From the March-April 2020 issue of News & Letters
by Terry Moon
What has become clear in 2020 is the global nature of the women’s movements. It is a new stage which has announced itself by the international fight against femicide (see “Anti-femicide goes global,” Jan.-Feb. 2020 N&L); the Women’s Marches in the U.S. and worldwide that continue to draw in new women three years after they began, despite the contradictions evident in its leadership; and by the National Women’s Meetings in Latin America, also called Encuentros, which have been gathering yearly since 1985 and now draw up to 90,000 participants.
What else announces the new moment the women’s liberation movement has reached is women’s participation in revolutions and in work to save the planet; their leadership in actions to drive neo-fascists out of power from India’s Narendra Modi to Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and to Donald Trump of the U.S.; and the now-too-numerous-to-count demonstrations that burst forth over issues as diverse as the right of women to enter Hindu temples in India to the demand for legal abortion in Poland and Argentina.
IRAQI WOMEN DEMAND FREEDOM
Women’s demand to be recognized as full human beings is, as we go to press, being worked out by women in Iraq as hundreds filled the streets on Feb. 14 in Tahrir Square in Baghdad demanding freedom and declaring their right to participate in protests against their government’s corruption, widespread unemployment, and the gunning down of fellow activists.
Since October, women have been active in the protests—preparing and delivering food and caring for the wounded. Now they have taken to the streets, deepening the movement to include their liberation.
The Iraqi women and their male comrades have taken on big-shot pro-Iran Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who in a 19-point decree tried to shame the demonstrators, pontificating about “nudity, mixing the sexes, drunkenness and debauchery.” Surprisingly, according to al-Sadr, what the demonstrators want is Chicago! “We cannot allow Iraq to become a place like Chicago, where immorality, sexual perversion, homosexuality and debauchery are pervasive.” Al-Sadr was not bothered by his own immorality when in January he sent his Blue Hats—read thugs—to attack protesters and gun down over ten unarmed young demonstrators.
What Iraqi women are doing is reminiscent of an uprising in another Tahrir Square, the one in Cairo, Egypt, in 2011. In Egypt the occupation of the Square transformed human relationships between men and women—at least for a short time. “Society inside the square has changed,” said one of the Iraqi women’s march organizers, Fatama Ramadan, who was 23. She continued, “You can see there’s a difference (in how women are perceived) between inside and outside (of the Square).”
In response to al-Sadr’s sexist rant, the women chanted: “Our voice is not shameful, it’s the key of the revolution!” and “Stop discrimination against women! Stop gender segregation!” The men who came to support and protect them from the threats of al-Sadr’s henchmen shouted, “I am your brother, and you are my sister!” “Revolution is my name, male silence is the real shame!’ and “Freedom, revolution, feminism!”
That this historic march is not a one-time event is shown in how the women’s protests have spread to more religiously fundamentalist cities such as Najaf and Karbala. Furthermore, it is a rebellion against being dehumanized. As 30-year-old Ban Layla told Egyptian Streets, “We are here to mark our role and challenge the misogynistic culture that looks at us as though we are from a lower degree.”
Globally, women have much in common. Issues that unite us are the seemingly never-ending and escalating brutality and violence against women; the demand for reproductive justice which includes safe, accessible abortion along with the ability to have and raise children in peace and economic security, and to have healthcare as a human right; the struggle to end racism and discrimination against the poor that often makes living a dehumanizing drudgery that shortens lives, hopes and dreams.
UNITED BY INTRACTABLE FEMICIDES
Women in Mexico, those who invented the word “femicide” to describe the murder of women because they are women, have now been fighting this reality since it first came out in the open in 1993 in the maquiladoras on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. From 2008 to 2011 over 7,600 people died in Ciudad Juárez, with 3,112 murdered in 2011 alone. Over 400 women have been murdered between 2001 and 2011, with another 400 disappeared. Hundreds more have been murdered and disappeared since.
Now 10 women are murdered every day in Mexico, up from seven per day in 2017. Authorities have done nothing but blame the victim, saying that she was drunk, ran with bad company, or just left on her own. Any work being done is done by women themselves—the mothers, aunts and sisters of those murdered and missing.
Just since the beginning of this year, the deaths of three women have shaken the country, brought forth countless protests, and showed the pathetic do-nothingness of Mexico’s leaders—from the local police who not only do not protect women but are sometimes their attackers, to Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
SAY THEIR NAMES
On Jan. 18, 25-year-old feminist artist and activist Isabel Cabanillas de la Torre was murdered, shot in the head and chest with a high-caliber revolver as she rode her bike home in the evening in Ciudad Juárez. Cabanillas de la Torre was a member of Puro Borde (Pure Border), an art collective whose purpose, said founder Arón Venegas, is “to take back the streets with art, colors and visual ideas.” Cabanillas de la Torre’s comrades “are in no doubt that Isabel’s death was a political, misogynist execution.”
When asked if she will get justice, they replied: “Not a chance,” “Unthinkable in this city,” and “Impunity has been the rule.” These women are the daughters of the women who first moved to Ciudad Juárez to work in the maquiladoras in the early 1990s. As her friend Arena said, “What Isabel was doing was rebellious in Juárez. In a machista city, she was occupying the streets with art, she was riding her bicycle home alone at night, she was subversive of patriarchal culture.”
The murders in February of Ingrid Escamilla, who was 25 years old, and seven-year-old Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett were political in that they were killed because they were female. Their deaths shocked the country; Aldrighett’s because she was so young and had been tortured before her murder and Escamilla’s because she was stabbed to death by her boyfriend, skinned and disemboweled. Then the picture of Escamilla’s body was leaked to the tabloids, one of which used it for their entire cover with the headline: “It was Cupid’s fault.”
Mexican women have, again and again, taken to the streets. In August 2019, over 2,000 demonstrated in Mexico City, chanting “Attack One of Us and You Attack All of Us!” and “Rapist Pigs!” referring to two cops who had raped teenage girls. In November over 1,000 filled Mexico’s huge central square and sang the song made popular by the Chilean feminist group Las Tesis, “The Rapist in Your Path.”
LÓPEZ OBRADOR PART OF THE PROBLEM
After these most recent killings, dozens of women demonstrated at Mexico’s presidential palace where López Obrador was holding a meeting. They chanted “Not one murder more!” as they threw blood-red paint on the massive palace doors. More marches are planned.
López Obrador’s response was irritation at the protesters and the issue of femicides. He complained that, “This issue has been manipulated a lot in the media. I don’t want the issue just to be women’s killings.” He oozed disdain for the growing number of deaths of women in Mexico, saying “I don’t want femicides to overshadow the lottery.” With leaders like these, it is no wonder that women’s struggle against femicide has become worldwide.
It is not alone young Mexican women and working-class women, but also women Zapatistas and academic women—all have been fighting to end violence against them. Women from the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) have been on strike since Nov. 5, 2019. They are demanding concrete responses from UNAM administrators about gender violence and sexual harassment, including by faculty. Refusing to settle for general statements against sexism, they are demanding tribunals and specific procedures for dealing with sexism.
Their strike has wide support at the University with actions at 23 faculties, schools and campuses. In response to a Feb. 5 call for a general strike, UNAM faculty was joined by high school students who broke windows, painted buildings and chanted against the violence. Again, López Obrador’s response was pathetic, claiming that “dark interests” were responsible for the demonstrations.
Zapatista women had a meeting of several thousand at the end of December in Zapatista territory titled Meeting of Women who Fight. There they called for huge demonstrations for March 8—International Women’s Day. Women in Mexico in the recent past have created massive demonstrations on March 8. This year, in addition, there is a call for a general strike the next day, March 9, titled #UNDÍASINNOSOTRAS (A Day Without Us). (We go to press at the end of February and will cover March 8 and 9 in the next issue.)
THE U.S.’S OWN ‘RAPIST IN YOUR PATH’
Women in the U.S. have their own “Rapist in Your Path” who adds to the violence against women—Donald Trump. There is widespread disgust at him and his racist and sexist policies: against immigrants; opening the White House to, and channeling federal funding for, anti-abortion, anti-birth-control fanatics; promoting abstinence-only sex education; gutting Title IX and the very concept of equal rights; expanding the global and local abortion gag rule that has decimated women’s reproductive health abroad as well as in the U.S. All this and more has compelled women to take to the streets four years in a row.
In the U.S., massive Women’s Marches have taken place every year since 2017, when women worldwide created the largest mass marches in history, gathering by the tens of thousands in every major city in the world where people could freely demonstrate and thousands of smaller cities as well. This year, the mainline press seemed determined to play down or ignore the marches with headline after headline emphasizing that the marches this year were smaller without telling their readers how large, creative, and militant they actually were.
Thousands marched in Washington, D.C. In California alone, tens of thousands more—30,000 in San Francisco, 7,500 in San Jose, 200,000 in Los Angeles, 5,000 in Oakland—and those were just the large ones. New York and Chicago also hosted marches in the thousands. In the U.S. there were over 250 events and marches were held as well in Britain, New Zealand, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, France, and numerous other countries.
INTERNAL CONTRADICTIONS ABOUND
Marchers have to contend with a March leadership that is seriously flawed. (See “Anti-Semitism mars Women’s March,” Jan.-Feb. 2019 N&L.) While three anti-Semitic leaders of the original Women’s March have been replaced, this year the Women’s March Foundation turned down speakers from Los Angeles Black Lives Matter with the ridiculous excuse that because “this is an important election year,” their speakers were “focused on highlighting organizations and individuals who have a mission to register and encourage people to vote.” It is not only that no Democrat can be elected without winning the Black vote, but in this time of Republicans’ attacks on Black and other minority voters via voter suppression, gerrymandering and outright intimidation, to use the excuse that this is an election year to ban Black Lives Matter speakers is racist stupidity.
Fortunately, most women don’t come to the Marches because of the March leadership, they come because they want to change this world to one where ending violence against women is a priority and immigrants are welcome, where climate change is understood as urgent and women have reproductive justice. In short, they come because they want a new, more human world. As one 18-year-old marcher in Washington, D.C., put it: “I’m Black, I’m proud. This is my march as much as it is any other person’s march.”
THE MOVEMENT FROM PRACTICE NEEDS THE MOVEMENT FROM THEORY
There is no question that the movements of women are militant and that participants think through why they take part in actions, what they oppose, and, within that, what they would like to see happen in the future. There is also no question that contradictions and traps are everywhere. In the U.S., many self-appointed leaders cannot see further than Democratic Party politics. Certainly, getting Trump out of office is a necessity if our world is to survive and stop the U.S. from turning into a powerful fascist state.
But what has made it possible for women to have any reproductive justice or to stop widespread rape and abuse, to fight emerging fascisms, racism, homophobia, and class oppression has always and only been strong, passionate, and militant movements for freedom. It is only the movement that keeps politicians somewhat in check.
A philosophy of freedom is also a necessity because it makes it possible to comprehend the meaning of these movements from practice and at the same time to keep as the goal, not a reformed capitalism, but a different kind of society than we have now—one based on new, actually human relationships.
Karl Marx called for revolution to be permanent because he recognized that overthrowing a tyrant is but the first step, and it would take many negations to get to that new society.
What is implicit in all these struggles women and others are waging against violence, for control of our own bodies, against racism and class oppression, homophobia and discrimination against the disabled is the yearning for a world where everyone can develop all their potential and live free. It is no abstraction to say that women are fighting for that kind of world. It needs to become our explicit goal.
For Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day…
Two books by Raya Dunayevskaya
Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution
Women’s Liberation and the Dialectics of Revolution