On Wednesday, protesters around the world will celebrate International Women’s Day by showing their economies what a day without women’s work, paid or unpaid, is like.
Inspired by two strikes last October — one successfully quashing a Polish parliament bill banning abortion, the other drawing tens of thousands to protest violence against women and girls in Argentina — organizers in more than 50 countries have coordinated a day of global action, including strikes, rallies and other gatherings.
The United States strike will focus on “broadening the definition of violence against women,” says Sarah Leonard, spokesperson for the strike. In addition to protesting domestic, sexual and physical violence against women, Tithi Bhattacharya, a member of the strike’s organizing committee, says the strike on Wednesday focuses on rejecting the “systemic violence of an economic system that is rapidly leaving women behind.”
“This is the day to emphasize the unity between work done in the so-called formal economy and the domestic sphere, the public sphere and the private sphere, and how most working women have to straddle both,” says Ms. Bhattacharya. “Labor is understood to be work only at the point of production, but as women we know that both society and policy makers invisibilize the work that women do.” The strike calls for women to withhold labor, paid or unpaid, from the United States economy to show how important their contributions are.
The platform of the strike seeks to elevate the demands of the majority of women, not simply the demands of the loudest or most privileged women.
“The language of feminism in recent years has been used to talk about ‘Lean In’ feminism,” says Ms. Bhattacharya. “We do not want a world where women become C.E.O.s, we want a world where there are no C.E.O.s, and wealth is redistributed equally.” This, she explains, is why they decided to convey their “new international feminist movement” around the socialist philosophy of “Feminism for the 99 Percent.”
The slogan evokes the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement intentionally. “We thought that Occupy had a wonderful resonance in being able to articulate that the problem with our lives was not just the one issue or the two issues,” Ms. Bhattacharya explains. “The problem with our lives was the system of exploitation and oppression that affects the vast majority of people while a minority, the one percent, profited from it.”
The strike organizers hope to channel the anger on display at the women’s marches around the world on Jan. 21 into action on behalf of some of the country’s most economically vulnerable women.
Like the marches (the strike is in solidarity with the January march and its “Day Without A Woman,” but the two are otherwise unaffiliated), the strike has been criticized for focusing too much on women of privilege. Some say that women with the job stability, financial security and physical ability to leave their workplaces for a protest will be the only ones who show up, and that marginalized women will be excluded.
But the strike organizers say that Wednesday will offer an opportunity for those with resources to stand up for more marginalized women, who will bear the brunt of the economic decisions made by the Trump administration.
“The women that are most vulnerable to this economy have been engaged in strikes or other forms of labor struggles all year long, whether that’s being involved in the prison strike, organizing their workplaces, or working with the Fight for Fifteen,” says Ms. Leonard. This strike is a way of connecting feminist and labor movements and educating new activists from the Women’s March about how they can get involved locally. Local labor unions, legal and immigrant organizations, and the Yemeni bodega strikers have all endorsed the strike and will participate.
Because many people lack labor protections in this country, the organizers have made an effort to encourage participation in ways that will not jeopardize their jobs, suggesting that supporters who cannot strike consider wearing red, only spending money at minority or women-owned small businesses, or support local groups already working for social justice within their communities.
“Everyone should do what they think is practical for them. That’s everyone’s choice to make in the context of their work environment,” says Ms. Leonard.
Ultimately, the goal of the strike is to build a movement of women who agree that the wellbeing of a society stems from affordable child care and health care and an equal living wage.
“Historically, when the state declines to provide things like health care and child care, those responsibilities are thrown back on the home and the family,” says Ms. Leonard. “The people who usually do most of the work in the home to support the family are women. So women know. Women know what’s missing and women know what they need.”
This piece originally appeared on The New York Times website on March 8th, 2017.
Phoebe A. Lett is an intersectional feminist and Editorial Assistant at The New York Times.
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