Posted at 18:35 on 5 Mar 2019 by Pandora / Blake
For me, International Women's Day is grounded in its labour rights roots. In 1857, garment factory workers in New York City went on strike to protest appalling working conditions, long hours and low pay. The protest led to the formation of the first women's labour unions, and labour organisers in Copenhagan created International Women's Day in 1910.
In 2019, women still do the majority of childcare work and housework. Jobs disproportionately done by women continue to be exploitative, with zero hour contracts, long shifts and low pay. Discrimination and harassment are rife, and women are not believed when they report sexual abuse. Abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland, and austerity policies hit women the hardest.
Poverty limits people's choices. When few other jobs pay enough to afford childcare, or the flexible hours necessarily to do the school run or take time off when a child is sick, it's not surprising that 90% of the sex workers in the UK are women, the majority of whom are mothers.
And yet sex workers' workplaces are still criminalised: under brothel-keeping laws it is illegal for sex workers to work indoors with another worker for safety. Street workers are prosecuted for soliciting and loitering, given ASBOs, 'prostitute cautions' and 'section 21s', and their clients are prosecuted for kerb-crawling. Punitive policing doesn't help sex workers: it just forces them to work alone, pushing them into the shadows. When police confiscate earnings and administer fines, it forces desperate people back into sex work to survive. Policing and criminalisation disproportionately harm migrant women, trans women and women of colour.
162 years after the garment workers went on strike on 8 March, women are still working in exploitative, underpaid, and criminalised conditions. Jobs disproportionately done by women - including childcare, care work, nursing, cleaning, housework, and sex work - are work. This is the work that makes our world worth living in, but the women doing it deserve fair pay and labour rights.
Until all work done by women is recognised and valued, until women's workplaces are free from abuse, exploitation and criminalisation, and until women's work affords equal respect and equal pay, we need International Women's Day.
On March 8 I will be joining women and non-binary people in 54 countries across the world in going on strike. When women stop working, the world stops with us. We will stop work for the day – both paid and unpaid – and take to the streets.
The strike will protest issues affecting women worldwide: sexual harassment, the denial of trans womanhood, the forcible removal of children from low income and migrant mothers, corporate, street and state racism, poverty wages, benefit cuts, the criminalisation of abortion and sex work.
I'm going on strike to demand justice for women at the margins: trans women, sex workers, women of colour, undocumented migrant women, and working class women. If our feminism leaves the women who most need justice behind, it is worth nothing.
In solidarity with the women who carry the world on their shoulders, on March 8th, we strike.