We are Stronger Together

I sat yesterday in front of a blank word document for hours as I struggled to put to page what I wanted to say today. I had a little essay plan, like the good student I am, with the key points I wanted to thread through the story, but they didn’t make sense. I couldn’t form a coherent sentence.

I’m not sure if it’s the anger I feel as a result of being a women, or just lacking inspiration and drive.

But that was changed last night when I attended an alternative event for International Working Women’s Day – its real name. The event was organised by community activists living in Belfast from various organisations who came together to celebrate this historic day.

There was a speaker, Linda Walker, who’s been involved in the women’s movement in Belfast since the late 60s/early 70s. She told us stories from the women’s coalition, from trade union organising and the formation of Reclaim the Agenda.

Bernadette Devlin gives a lecture in front of a crowded room
Lifelong feminist activist Bernadette Devlin addresses a crowded lecture

There was Azadeh Sobout, a woman from Iran, who spoke to us about the oppression women face there and the Kurdish slogan Jin, Jiyan, Azadi, meaning women, life, freedom.

This slogan was echoed by protesters during the mass uprising and revolt following the murder of Mahsa Amini by the state for not wearing the hijab in accordance with the government’s standards. She taught us to be wary of right-wing extremists who want to hijack this movement to promote their own islamophobia. She taught us to be wary of narratives spun by the media.

Speaking on manipulated narratives, Yas Rodriguez, a Cuban woman who has lived in Belfast for 24 years knows how perceptions of her country are warped as they live under a genocidal blockade. She spoke to us about the differences in struggles for women here in Belfast and there in Cuba.

She spoke about the ground-breaking family bill in Cuba and what that means as we learn that the nuclear structure of a mummy, daddy, two kids, and dog doesn’t reflect the reality for most people. It means that regardless of gender or sexuality, whether you’re grandparents and grandchildren or aunt’s, uncles, or anyone, if you say you’re a family then you’re a family.

All of this highlighted to me what we are missing in the corporate takeover of International Working Women’s Day: class analysis and solidarity.#

A woman stands in front of a glass-fronted building with a loudspeaker
CYM activist Sarah Sonner addresses a crowd at Belfast’s IWWD event

Modern day feminism in the western world can often be individualistic and dilutes itself down to facilitate capitalism. The patriarchy is an extension of capitalism. Much like racism, these are structures that exist in our society that set to divide and control us. Our liberation does not exist under a capitalist system that wants to destroy us.

International Working Women’s Day – led by German Marxist Clara Zetkin – was born out women’s suffrage and the labour movement in the early 1910s. This is a day for the working class and all who are under the boot of capitalism.

This university, big corporations and the government like to promote to us this “trickle down” girl boss, she-e-o feminism. Emancipation will not be found by more women billionaires. It will be found on the streets.

We talk about putting women into higher paying jobs as if this is the answer.

The QUB gender pay gap stands at 18.1 per cent, the UK at 5.45 per cent and Ireland at 19 per cent.

The myth and narrative that women simply enter lower paying jobs must be abolished. We need to be talking about why traditionally feminine, usually caring roles, imposed by patriarchal gender roles are seen as lesser. Why women’s labour is undervalued.

If the pandemic showed us anything it’s that these workers like our incredible nurses are essential and marketing CEOs and 6 figure vice-chancellors are not. The Tories seem to have forgotten this as they line their pockets and pay the workers in claps.

We need to stand together at this difficult time and remember that we are stronger together. We were told last night that many of these women saw feminism as something for middle class white women and how the story must be rewritten.

If your feminism does not extend to workers and strikers then what is the point?

If it doesn’t extend to our trans sisters, demonised for just being themselves in the media, in law, and even in our women’s and queer spaces, then what is the point?

If it doesn’t extend to black women experiencing police brutality, who aren’t even safe in their own beds, then what is the point?

If it doesn’t extend to Iranian, Cuban, and Palestinian women among countless other international struggles, then what is the point?

If it doesn’t extend to a single ma in this very city borrowing money from paramilitary loan sharks to feed her kids, then there is no point.

Solidarity is one of the most empowering and beautiful things in this world, born out of tragedy. It is only through moving away from the individualist nature of that’s your issue and this is mine, that we can overcome.

We can see similarities in our struggles and come together to fight. Together we are we stronger, solidarity is our strongest resource in our fight against a global system designed to oppress us.

Remember there is no freedom without the freedom of women.

Ní saoirse go saoirse na mban.

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