By Jessica Couloute
Illustration by Magdalena Xochitl Burtnik Urueta
When women come together, remarkable things happen. Many turning points in history can be attributed to the collective power of women. In the 1950 in Hanover, New Mexico, U.S., members of Local 890 of the International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers (IUMMSW, or Mine-Mill) went on strike. Empire Zinc failed to provide workers with equal pay and housing conditions; blatantly favouring white workers over Mexican workers ultimately leading to a 15-month strike.
About half-way through the protest, Empire Zinc established a court injunction which banned protesters from returning to the picket lines. Those who violated this ruling were subject to fines and jail time. In a time where men dominated the workforce, women found a loop hole. Since working men were unable to protest, their wives and children who were not technically striking workers, could not legally be subject to the same punitive action. So the women went on strike instead of the men.
Despite this exception, many women were subject to police brutality and arrest still occurred. The mass detainment of women and children received national attention resulting in negative reactions from the public — ultimately resulting in Empire Zinc conceding and reaching an agreement with Mexican miners to meet their demands of better pay and housing. This real event is the inspiration for the 1954 film, Salt of the Earth, which featured the real life miners and their families.
This is just one example of the collective power of female solidarity. Today, we continue to witness its significance through various social movements such as #MeToo and the Black Lives Matter movement, further illustrating how history shows us that when women move together, society moves toward to progress.
Women’s suffrage is a popular example of what happens when women form coalitions to achieve a common objective. Before the women’s suffrage movement, black women were already championing universal suffrage, fighting for the right to vote for black men and all women. Without the collective efforts of women across racial lines, the achievement of women’s suffrage would not be possible. And while this is an accomplishment of solidarity, it is also known and worth noting how mutual support was not shared across racial lines concerning challenges that uniquely plagued black women and men.
This lack of intersectionality can also be found in the 2017 Women’s March that took place in many parts of the globe, and which was critiqued for its failure to include BIPOC women in the narrative of sisterhood. While parallels can be drawn regarding some of the failings of both of these movements, neither discredit the tangible progress that was made due to women coming together. These instances serve as both an example of success, and an opportunity for improvement.
This is also not to say that solidarity doesn’t exist. It does and its contributions matter. Professor of sociology at the University of Warwick, Akwugo Emejulu, states that “the Women’s March has positioned itself as an actor seeking to seize state power and incorporate women into state institutions. These are perfectly reasonable and pragmatic politics that are necessary for this moment of crisis. However, this work should not be confused with a politics for freedom or a pathway to transform the existing social and economic order”. She goes on to refer to a less well-known Feminism for the 99 [per cent] (F99) and their Global Women’s Strike, which took place on International Women’s Day on 8th March 2017.
“What distinguishes F99 from the Women’s March is its transitional, grassroots focus, and its commitment to anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarity politics. In particular, F99’s starting point is linking struggles against predatory capitalism, sexism, and racism by grounding its activism in lives of the most precarious workers — women of color in the Global South and North.”
Another example of existing solidarity can be found in Rojava, Northern Syria. From a revolutionary movement by both men and women, a peaceful society is emerging with women rising in society and taking on influential roles within the government. An example is the co-presidency system with one man and one woman that is implemented in all institutions at all levels, and is an important marker for long-term social change.
In addition to women in government, an all female militia group can be credited with the dismantling of ISIS control and reclamation of regions within Northern Syria. Starting with the intention to protect neighbourhoods during the civil war, the women’s militia started fighting ISIS terrorists who captured, sold and enslaved women and girls, which opened the door to women’s autonomy.
They have also been building new educational institutions which has been a way to engage not only women but also men for long-term social change. With women on the frontlines and in leadership, in collaboration with Kurds, Arabs and Armenians, the region has contributed to the global fight for justice and equality.
It is crucial to understand the global notion of female solidarity as we are living in an increasingly more globalised society, and alliances must extend beyond race and borders. In an article that was part of the coverage for the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women, in 2017, titled “Without global solidarity the women’s movement will collapse“, Nazik Awad, a woman human rights defender from Sudan and founder of the Sudanese Women Human Rights Defenders Project, wrote,
“The accomplishments of the women’s rights movement over the last five decades are now in danger from closed borders and rising intolerance. Gender justice cannot be achieved without the strength of women’s solidarity around the world. Women’s rights groups all over the globe are challenged to fight; not just for the causes they support, but for their mere existence. Authoritarianism, fundamentalism, populism, and terrorism are dominating more countries every day, while women’s rights groups find their workspace shrinking locally and globally. Grassroots women’s movements in conflict and unstable countries are being suffocated under hostile working conditions. Without the solidarity and support from more established women groups in the developed countries, the women’s movement will slowly vanish, and lose all ground gained over the last decade.”
Despite critiques about its shortcomings, the Women’s Movement has gained a considerable amount of ground — momentum we cannot afford to lose. Through women’s resistance, society has made progressive strides in various areas for gender equality and society at large, including equal employment rights, access to education and reproductive rights.
Women’s solidarity does not imply that it is the responsibility of women to heal the world, but it serves as an example of the profound results that occur when we come together. If we want to successfully dismantle the systems that oppress us all, it will take the collective efforts of everyone to reach transformative change.
There is undeniable power in female solidarity, and even more strength we have yet to realise. Women across the globe have a shared experience of patriarchal oppression, which subjects them to violence, lack of access to resources, and denial of bodily autonomy; all of which are detrimental to the progress of their communities which reverberates throughout the world. It is imperative that we recognise the similarities in these struggles and join forces, combining resources to tackle these challenges together.