Celebrating International Women's Day
by Sarah Murdoch
11 March 2008
Among the many events staged to mark International Women's Day last
week was the Capital Woman conference in London. The highlight of the
event was a speech by the black revolutionary Angela Davis.
The former Black Panther spoke to a packed room of 3,000 people and
proved she has not lost any of her spirit of resistance.
Angela's theme was that we have a duty to remember the countless
unnamed women and men who formed part of mass movements for radical change.
She said that these had been the very people who kept her going when
she was on the run from the FBI in the early 1970s.
Asked to comment on the US elections, Angela responded to those who
uncritically support Barack Obama, saying that no individual black
man or woman could represent thousands of oppressed people.
She warned that "diversity" among those in power does not necessarily
translate into liberation for all.
Angela pointed out that US society today is haunted by its failure to
fully abolish slavery, and that while physical chains may have been
removed, others are left intact.
And the fact that as many as one in nine young black men in the US
are currently in prison demonstrates this.
The veteran fighter concluded by saying that if we all stand together
we can beat war, violence, sexism and racism.
When the privileged women at London's City Hall snubbed grassroots
activists this weekend, the myth that feminists are united was exploded
by Cath Elliott
March 10, 2008
Perhaps it was naivety on my part, but I was really looking forward
to this year's International Women's Day. March 8 is the one day of
the year when women around the world are truly united, both in
celebration of women's achievements, and in protest at the
discriminations and abuse we still face. Well, that's what I thought anyway.
Events had been organised up and down the country for Saturday, but
as far as I was concerned there really was no contest when it came to
deciding which ones to attend. There was no way I was going to miss
seeing Angela Davis speaking at the Capital Woman Conference and I'd
made sure to book my ticket well in advance; from there it was then a
short walk down to Trafalgar Square to catch up with the Million
Women Rise march and rally.
I've never been to a Capital Woman event before, and I have to say I
was disappointed. Not by Angela Davis, who was every bit as inspiring
as I'd expected, but by the corporate feel of the day and the way it
was engineered as a vehicle to promote the Greater London Authority.
What was even more disappointing than this however, was that Capital
Woman obviously saw the Million Women Rise event as a competitor,
threatening to distract women from the GLA's day of glory. Instead of
endorsing the march, which was called to protest male violence
against women, and helping to promote it to conference delegates,
there was no mention of it from anyone on the platform. It was almost
as though Million Women Rise wasn't happening, or as if Anni
Marjoram, the Mayor's policy advisor on women's issues, had never heard of it.
Perhaps the Mayor's office aren't comfortable with the idea of women
protesting about rape, domestic violence, so-called honour crimes and
all the other forms of violence against women, in a city that sees
itself as at the cutting edge of progress on these issues. Or perhaps
and more cynically, they had their noses put out of joint because a
group of grass roots women activists, who had never organised any
events before this, were in danger of bringing more women together
than they had ever managed. Whatever the reason, there was certainly
no sign of any sisterly solidarity from the bigwigs at the GLA
towards the march's organisers.
Coaches had been commandeered to bring women into London from towns
and cities across the country, and although the turnout wasn't as
high as some of us had hoped, Million Women Rise clearly managed to
tap into the growing feeling of anger and frustration at the abysmal
rape conviction rates and the seemingly endemic violence against
women. Like the annual Reclaim the Night march and rally, it gave
women the chance to voice this frustration, and to protest about the
injustice of the government wasting billions of pounds on the Iraq
invasion and bailing out Northern Rock, while rape crisis centres,
Southall Black Sisters and other women's sector organisations
continue in their struggle to secure funding.
While I was standing in Trafalgar Square listening to the speeches
and soaking up the atmosphere I noticed a small disturbance off to
one side; the English Collective of Prostitutes had shown up and were
attempting to take the stage. Complaining that sex workers were being
denied a voice at the rally, the ECP seemed determined to disrupt the
entire event. A row of stewards barred their way, then tempers
flared, and before you could say "prostitution degrades and oppresses
women" a scuffle had broken out and a woman had been seriously
assaulted by an ECP supporter.
I suppose there's a certain irony in an assault taking place at an
end violence against women protest, and no doubt the fact that it was
an assault perpetrated by one woman against another will give some
kind of perverse pleasure to those who are always so quick to point
out that violence is not solely a male trait. I've never denied this,
but I never expected to be quite so starkly reminded of it.
It's laughable to think that some people really believe feminists are
a single homogenous group, united by our opposition to the
patriarchy. Never was this myth more thoroughly exposed than on this
year's International Women's day, when the privileged women at City
Hall snubbed grass roots feminist activists, and when the women from
the ECP tried to intimidate and shout down women protesting against
Aside from all this I had a great time, and I wouldn't have missed it
for the world; but even I have to admit that seeing women behaving in
this way towards one another has given me pause for thought. I'm sure
we'll all be back to do it again next year, but hopefully by then
some lessons will have been learned, not least of which must be that
while women united really can be a force for change, divisions and
petty infighting will get us nowhere.