International women's strike in Montevideo, Uruguay, 8 March 2018 International women's strike in Montevideo, Uruguay, 8 March 2018. Photo: Media Red / CC BY-SA 2.0

Author Rachel Holmes spoke to writers from around the world about what the day means in 2024

Earlier this week I was enjoying a meal with an international group of women writers gathered for a week-long cultural event. Approaching 8 March, this provided a great opportunity to ask a group of diasporic women what International Women’s Day means to them in 2024.

Isabella Hammad, British-Palestinian novelist, analysed the contested political landscape of ‘selective solidarities’.

Rana Kazkaz, exiled Syrian-French filmmaker reflected that International Women’s Day seems now to be about recognising accomplishment and achievement but without programmes for policy change. Like everyone else, she focused on the right to abortion.

Greek novelist and dramatist Amanda Michalopoulou told me that she realised she was crying as she read about the enshrining of abortion as a constitutional right in France. She described feeling ‘very angry’ – the tears came from a profound sense ‘that they are laughing at us … We shouldn’t have to struggle so hard for what is a natural right.’

Uruguayan novelist Fernanda Trías who lives, writes and teaches in Bogotá, Colombia, described March 8th as a day of ‘women’s strike’ in Latin America. The streets are filled with purple and green. ‘Since 2015, there has been a strong wave of demands in Latin America under the slogan “Ni una menos” (against femicides/purple) and the ‘green tide’, the fight for the legalisation of abortion, represented by the green scarf. For us, the struggle for the decriminalisation of abortion is not something of the past; it is a current issue. When I see that France has constitutionally enshrined the right to abortion, I think about how far we are from that. Abortion was decriminalised in France in 1976, the year I was born: while in Colombia, it was decriminalised in 2022. Our women’s march in Columbia is now more important than ever because the rise of far-right governments threatens to roll back hard-won rights. Achieved rights are not set in stone; they must be defended day by day, as history is full of examples of setbacks.’

French-Palestinian-American poet Nathalie Handal spoke inspiringly of the emergence of Arab women’s cultural and artistic landscape over the past half century of her lifetime. In 2001, Handal published The Poetry of Arab Women, a ground-breaking anthology republished many times since and never out of print. Handal – mentored by Adrienne Rich – charted the changing cultural and political landscape for Arab women through the successive new editions of the anthology.

Angie Cruz, American-Dominican novelist and editor, wondered about how the significance of International Women’s Day diverges between women who understand its roots in working class women’s organisation and those for whom it has been co-opted to the event calendar and reputation laundering budgets of corporate and retail capitalism. 

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