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Women in More Than 50 Countries Set to Strike Today on International Women's Day

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Today is International Women’s Day, and thousands of women are staging a one-day strike in what’s been dubbed a Day Without a Woman. The impact of the strike is already being felt in the United States. In Virginia, the entire public school system of Alexandria is closed today after 300 women requested the day off. Some schools are also closing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and in New York City. The U.S. Women’s Strike was called by organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, the largest nationwide day of protest after an inauguration in U.S. history. And women in the United States are not alone. Women in more than 50 countries are expected to take part in their own strikes. The International Women’s Strike effort was launched in October 2016 after women in Poland, South Korea, Argentina and Sweden organized strikes to fight issues from the criminalization of abortion to femicide. For more, we speak with Tithi Bhattacharya, associate professor of South Asian history at Purdue University. She is one of the national organizers of today’s Women’s Strike.

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AMY GOODMAN: Today is International Women’s Day. Thousands of women are staging a one-day strike in what’s been dubbed a Day Without a Woman. The impact of the strike is already being felt in the United States. In Virginia, the entire public school system of Alexandria is closed today after 300 women requested the day off. Some schools are also closing in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and here in New York City. The U.S. Women’s Strike was called by organizers of the Women’s March on Washington, the largest nationwide day of protest after an inauguration in U.S. history. And women in the United States are not alone. Women in more than 50 countries are expected to take part in their own strikes. The International Women’s Strike effort was launched in October 2016 after women in Poland, South Korea, Argentina and Sweden organized strikes to fight issues from the criminalization of abortion to femicide. In this video released by organizers, people share why they’re participating in today’s Women’s Strike.

WOMEN’S STRIKE PARTICIPANTS: I’m striking on March 8th because I believe women should be free to make the decisions regarding their own bodies. I’m striking on March 8th for equal pay and equal opportunity, because women’s work makes all other work possible and because it’s about time we start valuing women’s labor. I’m striking on March 8th because when I go out, I want to feel free, not brave, because women matter. I’m striking on March 8th because reproductive services are a human right and childbirth is a public service.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, for more, we’re joined by Tithi Bhattacharya. She’s associate professor of South Asian history at Purdue University. She’s one of the national organizers of today’s Women’s Strike.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Tithi, thanks so much for being with us. Can you talk about the scope of this protest and why a strike?

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: Thank you for having me, Amy.

I think the first thing to say about the strike is that it is an international strike. And it was put together by women in, at that time, 30 different countries, in October of 2016, actually, who were inspired by mainly the mass actions of the Polish women and the Argentinian women against the abortion ban and against femicide. So, 30 feminist organizations got together and called a strike for March 8th of 2017. I think in the U.S. we were really inspired by the January 21st Women’s March, but also by the fantastic mass actions of the airport solidarity protests when the first Muslim ban went in. You know, airports, the most soulless spaces of capitalism, were flooded by ordinary people in solidarity against borders and in solidarity with our Muslim sisters and brothers. Both of those said to us that the moment was right to basically put together this mass energy to talk about women’s labor, women’s rights in the U.S. context. So that’s the sort of genesis, I would say, of calling March 8th an International Women’s Strike.

The word "strike," I think, has raised some questions. And I hope I get a chance to answer fully, because I think the word "strike" has traditionally meant work stoppage. And it should. But I think the word "strike" in other countries has had a wider connotation than simply a work stoppage. It has been sort of practically applied in the streets in the way Rosa Luxemburg meant it, as a mass strike, so which is not just work stoppage. And I think, for us, it was important to emphasize that women do not just work in the paid labor market, in the employment sector, in the formal sectors of the economy. Women also do the unpaid labor, the care work, the picking up of the children from the school, and the countless hours that women put in. So when we say "Women’s Strike," it has that expansive understanding of labor and stoppage of labor. So, stoppage of labor just does not mean a collective workplace strike. Stoppage of labor also means, "I will not cook today, and I will stand in solidarity with women in 50 countries as I walk out."

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about the scope of these actions, from New York to Europe to Africa? What is happening?

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: Well, I think, first of all, the majority of countries that are taking part in the strike are going to have massive mass demonstrations on the street, so places like Port-au-Prince in Haiti, in places like New Delhi, India, in Ireland, where it is very significant because they’re striking against—for abortion rights and against banning of abortion. So, I think women are taking all kinds of mass actions, not just marching on the street, but there have been boycotts of major businesses. There has been demonstrations and walkouts in schools and campuses, of college campuses. There has been household strikes, like women have basically refused to do any household chores, for instance, in Poland. So, all of this is sort of a festival of the oppressed, a kind of diversity of tactics that has been employed.

In the United States, as well, we now have International Women’s Strike organizing all the way from Alaska to Hawaii. And here, too, the range of actions is wonderfully varied. So, as you said, that people in North Carolina and Virginia and New York are striking in the sense schools are closing down, but people also are demonstrating. There are conventions in most of the major universities across. There are—there is—in San Francisco, in the Bay Area, they’re organizing a gender strike. Sex workers are going to be prominent in that organizing in the Bay Area, and in New York. And I think, on our website, you will see women in Indiana, West Lafayette, Indiana, put together a letter that women can give to their husbands and domestic partners. You can download that letter from our website. Women can give that letter to their partners as they walk out of household duties and go join a demonstration or a mobilization in their own city. And, you know, it is a long, detailed letter, but the essential message of the letter is: "Honey, you have the dishes. I’m going on strike."

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump tweeted this morning, "I have tremendous respect for women and the many roles they serve that are vital to the fabric of our society and our economy." Yesterday, the travel ban on refugees from six countries was imposed. Within that time yesterday, apparently, lights on the Statue of Liberty went out yesterday—not clear if it was, as some said, the Statue of Liberty protesting in advance today or whether—what actually was happening. And Hawaii, you mention, may be the first place where a lawsuit against that ban will be coming from. Your comments on President Trump, Tithi?

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: Well, I think many people—many women, in particular—have called him the misogynist-in-chief. And I think not just his comments, which he has made in public before the elections and during, justify that, but I also think his policies, that he is going to put in place, is going to be an instantiation of that title that he has well earned. About the Muslim ban, I think, well, the International Women’s Strike has issued a public statement absolutely opposing the Muslim ban and standing in solidarity with all our sisters in the countries, but also elsewhere. But I want to say that the idea of the Women’s Strike is precisely against the ban: It is against borders, and it is about opening the borders in solidarity with the global movement right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Your website?

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: It’s international—it’s WomenStrikeUS.org.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally—we have 10 seconds—what’s happening today in New York?

TITHI BHATTACHARYA: In New York, we are going to be gathering at Washington Square Park at 4:00 p.m. There is going to be live music. There is going to be people at the rally. And then we’re going to be marching all the way to Zuccotti Park. And it’s not going to be famous people on the stage. It’s going to be ordinary women, who make our lives possible on this planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Tithi Bhattacharya, we want to thank you so much for being with us, associate professor of South Asian history at Purdue University in Indiana, one of the national organizers of today’s Women’s Strike. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, Eve Ensler joins us. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "Rican Beach" by Alynda Segarra. And you’ll be hearing more from her later in the broadcast. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

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