Millions around the world marked International Women’s Day on Sunday by celebrating advances made by women and honoring the ongoing global struggle for gender equality and equal rights. We go to Gaza, where a women’s delegation just made it in, to speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker and CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Millions around the world marked International Women’s Day Sunday by celebrating advances made by women and honoring the ongoing global struggle for gender equality and equal rights. March 8th was officially recognized as International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975.
Women rallied in cities across the globe, from Baghdad to Kinshasa to Madrid and Warsaw. In Bangalore, India, activists met in parks to protest a spate of violent attacks on women by religious extremists in the name of "moral policing." In Afghanistan, thousands of women donned blue scarves on Sunday in a show of solidarity for International Women’s Day. Tomorrow, we’ll bring you an extended interview on a major rally for peace that was held in Kandahar.
In Iraq, many women, especially widows, are too poor to provide for their families, according to a report by Oxfam, published to mark International Women’s Day.
In Kinshasa, some 10,000 women marched to protest against widespread rape and violence against women and children.
We go now to the Gaza Strip, where a women-led delegation is visiting this week to mark International Women’s Day. I’m joined now by two of the women visiting Gaza. Alice Walker is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, poet and activist. In 1983, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her book The Color Purple. She has written many other bestselling books, including In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens and Possessing the Secret of Joy. Her most recent is We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness. Also joining us is Medea Benjamin, longtime peace activist and founder of CODEPINK. She helped organize the women’s delegation to Gaza.
Alice Walker and Medea Benjamin, welcome to Democracy Now! Alice, can you tell us how you came over the border into Gaza?
ALICE WALKER: Well, we came through the Rafah Gate, which Medea and everyone else thought would be very difficult to get through, because it had been closed and there was talk of nobody ever coming through it. But we managed. And the Red Crescent was a big help, including the wife of Mubarak, the president of Egypt. So we’re very, very happy that we managed to get here to be with the women on International Women’s Day.
AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, talk about your purpose in Gaza, how long you will be there, what you’re doing.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: We’ll be here for five days. We have come with a sixty-person delegation, I think the largest mostly US delegation to visit Gaza. And our purpose was to connect with the women for International Women’s Day to show our support and to educate ourselves so that we can go back to the United States and work hard on our policies. And we’ve been told by so many of the people we met with that one of the greatest obstacles to any kind of improvement in their lives is the United States government. So we know that our real work happens when we get back home.
AMY GOODMAN: And the response, Medea, to the $900 million that the US has promised? Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton just in Egypt at that donors conference.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: People say, “Well, that’s all well and good, but what about the $3 billion that the US keeps giving to Israel to destroy us, to bomb us?” We’ve been here just these last couple of days, and there is supposedly a ceasefire, and yet we know that the bombing has continued along the Rafah border, and you hear the sonic booms, and people still live in a state of fear. So they say, “The best thing you can do to help us rebuild is to force Israel and Egypt to open the borders, allow a flow of goods and services back and forth, and then we can rebuild our own country.”
AMY GOODMAN: And the news of the Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad submitting his resignation, paving the way for a possible formation of a Palestinian unity government with Hamas, the response in Gaza right now, Medea?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: People feel that there is a popular pressure for unity, and it’s that popular pressure that is paving the way for this unity government, and then the pressure will be on Israel. And hopefully, the United States government will have less of an excuse once there is a popular government, and then we’ll start forcing Israel to do some real negotiating. But they also are saying that they don’t want Israel to get away with the impunity for what it did, and they want some accountability.
AMY GOODMAN: Alice Walker, can you tell us why you chose to go to Gaza at this time?
ALICE WALKER: Well, because I really love people, and I wanted to be here with the women who have lost so much in their lives. They’ve lost their homes. They’ve lost their children. And they just seem to be people I wanted to spend International Women’s Day with, so I made sure to call up Medea and get on the — in the group.
AMY GOODMAN: And where are you now? What are your travel plans in these days?
ALICE WALKER: I think we will be going to visit more refugee camps. We were visiting one this morning. We also went around and saw a lot of the places that had been bombed. This was, of course, very disturbing, and very disturbing to see the look in some of the children’s eyes. I saw two little boys being held by an older brother. He seemed to be about eight years old, and they were like five and four. And they were — they seemed to me to be children who had lost their parents. And I feel that there are a lot of children in that situation, and this is especially difficult to bear.
AMY GOODMAN: I also understand that the British MP George Galloway, Medea Benjamin, was on the border from Egypt, but Egypt was not allowing his delegation through. Is this the case?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: The latest news here is that they are allowing him through, and we actually expect him in a couple of hours. At least that’s the latest that we hear.
And the other thing is, I wanted to mention is, that we are right now having lunch with the head of the United Nations here, John Ging, who is an extraordinary human being and has spoken out so forcefully against the crimes that have been committed. And his message to us, as well, is, one, to bring more people here, to keep spreading the word, and that the popular groundswell within the United States is really what is needed to move a peace process forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Alice Walker and Medea Benjamin, I want to thank you both for being with us. They’re speaking to us from Gaza, part of an International Women’s Day delegation that has crossed over from Egypt, and we will continue to follow their progress this week. Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, lives in the Bay Area. Medea Benjamin is the longtime peace activist and founder of CODEPINK.
This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll speak to another woman who is traveling. She’s the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and she’s been traveling through Africa leading up to this International Women’s Day. Stay with us.