Hello dear reader. You may be a feminist, a boy, a woman, or just flipping through.
We are no longer in a situation where individuals can win by themselves. People need to be organised, and organise themselves, their peoples. Many communities have been organised decades now for their survival and it is high time the middle class individuals step up. Organisers can mobilise people or money or people with money. Organise people who are like you, of the same status, because you can organise your people best. It becomes a baby step in voicing your concerns together and learning and unlearning oppressive behaviors together and supporting others who have already been mobilising to survive in this system better.
Before I can talk about International Women's Day (IWD) 2018, I need to acknowledge the context. I am of the dominant ethnic group, i.e. Bengali. I am writing sitting in the capital city of a third world country, where English is increasingly a powerful tool for communication instead of the local and indigenous languages. Bangladesh is a neocolonial society i.e. colonialism is not gone but the nature of colonialism has changed to one of global capitalism1. A political scientist Britt Lawrence noted the following as a few identifiers of fascism: “Powerful and Continuing Nationalism,” “Supremacy of the Military,” “Controlled Mass Media,” “Obsession with National Security”2. He explains that flags are everywhere, on buildings, clothing, trinkets-along with slogans, mottos and songs of patriotism and loving one's country while the media is controlled either directly or through allies or indirect coercion. Sounds like Bangladesh.
Let this sink in for a while, how much have we taken as normal that we should have found absurd? How much have we taken as normal to get by? At the cost of whom?
National security becomes the reason for heightened surveillance. Increased surveillance is not just an increase of people watching, monitoring and recording data/information on individuals but also a way of making a certain kind of citizen who does not need to be governed but will regulate their own behaviors and thoughts in a way that is beneficial to governance by the state3. This form of self-regulation is done through schooling, disciplining at home, disciplining and punishments in society, seeing who gets punished for what, who gets bullied for what and aligning oneself accordingly to “fall in line.” Those who fail to regulate themselves or partake in this self-governance, are governed with force. Surveillance also operates on a global level namely through neocolonial bodies like international-governmental organisations4.
Now that we understand the context, we come to IWD. Last year saw a slew of media campaigns and ads in Bangladesh, that sold everything from a happy marriage (diamond rings), to ice-cream flavors for her, to ads on intimate partner violence. Some ads brought up issues pertaining to (middle class Bengali) women's wellbeing while others blatantly objectified women to sell them crap. Diligently the Left parties marched to remember International Working Women's day since the rest somehow forgot that a light skinned middle class Bengali women were not for whom women's day was started. In the last few years of the government, it has been celebrated for women's development due to the bump up in the Gender Parity Index (72nd to 47th) but the fascism goes unmentioned.
IWD was started by socialists of “western” countries and extended to other countries in an attempt to build power among working class women through internationalism. Fast forward, and the IWD has shifted hands to UN and then to multiple INGOs, corporations collectives, NGOs, UN; the IWD is no longer explicitly owned by working class women.
This year's theme is #PressforProgress, but for whom?
People who beg, pick trash, and recycle have been policed out of many “public” spaces. On the other hand, in the name of security public spaces are being closed down and/or access is being restricted. The rhetoric around security has been of national security but also about women's security packaged in her personal safety. This question of safety always raises the question of who needs to be kept safe from whom? A recent controversial article from a women's group showed that even prominent “women's activists” do not consider the struggles of the domestic workers “women's issues”. Countless Bengalis (including women) turned their heads away when the Marma sisters were assaulted and abducted, many even when Rani Yan Yan was assaulted. Bengali women are complicit in the violence against adibashi women, each time they remain silent or do not protest militarism and Bengali racism. Cisgender women assault, mock, or are complicit in violence against transwomen and hijras. Glass ceilings can only be broken by those at the top; do we need women CEOs to oppress the working class? Public spaces are being closed down, individuals are being put under strong surveillance. Anarchists, leftists, student organisations and many musicians and artist collectives have been putting up a good fight and occupying space and demanding justice even in the face of surveillance.
In the name of national security certain sections of the public are turned into bogeyman-type characters wrongfully. Usually this means anyone who does not look like the dominant ethnic and religious group, or pass as a certain image of man/woman or elite within the three. In different contexts speaking up or protesting is easier for some as opposed to others and in that situation it is important to be uncomfortable and take that step. For example, a situation where a hijra or a trans person is being intimidated or attacked it is safer for people who are gender conforming to step in. Do not make the situation about you. You should step in, because you can.
I ask for a return to the sparking legacy of women's day, with an understanding of our different agendas and powers to support each other and survive in this system where most of us are disposable and more and more of us are being disposed of. Before the start of World War I, 1914, Russian woman protested war and campaigned for peace—marking their first international women's day.
I invite you to organise, in homes, kitchens, schools, halls, fandoms, fields—for the harm we have done, people we owe, for things we can fix and realities we must strive towards.
1 Krumah, Kwame.Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of imperialism.1965.
2 Lawrence, Britt.“Fascism Anyone?” Free Inquiry Magazine: Spring 2003.
3 Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1975.
4 Waduge, Shenali.“The UN-Neocolonial Partnership.”LankaWeb: July 9th 2010.