Like a Bridge Over Troubled Women: 100 Years of Marching… and Movement?

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="206" caption="Women in Ft. Worth, Texas march for peace across an overpass bridge on International Women's Day, March 8, 2010"]Women in Ft. Worth, Texas march for peace across an overpass bridge on International Womens Day, March 8, 2010[/caption]

One hundred years ago, in 1910, at an international conference in Copenhagen of Working Women from seventeen countries, the feisty German politician Clara Zetkin proposed the idea of an International Women's Day - one day every year for women to celebrate and press for their demands, focusing on the oppression and inequality women faced worldwide, and in the United States, on better pay and voting rights in particular.

In March, 1911, International Women's Day was inaugurated throughout Europe, and in that same month the tragic 'Triangle Fire' took the lives of almost 150 working women in New York City. Later that year the Bread and Roses campaign began, a mobilization of textile workers on strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in which some women were reported to have carried signs that read "We want bread, but we want roses, too!" The struggle for fair wages and dignified conditions was on and would be the focus of the subsequent International Women's Day events in years to come.

Last Monday, March 8, 2010, women (and our male allies) around the world marked the 100th year since International Women's Day was conceived. But have the fruits of women's labor birthed a new global paradigm? This year on March 8 women took action to draw attention to the many ways women continue to be oppressed and unequal, including "discriminatory laws, the high rate of pregnancy-related deaths in many parts of the world, the skewed sex ratio in China and India, the disproportionately high number of women who are killed and victimized by wars, the comparatively heavier burden of poverty on women, and the continuing disparity between men and women in terms of the quality of available employment and wages received."  Women may be breaking glass ceilings in corporate ranks and military platoons, but are we actually shifting political discourse to end the roots of this oppression?

Incidentally, 2010 also marks thirty years since the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) by the United Nations General Assembly. The seven countries that have not ratified the international treaty are Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Nauru, Palau, Tonga... and the United States. Not only has this treaty not been passed, but the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution is still pending in Congress (it was reintroduced last year by two Congresswomen representing both sides of the political aisle).

The US has not yet been able to affirm that women and men have equal rights under the law, nor has it joined the long list of countries who honor International Women's Day as an official holiday. Is it any wonder then that in our much-touted democracy few have even heard of International Women's Day?

For those American activists who do know of this special day, it is a powerful opportunity to be vocal and in the streets that is hardly taken lightly. This year in the US activists joined hands to march across bridges over oceans, rivers, and that stream that's more prevalent than water in urban areas: highways. Women marched in solidarity with women survivors of war around the world. At over 100 marches in cities around the world - from Rwanda, to the DR Congo, New York City, and London - thousands of women came together to say No! to war and Yes! to peace. The global effort, coordinated by Women for Women International, drew press attention and community awareness to not only the ongoing plight of women living in warzones, but also to their strength, courage, and resilience in the face of violence and destruction.

Zainab Salbi, the Executive Director of Women for Women, said on International Women's Day, "As I reflect today...on a century of progress, I am given pause when I consider the harsh reality of life for millions of women around the world, women for whom survival remains a supreme challenge and empowerment remains a foreign concept. [The women marching today] protest the fact that women make up 70 percent of the world’s poor, 75 percent of the civilians killed in war (along with their children), and, according to the United Nations, receive only 10 percent of global income for 66 percent of the world’s work. They reject the narrative of violence and poverty they have inherited... Like life, peace begins with women. We are the first to forge lines of alliance and collaboration across conflict divides."

CODEPINK, the women's anti-war group best known for creative disruptions in Congressional hearings and "pink slipping" elected officials supporting war, could not agree more with Salbi. The organization's mission calls on women to rise up and oppose wars of aggression, not because women are better or more pure than men, but because the men have "busied themselves making war" and because a personal love of one's own family, community, and country leads naturally to "the love of a mother in Iraq for her children, and the driving desire of that child for life."  CODEPINK joined the call to "Join Me on the Bridge" participating and coordinating marches across the US.

In New York City women clad in pink carried their "Women Say No to War" banner in a march across the Brooklyn Bridge and were joined by several groups of high school and elementary school kids (start 'em young!). The march was met by the mayor in Manhattan and the park was filled with people, songs, and chanting.

In Redlands, California, a mighty band of four women, and two small children walked to the top of an overpass with signs and peace symbols in hand and stood vigil over the rumbling traffic. Peace signs, honks and waves inspired these gals to keep marching back and forth across the bridge. The group avows to continue the march by vigiling once a month in front of the district office for Congressman Jerry Lewis (R - CA) when the elementary school down the street releases the students. In Los Angeles, CODEPINK hosted a one mile walk over downtown’s Cesar Chavez Bridge and a brunch at Homegirl Café, a restaurant that was specifically created to employ and train women who come from difficult pasts, such as abusive relationships, for future careers in the service industry. They were joined by Women for Women and Office of the Americas, and their goal was to bring attention to local women’s issues while standing in solidarity with women around the world.

San Francisco CODEPINK and Women for Women members marched across the iconic Golden Gate Bridge together with a class of 44 kindergarden students, including one five year old boy who proudly carried a hand-made sign that read, "Treat Women Fairly!"

In Tucson, Arizona, women celebrated International Women's Day with a march across the Diamondback Bridge and created a video of women's voices for peace.   And in Washington, DC, women marched across the bridge over Dupont Circle and proceeded to stage a protest outside a beauty store carrying Ahava, beauty products for women made illegally in occupied Palestine.

Activists in Texas converged in San Antonio for a march with the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and in Fort Worth for a march across the pedestrian bridge in front of Arlington Heights High School.  Read a great article about this action here.  Local CODEPINK coordinator Yvette Richardson commented on CBS, "We're all standing in unity for women's rights and women's solidarity. Women across the world from the Congo to Rwanda to Afghanistan to Iraq all over the world all over Europe all over the United States are joining on bridges today... We think that the women's rights movement is over, but it's not."

Perhaps the most moving International Women’s Day report was the one that came in from the country that houses US Central Command: Bahrain. Christine Hasan reported that in Muharraq, Bahrain, Arabian Gulf, "We organized a photo shoot at our premises as we are a nursery and we could not take the children out to a bridge. We had boards in Arabic and English stating 'We are Women, Mothers and Sisters. We build bridges of peace every day. Join us in peace and understanding.' Our students decorated large cup cakes with Pink icing (for Code Pink), which teachers, mothers and students representing in all 10 nationalities gave out to ladies in the neighborhood and ladies in passing cars all the while telling them about the event. It was an amazing morning; filled with fun laughter, new friendships and that elusive thing, peace."

International Women’s Day began as a rallying cry for women to rise up for economic equality and for justice. Today we are conceivably more in need of that cry than ever before. In the aftermath of the economic near-collapse of 2009 unemployment soars while the US pumps more funds and human fuel in to foreign wars. The $3 trillion dollar conquest for oil and power in Iraq and Afghanistan has left many Americans without affordable education or healthcare. Activist and playwrite Eve Ensler sums this up best in one of the teenage monologues in her new book, I am an Emotional Creature:

The Iraq war cost nearly $3 trillion.
I can't even count that high
but I know
that money could have
would have
ended poverty in general
which would have canceled terrorism.
How come we have money to kill
but no money to feed or heal?
How come we have money to destroy
but no money for art or school?

The fundamentalists now have
billion-dollar private armies.
The Taliban is back
but never went away.
Women are burned, raped, bludgeoned, sold,
starved, and buried alive
and still don't know they are the majority.

As it becomes legal for corporations to back candidates for federal office without financial restraint, as top-level bankers receive bonuses while the firing squads continue to X out low-level positions, and as private mercenaries continue to make a killing on US overseas occupations, it is time again for women to break our silence, unite in common cause, and invest our own resources and time in a more peaceful tomorrow.

One hundred years ago women marched with signs for “Bread and Roses” linking basic needs and respect. As Women’s History Month continues, this coming weekend, on March 20, Americans will mark seven years since the invasion of Iraq, and will again take to the streets with a similar demand for Jobs and Justice, for the kind of security that maintains livelihoods and the betterment of the next generation of sons and daughters, rather than the cultivation of terrorists and the profiting of the wealthy bank CEOs and Blackwater execs. Will you join in?

Rae Abileah is the Roseroots Coordinator for CODEPINK Women for Peace. She lives in San Francisco, CA, and can be contacted at rae[at]

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