... and ain't I a woman?: Why we march

Issue 

and ain't i a woman?

Why we march

I'll never forget the feeling that kindled inside me during my first International Women's Day march. As the rally wove through the streets of Sydney, I looked around at all those who were also marching: mothers and grandmothers who had been involved in winning rights in the past; young women like me who hadn't been to such an event before; and lesbian and Aboriginal women marching with their friends and supporters.

I remember turning and looking back at the incredible, colourful, noisy mass of women in the street and feeling strong and proud, realising the strength which comes from taking over the streets to make a very public statement about the need to make real change in women's lives.

Marching on International Women's Day, speaking out loud and strong against sexism and celebrating the coming together of women from all walks of life was so inspiring, I've never missed an IWD march since.

This Saturday, thousands of women and their supporters will again take to the streets here and around the world to mark International Women's Day. Born out of a strike by women textile workers in the US, in 1908, for better pay and working conditions, IWD has a long tradition of protest and political activism.

In 1910 socialists and feminists decided to propose, at the second International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen, that Women's Day become an international event. The inspiration the struggle by the low-paid textile workers had given to women all around the world illustrated the power of international solidarity, and of marking a day that could provide a focus for women internationally to organise for their rights.

The first IWD was held in 1911 in Germany, Austria and Denmark, and called for the vote and political and economic rights for women. One of the organisers, revolutionary feminist Alexandra Kollontai, recalled that the march "exceeded all expectations. Germany and Austria ... were one seething, trembling sea of women."

In Australia, the first IWD was held in the Sydney Domain in 1928. Equal pay for equal work, an eight-hour day, no piecework and the basic wage for the unemployed were among the key demands.

IWD today is just as militant, with demands for the repeal of all abortion laws, equal pay for equal work and for Aboriginal land rights.

It continues to provide an opportunity for women both to organise for their political and economic rights and to review and celebrate past struggles. It brings together all the daily battles in which women are involved to defend our rights.

IWD is a celebration of what we've achieved, but, given the severity of the government's attacks on women and all oppressed groups, it also has to continue to be more than that. Struggles by women in the past have paved the way for feminists to continue the fight today. And while gains have been made, the fact that sexism is entrenched in the foundations of this society means that unless we put up a fight, those gains will disappear.

Because our right to free and safe abortion is again under attack, we have to march. Because indigenous and migrant women suffer from racism, we have to march. Because women still suffer discrimination in the workplace, we have to march. Because women suffer from domestic violence and rape, we have to march. And because our sisters all over the world are marching to show their solidarity with us, we have to march.

By Sarah Peart