International Women’s Day: A Time to Care

Author: Green New Deal Rising volunteer Stephanie Johnston

Amid the emoji-laden messages from aunties on Whatsapp and colourful infographics circulating on Instagram, it’s easy to lump International Women’s Day in with all the other casually-observed holidays in our society. But this is a fairly recent development in its public perception.

If we want to reclaim International Women’s Day and reinvest it with any real meaning, then we need to recognise the deeply radical and controversial politics of its history. And by doing so, we can better connect it to our fight for collective wellbeing through the Green New Deal.

The roots of IWD at the heart of the working class movement

On the 3rd of May in 1908, almost two thousand working women gathered in the streets of Chicago to demand working womens’ economic and political equality with men, organised by the U.S. Socialist Party. Three years later, at the Socialist Second International in Copenhagen, two significant German socialist figures, Luise Zietz and Clara Zetkin, proposed an International Women’s Day to promote equal rights (primarily the suffrage cause) on a global scale.

An unnamed 14-year old striker with suffragettes Rose Livingston and Fola La Follette in NYC, 1913

Despite the lukewarm support of socialist men, who were worried that the feminist cause would steal away their women members, IWD was formally observed for the very first time in 1911 and marked by marches and meetings in multiple countries across central Europe. Russian women celebrated IWD for the first time in 1913 and, four years later, protests led by working class women in St. Petersburg calling out the poor living conditions under the Tzar’s reign were a pivotal factor in his abdication.

Interest in International Women’s Day waned during WWI, as nationalist causes vied with feminist and socialist interests. While many European socialist causes did continue to celebrate it in the interwar years (dropping the “International” element to avoid affiliation with Communist celebrations), it wasn’t until the 1960s that IWD made a real return, thanks to the advent of second wave feminism.

Determined, however, to avoid affiliation with distinct political movements, these feminists championed women’s issues (including equal pay and reproductive rights) without any real analytical force pertaining to class or race. IWD was back in the mainstream consciousness, but in exchange for mass appeal and engagement it had sacrificed its political punch. This depoliticisation was compounded by the UN General Assembly’s declaration of a Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace, to be observed on any day of the year according to a nation’s history and customs. However well-intended, this destabilised the sense of unity that had originally defined the occasion, landing us where we are today.

Why we must deliver a just transition and global justice

People in the UK today enjoy many freedoms thanks to the actions of the women who came before us, political representation and labour laws among them. However there is still work to be done to build a society where everyone has access to high quality welfare.

A Green New Deal offers a roadmap for how we get there. It sets out that an intersectional lens is essential in all policy-making decisions, that is, that perspectives shaped by gender, race, class and able-bodiedness, must be incorporated at every stage of decision-making.
This involves recognising that the majority of green jobs in current low-carbon sectors, such as the care and service industries, are performed by women, and consulting them during policy formation. It involves challenging unconscious gender norms in our daily lives, so that the burden of cleaning and maintenance in a circular economy doesn’t automatically fall to women. It means reevaluating the act of care; giving due credit to those who already perform it, listening to the experience of care-givers and supporting them in their fight for justice.

The Green New Deal also demands a revaluation of care on the global stage. It outlines how systems which enhance the wellbeing of citizens in the Global North instead of, or at the expense of, those in the Global South are not fit for purpose. The effects of climate change are already hitting those who did the least to incur it and research shows that it’s women the world-over that disproportionately bear the brunt of these disasters, being forced to walk further distances to get water or being subjected to violence incurred by resource scarcity in conflict-affected zones.

If we claim to care about wellbeing, then our ambitions cannot be limited to improving only our own quality of life, or that of those closest to us. This means refusing to buy from fashion brands who exploit the labour of (predominantly women) garment makers in the Global South in order to bring us the latest styles. And it means pushing the UK Government to do its global fair share to tackle the climate crisis, building its capacity to do so through a permanent and progressive windfall tax on fossil fuels companies and corporations profiting off the climate crisis.

Care as a political action

The Green New Deal is, at its core, a campaign of radical empathy and care for collective wellbeing. In the context of our society which increasingly relies upon the commercialising individualism, the decision to care for others and to act on behalf of their welfare, is distinctly political.

There is a tendency to feminise and to undervalue this work - to invoke essentialist ideas of a “natural capacity” for care and empathy that women are alleged to possess. Thankfully, the ability to care for others is not in fact limited to those who identify as women and the door of participation in this movement is open to all.

So this IWD, as an ode to its political and change-driving origins, I challenge you to start caring - care enough about yourself, your neighbours, and the human beings thousands of miles away from you to demand better for us all. Back the Green New Deal and join us at the next Green New Deal Rising welcome call. Those before us demanded universal suffrage - we demand a universally liveable planet. Let’s see what we can achieve this time!