Women's First Global March
WASHINGTON, DC 10/15/2000
On October 25th, after five years of intensive planning for the World March of Women 2000, 30,000 women (and some men) from all over the globe converged on the White House Ellipse to highlight the poverty women face and the violent abuse women suffer.
This was an international protest for women's rights, and our gathering was one of many taking place around the world. After an exhilarating rally that lasted an hour, we marched for two miles. Many women shouted "Shame!" when passing by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund headquarters. They denounced these institutions for perpetuating economic disparities through their structural adjustment programs that require cuts in social safety nets, education and health care.
Some international delegates wore national dress, and the Central and South American women were especially colorful. African sisters wore dresses made of the World March of Women cloth they had designed for the event. Others, such as the Japanese delegation who collected petition signatures for an end to nuclear weapons, wore specially designed head scarves. The Quebecois women made hundreds of T-shirts with the march logo of women hand in hand marching across the earth. Colorful signs bobbed among the marchers, including the one that my friend made with the slogan "Economic Liberation for All."
The Washington Rally focused largely on the concerns of women in the U.S., such as the need for increased funding for job training and child-care programs, as well as the inclusion of gender in hate crimes legislation and the protection of reproductive rights. The National Organization of Women, one of the organizers of the U.S. demonstration, pushed national concerns in this election cycle. Patricia Ireland, President of NOW, pointed out the economic violence that results from the growing gap between rich and poor that is made worse by skyrocketing salaries and the lack of economic opportunity for the poor.
There was also a significant educational focus on global concerns, including a three-day, international women's health symposium that covered topics such as AIDS, international law protecting women from sexual violence, women and reproductive health, and future directions in women's health research.
On Monday, representatives of the World March of Women met with World Bank and IMF officials to press for changes and an acknowledgment of the institutions' role in the feminization of poverty.
NEW YORK CITY 10/17/2000
The United Nations Day for the Eradication of Poverty began with a rally in Dag Hammerskjold Plaza next to the United Nations headquarters. The five million signatures collected from around the globe calling for the implementation of the 17 demands to end the poverty of women and the violence against them came by bicycle from the Bronx and Harlem to midtown Manhattan. We passed the packages of petitions hand to hand through the throngs of women to be presented to Kofi Annan, the secretary General of the United Nations. Some of the signatures were collected on quilts, such as the one made by the Japanese delegation. Indian women wrote on saris. A delegation met with U.N. officials.
The global activists marched more than 30 blocks down Second Avenue. They walked in absolute silence at the start of the march to honor their sisters victimized by violence. Then, they banged pots and pans to demand an end to the poverty that stalks women around the globe. Did you know that women and girls control only 1 percent of the world's wealth?
I chanted with a Haitian couple, "So, so, so, solidarite avec les femmes du monde entiers." (Solidarity with women of the whole world.) I tried to speak French with a woman from Cape Verde off the West Coast of Africa. A woman from Sudan spoke eloquently on the struggles of women trying to survive in her oil rich, and subsequently, war-torn country. She asserted that the citizens of her country have a right to share in the revenue from resources and to be free from violence.
Another rally was held at the end of the march in Union Square that brought us together in celebration with music, cultural programs, and speeches in many languages which made it more international than the rally in Washington, DC.
Where was the media?
The media failed to give any significant coverage to the events. I heard a short piece on National Public Radio after the Washington march, but they neglected the global issues and focused solely on the national issues of reproductive and lesbian rights. The Washington Post had two articles about the Washington action, but I saw no coverage about the march in New York City. Nothing in the New York Times or USA Today.
And what of the other demonstrations around the world? I have a four-page list of actions that were planned in 48 countries. I can imagine how our international guests must feel about being dismissed entirely. I'm angry that on the U.N. Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the powerless were rejected and ignored yet again. A short web search turned up the Associated Press report from the Post, but nothing else. The BBC website reported that 50,000 women rallied in Brussels on October 14.
But the slight from the media won't stop the growing movement for global justice. We all felt the power of global sisterhood. We women will only increase our work on behalf of our sisters.
These two marches, and the activities in countries worldwide, were the culmination of years of organizing. Starting in 1995, the Federation of Women of Quebec marched to the Quebec National Assembly to press for change in their own community. Then they took it global! At last count, women from 159 countries have signed the demands (see below), and 100 counties were represented by delegations. The number of participating groups reached 5,300.
Why is the World March of Women 2000 significant?
The work of the march has been totally grassroots, with no sponsorship or sanction from governments. As a result, this is the first time in history that women have been organized and connected into a network of this scale. The demands of the march go to the heart of greedy neo-liberal economics that exploit labor and resources worldwide at the expense of women most of all. The demands also challenge patriarchy by demanding redress of women's lack of political representation and access to wealth.
Many groups intend to use the network that has been created through the march to further their work. For instance, the 50/50 by 2005 movement aims to increase women's representation in government. In 1995, women were only 10 percent of legislators worldwide. In 2000, women account for only 12.7 percent of national parliaments. At the current pace, it would take 75 years before women are equally represented. Women must hold half of the seats of power sooner than that.
The networking was also interpersonal, and allowed us to see the ability of women to communicate with and support each other beyond borders. I talked with two sisters from the New York Gabriela Network who work on behalf of Filipino women abused in the sex trade and exported as domestic workers. I already know Seattle women working through Gabriela. I bought some Fair Trade coffee from a Cameroon woman who runs a project for women's local economic development. It is through supporting the initiatives of our sisters locally and globally that we will improve the access of all women to social and economic opportunity and a sharing of power.
What are the demands of the World March of Women 2000?
Seventeen demands have been put forth. In order to eliminate poverty and increase the sharing of wealth, governments must adopt a legal framework and strategies against poverty by canceling the debt of the poorest countries (Jubilee 2000), ending cutbacks in social budgets and public services, ensuring the right to education and basic necessities, eliminating tax havens, and implementing the Tobin tax on speculative investments.
The demands also call for the elimination of violence against women and the promotion of respect for women's mental and physical integrity. This can be done when every country adopts and harmonizes its domestic laws with U.N. declarations. These declarations include CEDAW (the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Beijing Platform for Action. States must adopt and implement disarmament policies, recognize the International Criminal Court, and end the trafficking in women.
The Quebec website above continues to update the news of our campaign. You can still sign the petitions. Also, check out the Virtual March on http://www.worldmarch.org for photos and video. For information on the campaign for equal political representation of women, go to http://www.wedo.org.
If you are in Seattle, come hear about Doris' experience of the March at a meeting scheduled on November 9 at 6:30 pm at the Good Shepherd Center located at 4649 Sunnyside Ave. N. Room 222.
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