The Week Before the Festival: Found in Translation, Poland

Femicide and the International Women’s Strike

Instead of Celebrating, Women from over 55 Nations Were Striking

/ by Klementyna Suchanow

United women are aiming at resisting new waves of misogyny and violence.


In 2017, women didn’t want to get flowers, discounts at the hairdresser’s, or the traditional stockings. They marched for their rights, and to halt the entire globe for a day. Across the time zones, starting in Sydney, via St. Petersburg and Paris, to Rio and New York, they gathered at Hour W (for Women) on the strike day of 8 March, on squares and streets, to jeer at and shout down governments, and to present our demands. As they write, in their call for the strike: “We constitute more than half the world’s population.” It’s upon our decisions life on earth relies.


Why are women protesting across the world?


A year ago, a 16-year-old cousin of Sandra, named Maricarmen, was murdered. And this pushed Sandra to engage, because six women a day are murdered in Mexico. Nadia comes from the Argentine city of Rosario where, a few months ago, police brutally mistreated women gathered for an annual congress. Mariana from Rio de Janeiro can no longer stand how, in a telenovela, a husband calls his wife puta, whore, and adds that he has to educate her. Macho culture is responsible for Latin America being a cradle for the phenomenon termed “femicide.” Yewon and Hyelin are young feminists who mobilized to protest in Seoul against increasing sentences for doctors performing abortions: “The same awaits the Poles, if the new project circulating in their parliament is accepted.” Melanie, from Derry in Northern Ireland, just six years ago, dared to open up and talk about the domestic violence that she’d been enduring since she was 15. Karen from Ireland demands the repeal of a mention in the constitution equating a fetus with adult life, in times when twelve women a day cross to Great Britain to terminate pregnancies, and younger girls who use the morning-after pill are sentenced to prison. Tatiana from Moscow has, for years, exposed changes, like the closing of a condom factory under pressure from the Orthodox Church. For her activities, she’s already been convicted to six months, and she’s been under house arrest for eight years. Even the women from Pussy Riot, who spent two years in prison for a punk song performed in an Orthodox Church, decided to flee Russia. There were also Cubans, who of course couldn’t openly strike. There were calls to strike from occupied Sahara territories, and women from Hong Kong.


Say “no” to sexism and misogyny.


The forms of striking were different. For example, Argentina, Spain, France and Finland tried to cooperate with labor unions. The Spanish Confederación Intersindical, responsible for the education sector, hospitals and railways, announced that each worker could utilize the right to strike in three shifts: From 12 to 2, from 6 to 8, from 9 to 11.


Polish women are not supported by the Solidarity organization there. However, “Solidarity is our weapon” was the slogan for the international strike, adopted from their usage. Polish women went on strike in a wild way, confronted with the same problems as American women – they were forced to take a day from their holidays or sick leave, or they needed to make individual arrangements with employers. However, even in the States, small unions were claiming to support the strike. This was the case with the teachers’ union CTU in Chicago, and NNU – National Nurses United – in Washington, DC.


Turkish student, Ayse, did not manage to organize a strike in Izmir, because it was prohibited by the government. In Istanbul, women were told they can protest in silence, but finally, after pressure, the ban was lifted and they are able to go to the streets. In Thailand, for safety reasons, it was not possible to use the word “strike,” in order not to put oneself at risk. But women refused to do domestic work and symbolically exposed brooms at their doors. In many Latin American countries, striking from domestic responsibilities and family care was also popular. Also taken up was a boycott of companies using sexist advertisements, as well as singers, football players, politicians and writers renowned for sexist speech – and as we all know, they aren’t hard to find.


Who do women blame for the state of things? Cultural education, in which boys are allowed to do more? Permissiveness toward violence? Also to blame are state institutions that haven’t established remedial and educational projects, or are holding off on them, and courts that permit victims to again be victimized. Last but not least, the church – women are aware that this is their main enemy.


Italians, so close to the Vatican, all but jumped with joy, when they heard the idea for acts of apostasy, also increasingly popular in Poland. The separation of church and state continues as a core postulate of the International Women’s Strike (IWS).


The IWS team adopted a rule of bilingualism. During preparations, the languages used were English and Spanish, with all documents and posts translated from one to the other. Therefore, the first team created was a translations team. Other teams specialized in films, radio recordings, websites, Facebook-group administration, Twitter specialists, graphic designers and journalists. This common work was excellent, despite many cultural differences, noticed especially when the color for the strike was being decided.


And they said in Poland that, on 3 October, they went out to play.


The black color of the Polish strikes, accepted in the European context, proved unacceptable to black American groups. Violet, considered a color of feminism in Latin America, doesn’t carry a similar message in Europe and other places. Feminists in the US, who ran the Day Without a Woman, adopted the red color.


After the March of Women on Washington, D.C., the concept of striking gained more power of presence for the strike in the media, and a shared sense of threat, plus faith in American feminists, who stood at the forefront of women in the US. This faith toward internationalism decided that the efforts were combined. It was here that the gurus of feminism, including Nancy Fraser and Angela Davis, made the call for a feminism of the 99% – meaning a popular feminism. The IWS movement has no roots in any existing organization, and describes itself as a grassroots movement. It has been built by hundreds of movements, collectives, organizations and women who hadn’t considered themselves feminists before. It is they, who brought fresh energy: “Old” feminists organizations joined at a later stage.


Learning from each other, these old and new IWS feminists are determined to continue this collaboration, and already have ideas on shaping the world since the 8 March. It is joined at this moment by some 60 nations, including Pakistan, Fiji and the Dominican Republic. This revolution of women generated the first women’s strike at an international level in human history, and has the face of a Polish woman, because this is where the inspiration, after 3 October 2016, came from, and where the initiative to found the international women’s movement was created. And the Polish minister of foreign affairs commented, after 3 October, that women were only “out to play.”

Klementyna Suchanow

is a coordinator of the International Women's Strike. She has written three books published in Polish: the biography Gombrowicz: I, Genius to be released in autumn 2017 by Czarne; a reportage about Cuba, Queen of the Caribes (2013); and Argentinean Adventures of Gombrowicz (2005).