by Baba Aye
Women in Nigeria will join women all over the world, and men too, who stand for gender justice, on March 8, to mark International Women’s Day (IWD). A promise is a promise: time for action to end violence against women, is the United Nation’s theme for this year’s International Women’s Day. Setting the pace for this, there was a One Billion Rising campaign of women across the world on February 14, to say a loud NO against violence against women. SWL in a leaflet for the IWD loudly says NO TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, and calls for the united struggle of working men and women to end the capitalist system which breeds the oppression of women!
ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME!
ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITY!
ONE BILLION WOMEN DANCING IS A REVOLUTION!
Last year there were pitched battles against rape, the most traumatic form of violence, of women, in South Africa and particularly India. Women in Nigeria, as members of trade unions, communities and civil society organisations, have a rich history of struggle for gender equality and social justice. The history of our anti-colonial struggle, for example, is not complete without the 1929 Aba Women’s Revolt, while organisations such as Women In Nigeria (WIN) were at the forefront of the struggle against military dictatorship in the 1980s/90s.
In more recent times, the 2002 “women’s war” in the Niger Delta won some reprieve for oil-producing communities from both the Federal Government and international oil corporations. Women have also been at the front of the struggle to win peace in Jos. The January uprising last year, against ending the oil subsidy, similarly witnessed aged women stripping in protest in some parts of the country.
Solidarity and struggle are central to winning gender equity and social justice. Indeed, the origins of the International Women’s Day lie in the struggles of working women and the socialist organisations they were part of. The first “Women’s Day” was held on February 28, 1909, in the United States. It was an initiative of the Socialist Party of America. The following year, female activists held an International Women’s Conference during the Socialist International’s convention in Denmark. It was these socialist, working women who resolved on a day being set aside for marking International (Working) Women’s Day.
The first International Women’s Day was organised in 1911, involving more than one million working women in four European countries. These women marked the day with over 300 demonstrations, in demand of women’s rights as part of the struggle for working class self-emancipation. Significantly, the opening act of the 1917 Russian Revolution was the mass demonstration of women marking the International Women’s Day.
The issue of women liberation is a very important one in itself. Women, in a general sense, have not always been seen as “second class” to men. The earliest primitive societies were not only classless, none of the sexes was considered inferior. The suppression of women arose through the same process which brought about and has perpetuated the domination of a few powerful elite over the majority of poor working people, who create the wealth of society.
The place of male working class activists in the struggle for women’s liberation is beside female comrades. This is how we can help emphasise the fact that oppressed working women, have much more in common with exploited male workers than with women like Cecilia Ibru, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Ararume Otteh, Erelu Dosumu, Halima Dangote and those other rich powerful women that belong to the elite class of oppressors.
As we fight together for a new society where all forms of exploitation and oppression, including those against women are abolished, we must equally fight for reforms that help alleviate the working and living conditions of women. A good example of this is the recent demand of the Joint Negotiating Council (Trade Union Side) for crèches in all public sector workplaces.
The Socialist Workers League places great premium on the self-activity of working men and women. Women trade union activists have played and continue to play leading roles in our organisation. “We oppose all tendencies, which turn workers against workers. We are against sexism and the oppression of women.” As the International Women’s Day is marked this year, we join our voice in saying NO TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN!
Male and female members of SWL will also join NLC and TUC in commemorating the IWD across the country, and call on all working class and youth activists to participate in solidarity in these programmes. In Abuja, the NLC National Women Commission will be holding a rally and later a symposium at the Labour House Auditorium. We should all endeavour to be there. Working class women and men united, cannot be defeated!