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World March of Women: 10 years of global solidarity
Pascale Dufour and Isabelle Giraud
The World March of Women (WMW) will take place worldwide on March 8 this year and a powerful network of national organizations will participate in the Americas. Understanding the involvement of activists in the march from firsthand experiences provides an opportunity to see the way in which this transnational network spreads the feminist cause in the region and, most importantly, modifies its themes and its practices.
Launched in 2000, WMW is a unique and symbolic event: participants across the globe walk, demanding the eradication of poverty and violence against women. More than 6,000 women’s groups, mixed groups and labour unions came together for the first march. In 2001, delegates attending an international meeting for the march decided to continue the journey.
Ten years later, the march has become an organized global network and its International Secretariat, initially established in Montreal, has now been moved to the South, in São Paulo, Brazil. The network actively participates in international social forums and plays a leading role in the Americas.
The 2010 global actions centre upon the march’s four areas of action: the common good includes themes such as the fight against privatization of the environment and public services, and the defence of food sovereignty; peace and demilitarisation focuses on the causes of wars; women’s work examines access to rights and social benefits, pay equity and a fair minimum wage; and violence against women determines its causes and forms as well as women’s collective resistance.
What is the impact of 10 years of worldwide solidarity on feminism in the Americas? As illustrated through testimonies, WMW has revitalized the women’s movement on a national scale. More importantly, it has given women the opportunity to acquire knowledge in areas that have not been dealt with extensively by more traditional feminism.
Feminist movements in the North and South have given priority to issues perceived to be “women’s issues.” For example, these include themes pertaining to women’s bodies such as sexuality and reproduction, or women’s political rights. But in the Americas, WMW activists, encouraged by global actions, have developed expertise in continental integration and food sovereignty.
Thus, a direct connection has been made between free trade policies instituted by the governments of the Americas over a number of decades and the decline of working conditions for women. They also documented the fact that increased competition among various economies deeply affects women living in poverty as they are often working in vulnerable sectors of the economy where jobs are underpaid and unprotected.
Further, WMW activists promote women’s primary role in the production of food, the preservation of biodiversity and farm seeds, and denounce the impact of the industrial model of agricultural production that endangers women’s jobs in urban as well as rural settings.
Practices developed over the past 10 years have led activists to reinvent the feminist discourse. With the WMW’s four areas of action, the scope of women’s demands broadens and feminism, often thought of as a specific field of expertise, is able to transform its analysis to critically examine all societal issues.
Even though there are extremely noticeable differences among the various worldwide efforts, WMW is able to bring grassroots women’s groups and activists from mixed groups and labour unions at the regional and global level to work together, thus renewing feminism and its practices. In this way, the worldwide efforts deployed every five years help build cross-border solidarity among the women of the world, consolidate and expand networks, and work toward the convergence of demands and identities which cut across differences.
WMW activists in the Americas are part of a network quite distinct from transnational feminist networks such as those found in the United Nations which specialize in women’s rights. Not only is the scope of its demands broader, but the forms of actions are much more diversified. Not prone to lobbying or undertaking actions geared toward institutions, the march network uses collective actions that have strong symbolic meaning.
This reinvented feminism is the result of a number of mechanisms. First, there is a will to build a worldwide movement. Next, a mutual recognition process is created through a dialogue among various components of the movement that are mindful of the power dynamics between women in the North and the South. Lastly, the negotiation process aims to agree to the most exigent common demands rather than reflecting the lowest common denominator. To achieve this, important and arduous groundwork needs to be done for the various organizations to share analytical views on issues such as women’s work, poverty, violence or wars.
WMW’s collective identity is very specific to the movement and comprises a hybrid form of feminism where Western tradition co-exists amongst others with a South American feminism that is historically more inclined to defend the economic rights of women. In this sense, this form of feminism is very modern as it tries to link differences without categorizing them and builds something new while recognizing what women are; this is achieved through practicing solidarity each day.
Recently, we have asked activist leaders of the national branches of the march to tell us how the network benefits their society. The following are testimonies from one Chilean and one Brazilian group leader.
“It has been a slow process in Chile, but we are working toward making WMW more visible, bit by bit, on a national level. Mobilization possibilities in the country are low but we have decided to revive a united movement among women in the workforce, students and feminists. WMW appears to be a visible space with an approach that is valid for all women, especially younger ones, who wish to participate in social movements.
The most important issues in Chile at the moment are its position on therapeutic abortion, abortion legislation, the respect of labour rights —same job, same pay—, zero tolerance with regard to violence against women and a secular state that does not allow the Church to interfere in the development of
From a personal standpoint, I believe that in Latin America, WMW is linked to grassroots organizations and to social movements. This is a positive aspect which strengthens the movement and enables it to continue with forcefulness throughout the continent.”
Testimonial of M. (2009)
“Brazil’s national coordination is composed of 17 regional committees. The great challenge we face is to make concrete demands within the framework of general themes. For example, the issue of genetic transformations is a big preoccupation for women in rural settings. New technology produces agricultural seeds that do not reproduce and it is therefore necessary to buy new seeds for each use. This enriches global capital but impoverishes rural women. The role of WMW in this situation is to connect all of these groups, scattered throughout the world. In Latin America, for example, we work with Via Campesina, a large international peasant movement.
WMW is very important for Latin America and Latin America is very important for WMW. This region has long analyzed and struggled against neoliberalism and its consequences on women. Through WMW, we attempt to build alternatives to neoliberalism and free trade by introducing a feminist perspective.
The common good, food sovereignty, women’s work and violence against women are themes that represent the most the reality of the women of Latin America. WMW is not your typical feminist organization, but rather a movement that addresses various issues with a feminist perspective. It has to touch on a range of topics as women are affected by all issues in their societies.”
Excerpt from testimonial compilations by A. (2008) and by E. (2006)
Pascale Dufour is a professor in the political science department at Université de Montréal. Isabelle Giraud is a lecturer for Gender Studies at Université de Genève.