Phenomenal women fighting for justice, equity and peace


08 March 2016

The calendar is full of international days to mark one cause or another. There are too many to remember or pay special attention to. But today’s International Women’s Day is one I always remember. Here are just a few of the phenomenal women, to use Maya Angelou’s phrase, who have stood out for me this year in their fight for justice, equity and peace around the world. 

Maude Barlow is the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, which Global Justice Now is working with in our campaign to stop the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP). Maude has spent decades campaigning to protect public water in Canada and around the world. She is best in her own words:

Do not listen to those who say there is nothing you can do to change the very real and large social and environmental issues of our time. There are serious problems that beset our world. I'm not now talking about a false sense of optimism based on ignoring the very real crises we face, but there is so much room for hope. And such a need to bring joy and excitement to our commitment to a different future. I swear to you this is true. The life of an activist is a good life because you get up in the morning caring about more than just yourself or how to make money. A life of activism gives hope, which is a moral imperative in this work and in this world. It gives us energy and it gives us direction. You meet the nicest people, you help transform ideas and systems and you commit to leaving the earth in at least as whole a condition as you inherited it.”

Frances O’Grady is the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress and she is the first woman to hold this top trade union job. Frances is ferocious in demonstrating that trades unions are far from male, pale and stale, as you can see when she tackles George Osborne on the harm austerity policies are causing peoples’ lives, especially those of women. Perhaps this is why David Cameron is scared to meet her?

Frances is vocal about equal pay:

Women may not have as many choices as we believe we should have, and we make the best of them. But you can’t ignore the fact that there’s a massive pay gap and inequality.

Even 50 years after the Equal Pay Act, women continue to be paid less, treated worse and have fewer opportunities than men in the workplace. Shocking new research released today by the University and College Union shows that in higher education women are being paid on average £6000 less than their male colleagues.

Mary Ann Manahan is an activist with Focus on the Global South, a network of activists and campaigners across Asia. I had the privilege of celebrating Focus’ 20 year anniversary in the Philippines in August and met Mary Ann there.

Mary Ann is an expert on the commons – land, water and freedom of information – and how international financial institutions are organising to privatise and control them. But what is as inspiring as Mary Ann’s expertise is her dynamism, engagement with grassroots groups and fresh approach. I am sure she will be embarrassed to be written about in this context, but she deserves to be here. She is the next generation of strong women leaders.

Pia Eberhardt  is a researcher and campaigner with Corporate European Observatory, which is based in Brussels. Never have I come across such a softly spoken but powerful campaigner. Pia has undertaken some of the most crucial and hard hitting research on TTIP (http://corporateeurope.org/sites/default/files/attachments/the_zombie_isds.pdf) , in particular around the lobbying and undue influence of corporations. When we beat TTIP, Pia will have played a crucial role.

Carrie Cracknell is the well renowned theatre director who set up Artists Against TTIP in 2015. While many of us use our maternity leave to work out how to care for a new baby and ourselves, Carrie also managed to find time to encourage her extensive artistic contacts to use their creative skills to stop TTIP. She has held workshops to explain TTIP to artists; become a media spokesperson against TTIP and created a film to reach new audiences. There’s more to come in 2016, so watch this space (http://www.artistsagainstttip.org/).

Sisters Uncut is a direct action feminist collective.  They take direct action to draw attention to and defend victims of domestic violence and the services they need to protect them. This is why last October they lay on the red carpet at the premiere of the new Suffragette film, in Leicester Square. Sisters Uncut have done a fabulous job at reminding us  - in loud and creative ways – about the inequity and violence many women experience. They have inspired a new younger generation of feminists.

Berta Caceres was a Honduran indigenous and human rights campaigner who was murdered just last week on 3 March.

Berta is most well known for her involvement in a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam - a project which threatened to cut off the supply of water, food and medicine for hundreds of Lenca people and violate their right to sustainably manage and live off their land.

Berta was well aware of the danger she and her family were in but refused to be forced out of her own country. She said:

We must undertake the struggle in all parts of the world, wherever we may be, because we have no other spare or replacement planet. We have only this one, and we have to take action.

Berta’s murder is tragically not the only one in Honduras. 114 campaigners were murdered between 2010 and 2014. Not only must Berta’s murderers be brought to justice, but all those who use violence to silence activists in Honduras and everywhere else.

Solidarity to all women around the world fighting – in all our different ways – for a more just, equitable and peaceful world.

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