International Women’s Day—Wednesday, March 8—is celebrated all over the world, but not always in the same way. In some countries, it has become as anodyne as Mother’s Day, celebrated with sales and flowers. In others, it hews closer to the day’s radical, turn-of-the-century roots, as a protest started by suffragists and socialists.
In the United States this year, there was a call for a general strike, entitled “A Day Without Women,” where women were encouraged to withhold their labors, paid and unpaid. The staggering turnouts for the Women’s March(es) in January gave it added momentum.
In Pittsburgh, there was a rally in front of the City-County Building. Several hundred women (and more than a few men) showed up on a blustery Wednesday evening, many wearing red and black in honor of the day.
Among all those gathered, one of the most notable aspects of the event was the diverse lineup of speakers.
The Raging Grannies sang anti-war songs. A Mexican immigrant talked about violence against women, and how pervasive it is in Mexico. A young Muslim explained her choice to wear the hijab, even though it singles her out for potential abuse—and spoke out against not only the threats to her own community, but also the rise in anti-Semitism. An Iraq war vet spoke about how horrifyingly common sexual assault is in the military, and her own experience with it.
Rosemary Trump, Vice President of the Service Employees International Union, talked about the history of women fighting for better working conditions, going back to the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911.
Alisa Grishman of Access Mob spoke about how disability rights benefit everyone.
“You are not just fighting for people with disabilities,” she explained. “You are ensuring that if you become disabled, there’s still a job waiting for you.”
Leah Knauff, 15, of Hopewell, left school early to come in with her mother.
“It’s about working women, labor rights, sexual assault in the workplace,” she said. “It’s about informing others about feminism. Many people…think it’s about women overpowering men, but it’s really about being treated equally.”
“‘Working women’ doesn’t just mean those who work nine to five.” she continued. “It’s also mothers, teachers, those who are raising kids to be kind and to do what needs to be done.”
Knauff wants women to recognize their economic power, too, and to use it.
“Local businesses, women-owned businesses, are the only things we should be spending money on today,” she says.
Gail Meister, 67, of Irwin, held a sign that said simply, “I was just a Voter. You made me an Activist.”
“I decided to take a page out of ‘Indivisible,’ she explained. “I am visible.”
Although the organizers ranged from Women of Steel (a United Steelworkers group), to Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania and Socialist Alternative Pittsburgh, there was a determined emphasis on solidarity, and finding common ground.
Calls for free, universal healthcare and childcare—already enjoyed in most industrialized countries—and “equal pay for equal work” were greeted with some of the loudest cheers.
There were a lot of signs. Some were pretty creative.
“We need to talk about the elephant in the womb,” read one. It featured a diagram of a uterus with a little elephant labeled “GOP” lodged inside.
Another read, “I am My Brother’s Keeper, even if He used to be my Sister.”
The women of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust had a sign that said, simply, “Trust Women.”
Another put it in the simplest terms possible: “Yinz Means All.”