Friday, 7 March 2014

International Women’s Day – solidarity and struggle

éirígí activist and former political prisoner Máire Drumm shares some of her thoughts on women and struggle in advance of International Women’s Day on Saturday 8th March.

Máire DrummFor many republicans and socialists in Ireland, on International Women’s Day our emphasis is often on the role women have played, and continue to play, in the struggles for national freedom, for social justice and for economic equality for all.

Ireland has a long and noble record of many women who played prominent and leading roles in those struggles. Women such as Betsy Gray, Anne Devlin and Mary Ann McCracken; the Parnell sisters; Maud Gonne; Countess Markievicz, Dr Kathleen Lynn and Winifred Carney and the many, many other less well-known but equally courageous women of those times.

From the original volunteers of Cumann na mBan, formed one hundred years ago in 1914, and the women volunteers of the Citizen Army to those who, in more recent decades, played a full part in a struggle for national liberation – the resilience, determination and valour of all those women remains an inspiration today.

In Ireland, women have had to constantly to fight on multiple fronts – to fight for national independence but also to fight against old-fashioned prejudices to demand equal status in the liberation movement and in society and to gain a voice in the political decision-making processes.

When Mairéad Farrell stated that Irishwomen had been oppressed both as women and as Irish people, she spoke an undeniable truth.

It is always worth reminding ourselves that International Women’s Day had its roots in the socialist movement of the early 20th century. It was a focal point for the struggles of working-class women internationally, for better living conditions, for better working conditions and pay, and for a political voice. The original roots of International Women’s Day sought an end to gender oppression, inequalities and injustices.

Those inequalities and injustices are still visible in the continuing wage differentials between women and men. They are visible in the prejudicial treatment of women who are abused physically and sexually. They are visible when those in government or in the pulpit attempt to dictate what women may or may not do with their own bodies.

International Women’s Day is also about women who are engaged in struggle around the world standing in solidarity with each other – from Ireland to Palestine, Africa and South America.

In that respect, it is right that we should acknowledge and send solidarity to those women who are currently imprisoned for the political beliefs – women such as Ursula Ní Shionnain in Limerick gaol and Sharon Rafferty, Christine Connors and Nuala Gormley in Hydebank. Women such as 79-year-old Margaretta D’Arcy – imprisoned by the Twenty-Six County state for her stance against imperialist wars.

International Women’s Day also coincides with an international week of events that seek to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Lena Al-JarboniAt present, there are 17 Palestinian women political prisoners in Israeli prisons. All but one is held in HaSharon prison in Israel.

Palestinian women political prisoners have to endure beatings, insults, threats, sexually explicit harassment and sexual violence, and humiliation at the hands of Israeli guards. They are often forced to undergo degrading strip searches and are subjected to intrusive internal body searches, for no reason other than as a punitive measure.

The British private security contractor G4S provides the full security system at HaSharon, including the central command room for the entire prison. The transfer of Palestinian prisoners from the occupied West Bank and Gaza into Israel to HaSharon Prison is illegal under international law and constitutes a war crime. G4S is complicit in this by the services it provides to HaSharon Prison.

The longest serving Palestinian women prisoner is Lena Al-Jarboni who has endured nearly 12 years in HaSharon.

Due to medical neglect, Lena can no longer walk and suffers from extreme pain. When the prison authorities refused to transfer her to hospital for an essential operation, all the other women political prisoners threatened to go on hunger strike. It was only then that the authorities finally allowed her the operation.

Lena Al-Jarboni has never fully recovered and her condition continues to deteriorate. Having endured nearly 12 years imprisonment, Lena is the longest serving Palestinian woman political prisoner. She still has over five more years left of her sentence and, due to her medical condition, it is very unlikely she can survive that.

So, this Saturday on International Women’s Day, let us pause and reflect on all those women of all nations who, in this 21st century, still continue with their struggles against aggression, occupation, displacement and deprivation of the most basic human, economic, social and political rights.

James Connolly paid his own tribute to all such women in struggle when he wrote in his pamphlet The Reconquest of Ireland<.em> in 1915:

“There are none so fitted to break the chains as they who wear them, none so well equipped to decide what is a fetter. In its march towards freedom, the working class of Ireland must cheer on the efforts of those women who, feeling on their souls and bodies the fetters of the ages, have arisen to strike them off.”

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