Today is International Women’s Day. The mainstream media misses the point intentionally. They highlight certain women (some who make the lives of women everywhere difficult people like Hilary Clinton, Condoleeza Rice, Angela Markel etc) and they fail to give credit to those who change things or to even explain to us the origin of this
day. Having an anual dedicated day for women (action) was proposed by Clara Zetkin of Germany to attendees at the International Conference of Working Women in 1910. Inspired by women socialist movements for fair working conditions in the USA in 1908 and 1909, movements grew of women demanding their rights (until then they did not even have a right to vote). The first women’s day on 8 March 1911 launched demonstration and marches for women workers’ rights (right to vote, right to fair work condition, right to live free from oppression, right to life, against wars etc). After a long struggle and many lives lost along the way, the UN finally recognized 8 March as an “International” (I prefer global) women’s day in 1977, 66 years after it was launched by brave socialist women. Thus women’s day is about actions against injustice not about Hilary Clinton!
The First Arab Women’s Congress of Palestine gathered about 200 women and was held on 26 October 1929 in Jerusalem. The demands were rights of women and against the Balfour Declaration, against the racist idea of Zionism, for self-determination, and for full equality (gender, religion etc). They elected a 14 member Executive Committee headed by Matiel E. T. Mogannam. Mogannam wrote a book titled “The Arab Women and the Palestinian Problem” published 1937. Moghannam explained how Palestinian women in the 1920s were innovative in many ways: lobbying the colonial power, writing in newspapers, and holding the first demonstration in human history that used automobiles with 120 cars in 1928 (gathered from all over Palestine to drive in the streets of Jerusalem). See my book on “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of hope and empowerment” (http://qumsiyeh.org/popularresistanceinpalestine/) The struggle of women here continues unabated. Many people like me believe sincerely that had women been in charge here, we would have had a free Palestine by now. My mother who is 82 years old showed us by example what giving and self-sacrifice and love of people and land means. My wife and three sisters are likewise examples of what we all should aspire to do: kind, dedicated, and hard-working human beings. Like millions before them and millions contemporary with them, these women make life livable while many men (and a few women) engage in hurting others and pushing for conflicts and war. Words are too mediocre and inadequate to express our feelings but I simply want to say to all the women working for peace and justice: thank you and to pledge that we will work with you for more progressive change in our societies.
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Professor and Director
Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH)
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Sustainability, Youth Education and Empowerment