And still we rise: the global struggle for women’s rights

When you really think about it, the fact that women all over the world are still fighting for equal rights defies all logic. Humans have mastered flight, walked on the moon and created the internet but women still can’t be trusted to make autonomous decisions about their own bodies, be guaranteed freedom from violence or harassment or get paid the same amount as men for doing the same damn work.

When we look back on this decade, it will, in part, be defined by the multi-pronged fight for women’s rights and the incremental mainstreaming of feminism – that most revolutionary of ideas, that all people, regardless of gender, are equal. From Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s rallying cry “We Should All Be Feminists” to the galvanising success of the Me Too movement to the global impact of the intersectional feminism practised by gallant women and girls such as the Honduran indigenous and environmental rights defender Berta Cáceres, Turkish LGBTI rights leader Hande Kader, Brazilian councillor and anti-police violence activist Marielle Franco and Pakistani girls’ rights and education campaigner Malala Yousafzai, the movement for gender equality has taken centre-stage.

But lest we forget, these same women and girls often pay a horrific price: at the age of 15, Yousafzai was shot and almost killed by the Taliban, simply for going to school and encouraging other girls to do the same; Franco was executed by still-unidentified gunmen on her way home from an empowerment event for young black women; in August 2016, Kader’s burnt and mutilated body was found on a Istanbul roadside – she had been raped and tortured before her murder; meanwhile, in March 2016 Cáceres joined the hundreds of land and environmental rights activists that have been murdered over the past few years, predominantly in Latin America but also in Asia and Africa.

In addition to physical violence, nor should we forget the often-vicious ideological pushback these demands for equality and justice are met with from both political conservatives and religious fundamentalists.

In Croatia, neo-conservative groups – some with close ties to the Catholic Church – rallied forces in an (unsuccessful) attempt to block the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, the world’s first binding treaty to address violence against women. “We don’t want our children to learn in schools that they are neither ‘she’ nor ‘he’, that they are ‘it’,” one man told Equal Times journalist Jelena Prtorić. Although the ratification of the Convention was ultimately successful, as was a massive campaign to legalise abortion in Ireland, women in Argentina were recently dealt a huge blow as lawmakers voted against the decriminalisation of abortion. It was a move emblematic of the global right-wing efforts to roll-back women’s basic human rights, most noticeably in sexual and reproductive health.

But if there has been pushback, there has also been progress, as some of the articles in this, our penultimate summer special, demonstrate. Nazaret Castro’s article on the impact of gender parity in CUT Brazil, Latin America’s largest trade union centre, underlines the importance of mainstreaming feminism at a policy level. “Parity has proved successful in placing issues such as childcare facilities, collective launderettes and the extension of paternal leave on the trade union agenda, as well as furthering the debate on work-life balance and shorter working hours,” Castro writes.

The issue of gender-based violence in the world of work is one that has galvanised unions around the world. The campaign to secure a binding International Labour Organization convention on violence and harassment took a step forward at the International Labour Conference this June. Prior to the meeting, Marie Clarke Walker, secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress, spoke to Equal Times about why the convention is so important, as well as why domestic violence is a trade union issue.

Another key area for women’s rights from a labour perspective is childcare. Working parents the world over struggle to access affordable, reliable and good-quality childcare services, but the issue is even worse amongst the working poor in the Global South. “Across 31 developing countries, less than 1 per cent of women living in poverty have access to a child care service,” write Laura Alfers and Rachel Moussié of WIEGO in an opinion piece published by Equal Times earlier this year. However, in the case of South Africa, investment of just 3.2 per cent of GDP in childcare services would extend universal coverage to all children under five while creating 2.3 million new jobs and increasing the number of women in the workforce by 10 per cent. Investing in childcare is not only ethical, it is also makes economic sense.

Ultimately, as Nazaret Castro seeks to remind us in her second article for this series (a survey on the impact feminism is having on mainstream politics internationally), “when feminist movements aspire to bring about a radical change in society, their demands inevitably go much further than equal representation, the bridging of the gender gap or the eradication of gender-based violence.” The triumph of feminism would not only mean equality for all, but also peace, social justice, environmental justice and sustainable livelihoods for all. It may seem a long way from our current reality, but it is possible – and, maybe in order for our species to survive, imperative.

Croatia and the backlash against women’s rights

By Jelena Prtorić

Some 5000 people rallied in the Croatian capital of Zagreb on 24 March 2018, to protest the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. The banner reads “Stop Istanbul

Photo: Jelena Prtorić

On 24 March 2018, over 5000 people from all over Croatia assembled in the capital city of Zagreb to march against Croatia’s forthcoming ratification of the Istanbul Convention. As the world’s first binding treaty to address violence against women, this Council of Europe document has generally received widespread support. But in Croatia, it has been met with fierce, media-backed opposition by (neo-)conservative groups, some of which are closely-tied to the Catholic Church.

“We don’t want our children to learn in schools that they are neither ‘she’ nor ‘he’, that they are ‘it’,” said Tomislav, a young protestor in his twenties. “We don’t want Brussels to tell us what to do here [in our country]. It is not about women’s protection at all; it is about getting money for the left-wing NGOs,” said Neda, a small and outspoken woman in her forties, when asked why she was marching.

Right-wing, conservative groups in Croatia are strongly opposed to the convention, which was ratified on 13 April 2018, claiming it “imposes gender ideology” on women and that it endangers “traditional family values”.

Read the full article here

CUT-Brazil, a trade union centre at the forefront of the feminist struggle

By Nazaret Castro

Latin America’s largest trade union, CUT-Brazil, has placed gender equality and women’s issues at the centre of its agenda for many years.

Photo: AP/Andre Penner

In 2012, measures were taken to ensure that female trade unionists would achieve parity in the biggest trade union in Brazil and Latin America, the CUT (Central Única de Trabajadores), in a country where women’s representation in parliament, for example, is amongst the lowest in the world, and the lowest in South America.

The measures, implemented in 2015, were “the result of a long process of building power,” according to social worker Didice Godinho Delgado, the first coordinator of the CUT’s National Committee of Working Women (CNMT) and author of the study Building Workers’ Power with Gender Parity: the case of CUT-Brazil, published by the German foundation Friedrich-Ebert (FES).

The CUT is the largest trade union centre in Latin America and the fifth largest in the world, bringing together 30.4 per cent of all unionised workers in Brazil, according to the study headed by Godinho. Gender parity has turned the CUT into a vanguard trade union within the women’s movement and an exception “not only within the trade union movement of Brazil, but the whole of Latin America and, perhaps, the world,” Junéia Martins Batista, who heads the National Women’s Secretariat (SNMT, previously CNMT) of the CUT, tells Equal Times.

Read the full article here

Proper childcare helps poor working women – and it can boost economies

By Laura Alfers and Rachel Moussié

A woman, with her son, pushes a bicycle loaded with sellable waste in Yangon, Myanmar.

Photo: AP/Gemunu Amarasinghe

In the fight for the rights of working women we must not overlook the most vulnerable: the millions of poor working women in cities in developing countries who are forced to take their kids with them to work or miss out on better-paid opportunities because they are caring for young children.

Some women take up work out of their homes – from stitching clothes to making snacks to sell at a market – to take care of their children. The earnings may be lower than in formal employment, but they have no other option as both decent work opportunities and quality child care services are rare in poor urban areas.

Across 31 developing countries, less than 1 per cent of women living in poverty have access to a child care service, which is a shocking statistic just one month after the world marked International Women’s Day.

Read the full article here

“Nobody would say that violence in the workplace is acceptable. That’s why this ILO convention is so crucial”

By Tamara Gausi

Marie Clarke Walker addresses delegates at the 3rd ITUC Women’s Organising Assembly in San Jose, Costa Rica on 12 October 2017.

Photo: ITUC/Meylin Aguilera

Marie Clarke Walker is secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC). Ahead of this year’s International Labour Conference, where a watershed discussion on the adoption of an ILO (International Labour Organization) convention on ending violence and harassment at work will be taking place at the end of May, and just a few weeks before the International Trade Union Confederation’s 23 Days of Action in support of the said convention, Clarke Walker spoke to Equal Times about why domestic violence is a workplace issue and what unions are doing to end it.

Read the full article here

When feminism sets the political agenda

By Nazeret Castro

On the night of 14 June, thousands of women, trans people and men encircled the area surrounding the Argentine Congress of Deputies. They were wearing the green scarves that have for years been the symbol of one of the feminist movement’s long-standing demands: the legalisation of abortion.

Photo: Sub Cooperativa

On 14 June, the women of Argentina made history: in a very narrow vote (129 in favour, 125 against), and a denouement that left the public on tenterhooks until the very end, the Congress of Deputies approved a bill to decriminalise abortion, processed, to everyone’s surprise, by the country’s conservative president, Mauricio Macri. It is now up to the Senate to decide whether the bill will become law, but the women’s movement nonetheless felt they had secured a victory: they had shown that pressure from below is able to sway a vote that for many years seemed to be a lost cause.

The parliamentary debate lasted 23 hours, throughout which thousands of women, transsexuals and men staged a vigil, maintained throughout the chilly night, outside the Congress building. Protestors were tweeting undecided deputies and wearing the green neck scarf that symbolises one of the feminist movement’s long-standing demands: the legalisation of abortion in a country where an estimated 500,000 clandestine abortions take place every year and, according to official figures, 43 women died of this cause in 2015. The only Latin American countries providing access to safe abortion are Cuba and Uruguay.

Read the full story here