The Women Who Stand Up Will Win

FOR 106 years, March 8 has been celebrated as International Women’s Day and the fight for the demands of women.

A hundred and nine years ago, the women weavers and members of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union of New York came together demanding equality, equal pay, voting rights and shorter working hours. They fought against labour exploitation, poor working conditions and gender discrimination.

Today almost everywhere in the world, the gains women have made in equality and freedom are at risk.

In the Middle East and Africa, imperialism has created civil wars and armed jihadist gangs, who have occupied whole regions and created primitive slave markets.

The thousands of women and children who have been forced to flee war zones continue to drown in the Mediterranean. As refugees they are exploited as a source of cheap labour and suffer poverty, hunger, misery and sexual abuse.

This is precisely the situation of migrant women fleeing the war in Syria. They face the risk of falling into the hands of traffickers.

US President Donald Trump’s discourse in the United States threatens the rights of working women and their gains are also under attack with the rise of neoliberal, conservative and extreme right groups and policies in Europe.

In the West, where neoliberal economic policies are dominant, we are seeing the privatisation of public services, flexible zero-hours working and anti-union laws combined with low wages and poor working conditions.

In countries such as Turkey, we are seeing the expansion of neoliberal and conservative policies which attack the working class. Reactionary political powers are rejecting demands for equality with an increase in the exploitation of women.

Violence against women and massacres of women all over the world are increasing day by day. With the closure of nurseries and social facilities that provide child and elderly care services and with the privatisation of education, health and social services, it is women who fill in the gaps created by the state.

In Turkey, the current AKP government has spent 15 years eroding women’s social gains with the increase of religious and neoliberal policies. They have introduced antisecularism in all spheres of public life with an increase in religious teaching embedded in the school curriculum, an expansion of the opening of mosques in public spaces and encouraging religious modesty. All of these practices affect the lives of women.

A proposal in the Turkish parliament last year, known as “the shameful law” by women’s organisations, would have seen girls under the age of 15 forced to marry their rapists. Just as with the proposed “abortion law” of two years ago, the proposals were met with mass opposition and demonstrations from women’s organisations forcing them to be dropped.

It is an important achievement and shows that women from different sectors can stop reactionary anti-women policies if they unite in common struggle.

On the one hand, the AKP government gives incentives to bosses who employ women with the slogan “women’s employment is profitability.” Yet, on the other hand, it closes public creches, nurseries and maternity facilities in the workplaces. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan advocates that women and men should not be equal, labels “non-mothers” as “half” or “incomplete,” and wants women “to be kept at home with blessings.”

Turkish women meet this International Women’s Day as the country remains under a state of emergency. The conditions are of severe repression and violations of rights with numerous newspapers and television stations closed, 136,000 public officials sacked, hundreds of associations including women’s and children’s rights associations shut down, 155 journalists jailed, opposition HDP party parliamentarians arrested, HDP co-chair Figen Yuksekdag stripped of her status as an MP, and many teachers, academics and health professionals sacked.

Meetings and demonstrations have been banned and radical constitutional changes are being voted on this April which aim to concentrate power — legislative, executive and judicial — in the hands of one man.

This impacts women disproportionately. Since the state of emergency, the number of women murdered has increased. More than 300 women were killed in 2016 and in the first two months of the year, 43 women have been killed by men.

Suicide is on the rise and they are the victims of the whole society, most of them women.

Despite all the pressures and prohibitions, the women of Turkey will express their demands for humanity, the right to life, freedom and peace in the city squares on today.

At the same time, women will demonstrate against a politics that forces slave labour conditions, which does not treat women equally, which sees non-mothers as “missing” or “deficient” and against neoliberal conservative policies. They will fight to strengthen the “no” campaign against the reforms that will see the antidemocratic “one man” regime that seeks ultimate power.

A ban on International Women’s Day marches in Istanbul and Izmir was overturned after protests by women’s organisations. The ban remains in place in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir and areas in south-east Turkey. In 2016 police fired rubberbullets at a march in Istanbul.

As women in Turkey, we will win by struggling together against political reaction and by combining our struggles with our sisters from other countries by unifying our demands.

I greet Clara Zetkin with the light of Rosa Luxemburg on the 107th International Women’s Day with the determination and the dignity of the New York weavers who stood up for their rights all those years ago.

I believe that women who resist will win… sooner or later.

Selma Gürkan
General President