2021 International Women's Day march in Melbourne. 2021 International Women's Day march in Melbourne. Source: Matt Hrkac - Wikicommons / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY 2.0

For International Women’s Day, Counterfire asked women activists their views on the state of the struggle for women’s liberation. We are publishing a selection of answers over the weekend


It is difficult to celebrate an International Women’s Day five months into a genocide where the killing and collective punishment of the population in Gaza has disproportionately targeted women. While the indiscriminate assault by Israeli forces has spared no one, UN Women, a United Nations organisation dedicated to gender equality has called it “a war on women” which “kills and injures women in unprecedented ways.” Nine thousand women have been killed with two mothers killed every hour and nearly one million women and girls have been displaced. There are approximately fifty thousand pregnant women in Gaza and 40% of those pregnancies have been classed as high-risk. With a healthcare system which has been almost completely obliterated, the result has been a 300 per cent increase in the rate of miscarriages since Israel’s bombing campaign began. 

Women are experiencing the horrifying ordeal of C-sections without anaesthetic (or in some instances, post-mortem) meanwhile the lack of sanitation, clean water and “famine-like conditions” due to the cutting of food and aid has left women and babies at risk of death from post-natal complications. At the start of the assault women and girls were using period-delaying hormone pills due to the lack of access to water and menstrual hygiene products as well as the loss of privacy which comes from having one shower for every four thousand five hundred people and one toilet for every two hundred and twenty. Since then they have been reduced to tearing off parts of tent fabric, clothes and cut-off pieces of towels, increasing the risk of infection and toxic shock syndrome. 

What most women take for granted has now become a matter of life and death for Gazan women and equally painful to witness has been the campaign of dehumanisation and othering of Arab women in Palestine in order to manufacture consent for their collective punishment in conjunction with the weaponization of spurious “women’s liberation” arguments to justify the assault on Gaza. Despite these unimaginable horrors and the scale of the suffering, western feminism’s loudest voices have failed to speak up consistently in demanding an immediate ceasefire with their focus being primarily on the sexual violence which occurred on October 7th. The weaponisation of rape in conflict must be unreservedly condemned if they are found to have taken place, but the outrage and selective empathy reserved for Israeli women has revealed hypocrisy and racist double standards on the part of Western feminism. You are either opposed to women’s oppression everywhere or not at all, and the moral failure of Western feminism in highlighting the plight of Arab women in Gaza reveals how far we have to go in building a truly internationalist movement for women’s liberation free of colonialist attitudes.


I am 83, so before I answered these questions I checked with a younger woman (39) and found out what she thought was important.  So this is a joint perspective.

What do you think are the main challenges that women face today, and how should we take them up?

Child care is the greatest barrier to women getting work and getting on in their jobs. If you earn £18 per hour, then after school club costing £27 per hour is not affordable. It is possible to have a free childcare place for all children, as it was done in Finland after WW2 (and is still the case). We should campaign for this through trade unions and in the community.

Which women, past or present, particularly inspire you?

Mary Wollstonecraft made the case that women are unequal and why, and she led an independent life. Sylvia Pankhurst fought for revolutionary socialism, women’s rights, and against racism. Both were fine artists, Mary as a writer and Sylvia as a painter, and as a writer too.

Why are we still having to fight for women’s rights more than one hundred years on and how can we make International Women’s Day more powerful?  

As long as women are cheap labour to bring up the next generation for capitalism, we will have to fight. We needed to fight for the equality of women to take up jobs that, traditionally, men do, and this has succeeded far less than it should have. One idea for making International Women’s Day more powerful is for women to simply all take that day off. No woman should work on the day which would make women’s importance in the workplace obvious.

How can we campaign most effectively for women’s liberation?

We need to campaign both in the workplace gaining the support of men, and in the community, campaigning over issues such as child care, school meals, and NHS issues.  But we need to campaign consistently and not on single issues as the campaign for the vote was. It should include women who are not working as well as those who are.


What do you think are the main challenges that women face today, and how should we take them up? 

Types and conditions of work continue to be highly gendered, with women, mostly from the global South and racialised, suffering the brunt of precarious, dangerous and low-paid work in global production and services. Our struggle is for a society that values these types of life-sustaining labour, paid and unpaid, which does not exhaust people for a useless profit motive, and which directs production to the needs of society. Recognition of the leading role of women in labour activism, from health workers in South Africa, to factory workers in Mexico’s maquiladoras, to cleaners in London’s transport systems and so on, should energise any feminist movement.

Which women, past or present, particularly inspire you? 

There are endless inspiring women, but in feminist thinking itself, I will say Angela Davis and Silvia Federici. Davis, for expounding the problems of ‘glass ceiling feminism’ and highlighting the revolutionary currents of Black, indigenous, poor, trans etc. women who seek something better than inclusion in a racist, patriarchal state and society. And of this society, Federici, in ‘Caliban and the Witch’, shows how capitalist development concealed women’s unpaid labour and transferred its class antagonisms into antagonisms between men and women. Hence men have maintained their power by degrading women, just as capitalist social relations create antagonisms based on ‘race’, migration status, sexuality, and other social divisions. And in all cases, collective strength is lost, the supposedly privileged parts of the working class are also disempowered, and all of society suffers. This historical understanding of social chauvinism and violence in society can help us to cut through renewed efforts at division and deflection coming from the capitalist class, and see the possibility of a different world.

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