On women’s key roles in people’s struggle for rights and system change

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Women activists highlighted their crucial roles in people’s assertions for rights and system change in a webinar organised by IBON International on 8 September 2022. The webinar, Winning the wrestle: Women speak out on struggle and resistance, gathered women activists, leaders, and development workers to share lessons from their experiences in struggling against corporate and elite power towards social transformation.

Speakers included Chathu Sewwandi of the Vikalpani National Women’s Federation; Sayang Mandabayan of the Front Nasional Mahasiswa Pemuda Papua; Gertrude Kenyangi of IBON Africa and Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN); Andi Cipta Asmawaty of the Asia Pacific Forum for Women, Law, and Development (APWLD); Joms Salvador of GABRIELA; Donna Denina of the International Women’s Alliance; and Sarojeni Rengam of PAN Asia Pacific. Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo of IBON International delivered the keynote speech.

The speakers discussed the situation of women in the global South amid multiple crises. Asmawaty of APWLD said that the pandemic and attendant crises have affected the livelihoods and incomes of women workers, especially those in the informal sector. “Women comprise around 80% of workers in the informal sector who suffer from low wages and precarious working conditions, with little or no legal and social protection,” she said.

In Sri Lanka, Chathu Sewwandi shared that women workers in the agricultural sector who earn less than USD 2 every day are barely able to survive due to the inflation of oil and food prices amid the country’s debt crisis. Women fisherfolk have been unable to set sail to catch fish for months due to high fuel prices. In Uganda, Gertrude Kenyangi shared that patriarchal customary land laws discriminate against women, and contribute to their economic insecurity.

Besides the global economic crisis, women also suffer from war and militarism stoked by global powers. In the context of the Ukraine war, Donna Denina asserted: “As women fighting for justice, freedom and peace, we do not side with either the US, EU, NATO, or Russia. All of them are pursuing imperialist goals.” “War,” Donna added, “leads to the intensification of the oppression of women and children”.

The speakers also discussed the challenging political conditions for women activists and rights defenders. Joms Salvador testified that “women human rights defenders across the world are persecuted, vilified, and attacked by the police, military, or right-wing forces.” Sayang Mandabayan shared that women in West Papua who participate in the struggle for land and liberation face similar violent attacks from Indonesian occupying forces. In her keynote speech, Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo highlighted the stories of Filipino Martial Law activists, Adora Faye De Vera and Atel Hijos, who have been recently arrested on false charges.

The speakers affirmed the importance of collective action in realising system change. Sarojeni Rengam said that it is “critical for women to come together to forward their own solutions to current crises”.

Spearheaded by IBON International’s Women and Gender Committee, the event showed a short video to introduce the institution’s analysis on women’s systemic oppression in the global South as articulated in the white paper, Advancing Women’s Rights and People-Powered Democracy. #