Palestine is on my mind this International Women’s Day

March 8, 2024
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine International Women's Day poster

As the bombs rain down, and death and destruction mounts in Gaza, the origins and political significance of International Women’s Day needs to be remembered.

Palestinian women are heroes. Their continuing resistance is an inspiration to all those struggling for a world without war and exploitation.

It was Clara Zetkin, a German socialist activist, who pushed in 1910 for March 8 to be declared an international day for women to renew their pledge to struggle for equality and a better world for all.

Her idea was unanimously endorsed at the Second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen.

Four years before the “Great War”, during which the old Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were carved up by the new emerging capitalist powers (France, Britain and the United States), radical ideas of how society and the economy could be organised to meet human needs were taking off.

Socialist women in Germany, Russia and beyond maintained that inequality between the sexes was criminal and that women’s emancipation was intertwined with/essential to the liberation of humanity from capitalist exploitation and oppressions. 

But emergent capitalism refused to bear the social cost of production and reproduction, expecting women to remain unpaid servants at home and to work outside the home when needed, without legal rights.

Such inequality did not go unchallenged.

In New York in 1908, 15,000 super-exploited textile workers marched for shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

The first National Women’s Day was organised the next year, and the following year Zetkin proposed the day become international — testimony to the common struggles women faced.

But the early revolutionaries were not only concerned about their rights at work.

Russian women launched a strike for “bread and peace” in 1917 at the end of February, after more than 2 million Russian soldiers had been killed. Some argue this was critical to the eventual successful revolution, given differences inside the revolutionary rebellion against the Tsar.

That women played a leading role in that revolution can be seen in the Soviet Union’s early progressive policies on marriage and divorce, abortion rights, decriminalisation of sex work and the state’s preparedness to take on childcare, thus helping liberate women from their stultifying role in the family.

After the war, the revolution came under military and economic attack by Western imperialist states. Due to this offensive, coupled with the backward economic and social conditions and the rise of Stalinism, which was accompanied by more conservative social ideology, many gains for women were rolled back, and the revolution did not survive.

War is the most brutal reminder of a system in crisis and, in Gaza, women and children are bearing the brunt of Israel’s genocidal occupation and war. The United Nations estimates that 70% of the 30,000 Palestinians killed since October 7 have been women and children.

Another UN report in February highlighted the “deliberate and extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children in places where they sought refuge, or while fleeing”. It reported on the “arbitrary detention of hundreds of Palestinian women and girls, including human rights defenders, journalists and humanitarian workers”. It said the Israeli Defense Forces were committing “multiple forms of sexual assault”.

The ever-growing global solidarity movement with Gaza is putting Israel’s legitimacy under pressure.

Whether Palestine will be this generation’s “Vietnam” will depend on two things: the Palestinian resistance and our strengthening international solidarity.

Our common humanity depends on ensuring that no one can look away from the criminality of Israel’s war and its disproportionate impact on Palestinian women and children.

We have to play our part by holding our leaders to account.

Anthony Albanese, Penny Wong and Peter Dutton have been referred to the International Criminal Court as being accessories to genocide in Gaza.

Sheryn Omeri KC, acting for more than 100 lawyers, said “failing to call out a genocide” is a criminal act under the Rome Statute, to which Australia is a signatory.

It is alleged that these senior MPs have provided political and material support to the Israel government and military over the past five months.

The 92-page document sets down the specific ways in which this has happened:

• Freezing $6 million in funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency amid a humanitarian crisis;

• Providing military aid and approving defence exports to Israel;

• Ambiguously deploying an Australian military contingent to the region where its location and exact role have not been disclosed;

• Permitting Australians to travel to Israel to join the Israeli Defence Force; and

• Providing unequivocal political support for Israel’s actions, as evidenced by their public statements.

Albanese’s dismissal of the ICC referral underscores his lack of human solidarity and his shameful complicity in a genocidal war targeting women and children.

Israel’s war on Palestine is a critical issue for a generation that rejects colonialism and occupation.

While International Women’s Day has become depoliticised and “mainstreamed” in many parts of the country, we need to revive the spirit of resistance and international solidarity which embodies March 8.

Future feminist leaders will judge IWD 2024 on what it did to help end this genocide.

[Get along to an IWD event and show your support for a free Palestine.]

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