversal.
On 8 March, we commemorate as well as celebrate. We remember with gratitude the courage and sacrifice of countless thousands of sisters who have given everything they held dear, including their lives, in the battle to end the oppression, denial of rights, lack of access to economic and political resources, violence and abuse, marginalisation and the searing exploitation to which women subjected.
But IWD is about much more than remembering the past. As the title of the day highlights, this is an event of truly international significance, when we can listen to the voices of women everywhere as they tell of their current struggles and hopes for the future. It strengthens us in our conviction that we must remain linked in solidarity and united in our dedication to treading the path that will lead us from a world dominated by big business and private profit, where a woman’s place will always be subordinate, to one shaped by women and men together, in which the natural resources of the planet and everything our labour produces are directed to eliminating poverty and inequality and providing for our needs.
Being able to take this path depends on peace and the fight for it is at the heart of women’s struggle. Women must continue to stand together to end current conflicts, oppose cold war, de-escalate tension, and halt the arms trade and future production of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction.
Since we marked IWD in 2020, women have suffered in every dimension of their lives. Already disproportionately disadvantaged after years of disastrous neo-liberal attacks on working people everywhere, they now face the double impact of the spiralling economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. Both have destroyed women’s jobs and livelihoods, and hence their independence; exposed them to the virus in their millions as they perform frontline essential services in their traditional female caring and other roles; double-burdened and overburdened them with family care and imprisoned many in violent domestic situations from which they are unable to escape. Now, unless we are united in our opposition, the burden of paying for the twin crises will fall most heavily on women, potentially reversing much that the women’s struggle has achieved and turning the clock back by decades.
In many countries, including former colonies of Britain and other powers, women’s movements continue to face the vicious attacks of dictatorial regimes in which campaigners and advocates for even very basic rights face arrest, incarceration, harsh sentences, gender-based tortures and, in some cases, the death penalty. Every indication is that the situation is deteriorating as desperate governments resort to force in the face of any challenge to their authority.
The National Assembly of Women (NAW), recently affiliated to Liberation, is committed to the international struggle for justice and equality for women and children everywhere. The NAW is affiliated to and works closely with the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), founded in 1945, which itself grew out of the International Women’s Day Committee established in 1942. The NAW would like to mark IWD 2021 by promoting WIDF’s statement below and inviting Liberation and all progressive organisations to stand in solidarity with the women of the world:
“The progressive women’s organisations in the world struggle daily in their countries. In some countries our members struggle to abolish the medieval laws that forbid women to be educated, to work and to have public lives. In others, they are struggling to stop the hideous “customs” of female bodies being mutilated and the stoning for “crimes of honour”. In other countries, member organisations of WIDF struggle against the policies of privatisation, the raising of retirement age and the flexible employment reforms that place a double burden on women and mothers. Moreover, women are fighting for freedom and democracy in their country, against imperialism and its organs. The specific struggles of each organisation may take different shapes and have different immediate goals. However, we are united on the ideals of social justice, equality, solidarity and the decision to continue the struggle until the day dawns on which women have the place they deserve.”
Anita Wright is an executive member and former president of the National Assembly of Women.