March 8 was the 103rd celebration of International Women’s Day, a holiday first originated in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America and later adopted by an International Women’s Conference as an international celebration. Women originally gathered to rally for equality in employment and the rights to vote and to run for elected offices.
In commemoration, Occupy Boston’s Women’s Caucus hosted the Thursday evening General Assembly (GA) with a discussion and film honoring the struggles of women throughout the world in gaining basic human rights. The GA featured a screening of part of Ken Burns’ documentary on the U.S.Women’s Suffrage Movement, “Not for Ourselves Alone: the Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.” This was followed by a discussion about women’s struggles for equality and human rights in the home, the workplace, and wider society.
Urszula Masny-Latos, the head of the Massachusetts National Lawyers Guild, recounted her childhood memories of International Women’s Day in her homeland of Poland and how the holiday went from its early inception as a rally for socialist causes to a more sentimental Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day style of celebration.
Other attendees at Thursday’s GA reflected on recent attacks on reproductive rights in the United States, including Rush Limbaugh’s vicious disparagement of reproductive health advocate Sandra Fluke. (Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating that contraception be covered under the new health care bill.) Recent legislation has also reduced access to abortion for women, changing the medical cut-off point from 24 weeks to 20 weeks into pregnancy. Clearly basic challenges remain in the struggle for women’s control over their own bodies and reproductive choices. This battle continues to be waged.
GA participants also discussed the role of advertising and corporate marketing. Women are often viewed as commodities, shamed, and symbolically dismembered in advertisements hawking everything from dish soap and bras to beer and vacations. While women have come a long way, many are still confused and molded by media images that expect unattainable beauty and demand compliance to the dominant, capitalist social structure.
Other topics of discussion included issues of women’s health, the ongoing oppression of lesbians and transsexual women, sexual trafficking, violence against women, and the role of women as freedom fighters throughout the African diaspora. The evening finished with a passionate reminder by Zoey White of the exclusion of transsexual women from the conversation. White drew attention to the violence, homelessness, and sex trafficking faced by many transsexual women, who are generally forgotten and ignored in discussions of such issues.
From the “glass ceiling” to reproductive rights, from violence to discrimination against the transsexual community, women still face many battles in fighting oppression while working in and out of the home and nurturing families. The gains that have been made in the struggle for international women’s rights are still overshadowed by an enduring legacy of second-class citizenship and an ongoing need to be heard and truly understood and respected as full human beings.