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International Women’s Day and strike

By Joshua Alexander
On March 19, 2017

The days leading up to the end of the last school week before break marked an exciting and invigorating time for women locally and worldwide. Last Wednesday, March 8, 2017, denoted International Women’s Day and “A Day without Women” strike, movements dedicated in standing against social inequalities and discrimination in all forms for women everywhere. From individuals like Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Elizabeth Warren, to the individuals’ participating in the events of last week, women ubiquitously are experiencing an unprecedented acceleration of growth, progress and achievement within their female identified communities.

On International Women’s Day, women and advocates from UNC and across the state took part in this strike to take a stand universally against inequality, misogyny, discrimination and intolerance. This strike particularly called for women to take the day off from work or class to avoid contributing to businesses enabling a patriarchal, male-dominated environment. Individuals and advocates were also encouraged to wear red in solidarity for those on strike and recognition and women’s recognition.

Women left work, closed schools, wrote to their governments and participated in this strike to show support for International Women’s Day. According to a recent article published by the Guardian, for example, a number of schools closed in states such as North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland, requesting to take the day off in observance of this day.

Crowds rallied and came together on the front steps of Congress at Washington D.C., and in state legislatures including in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Berkeley and Milwaukee as well.

This event was not just limited within the United States. The Guardian mentions how in Dakar, Senegal, women gathered together under a banner declaring, “Solidarity is Our Weapon.” Dozens of nurseries and child-care centers were forced to close after 1,000 of their workers left due to complaints of low, unfair wages. The Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development also stated that more than 500 women in Thailand, the Philippines and India participated in a global solidarity strike for their rights and dignity. Even in Russia, seven activists stood outside the Kremlin whose banner spoke of the subjugation their community faced: “Men have been in power for 200 years, down with them!” They were quickly arrested and thrown into jail.

International Women’s Day emerged mainly during the early 1900s, a time of great turbulence but also expansion in the industrial world, also promoting at the same time education and increased awareness concerning the issues surrounding gender discrimination and inequalities. Along with this industrial boom produced an alarming growth in population and radical ideologies. 

“It [IWD] comes out of a lengthy history of women’s economic activism both within the U.S. labor movement and outside of it,” speaks doctor Christine Talbot, an assistant professor of the gender studies program at UNC. 

“Women have been active in the labor movement, and have participated in labor strikes since the 1830s, campaigning at times for better working conditions for women and at times for better working conditions for all workers,” Talbot said. 

The United Nations officially then began celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, 1975. The first National Women’s Day, following a declaration by the Socialist Party in America, was observed nationwide in the U.S. from February 28, 1909 to the end of February 1913. In 1970, women called for a “Women’s Strike for Equality,” essentially a forerunner to “A Day Without Women.” 

No single person, organization, or institution is solely responsible for hosting these events such as IWD and “A Day without Women.” Many organizations throughout the world however declared an annual theme for IWD, supporting a specific agenda or cause advocating for gender equality and parity. As social and political activist, feminist, and journalist Gloria Steinem has described, “the story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”

The main goal of IWD and “A Day without Women” are twofold: one is to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women everywhere worldwide, driving positive and beneficial change for everyone. 

“International Women’s Day is both a cause for celebration, and a call for feminist activism. It’s a day to celebrate the accomplishments of all kinds of women on global and local scales,” Talbot said.

Dr. Ather Zia, assistant professor of anthropology, also voiced similar ideas. 

“A Day without Women is a reiteration of the reminder to the world about how important a woman has become to the world of professional work and how important she has always been to the personal world,” Zia said.

Another intent for IWD and “A Day without Women” is to signify a call for action that could accelerate gender parity. In other words, the purpose of these events is to encourage individuals and organizations respectively to take bold actions regarding the helping of progressing the gender agenda, whether that is challenging bias, inequality and violence or promoting women’s achievements, advancement or education worldwide.

As a call for this feminist activism, Talbot explains that “A Day without Women” is intended, “to call attention to these continued inequalities and motive people of all genders to continue to struggle against them.” Talbot also articulated how “A Day without Women” also aims to demonstrate “the economic and social value of women in both paid and unpaid labor.” 

Zia spoke for this activism as well. “The International Women’s Day is a reminder of a world which has changed,” said Zia, “…the day reminds us that we have to make the world outside fit women’s needs and the rigors of their social roles as mothers, and significant others.”

Yvette Lucero-Nguyen, Director of the Women’s Resource Center and Stryker Institute for Leadership Development, was also able to share her thoughts. Lucero-Nguyen, along with the help of student and faculty volunteers, helped to organize certain, strategic events before and after IWD and “ A Day without Women,” such as hosting a Consciousness Raising Strike on March 7, in hopes to unify and prepare the campus community for the upcoming day. 

“We hosted some consciousness raising events prior to and after the strike to create space for people to engage in a dialogue around the strike, whether that was sharing reasons for striking or not striking, or raising consciousness around the sexism experienced in our everyday lives,” Lucero-Nguyen said.

According to Lucero-Nguyen, all of these events together attempt to build support for equity, justice and recognition of basic human rights for all, regardless of one’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability. 

“The WRC’S mission is to honor gender as a central identity,” continued Lucero-Nguyen, “and to engage critical women and gender issues, while challenging systems of inequity and advocating for change at UNC.”

“Our goal for the International Women’s Strike and ‘A Day without Women,’” concludes Lucero–Nguyen, “was to provide information to our campus community of the national event so that they could be informed in their decision to participate or not to participate.” 

The message of these events also extends across the boundaries of the United States and western countries. Events like IWD and “A Day without Women” are meant to not just impact the domestic influence of American politics; these events attempt to transcend their mission into a more transnational, global and universal manifestation, set out to engineer gender liberation and women’s rights in capacities such as education, reproduction, suffrage, political freedom and much more.

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