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Q&A: “Women Are the First to Cook and the Last to Eat”

Kumari Karandawala interviews activists from the new INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S ALLIANCE

NEW YORK, Aug 19 2010 (IPS) - Three hundred women from more than 30 countries converged in Canada last weekend for the Montreal International Women’s Conference 2010 (MIWC), with the aim of building a global militant women’s movement in the 21st century.

Monica Moorehead of the Women's Fightback Network Credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Griswold

Monica Moorehead of the Women's Fightback Network Credit: Courtesy of Deirdre Griswold

It was hosted by the Committee of Women of Diverse Origins and also commemorated 100 years since the launch of International Women’s Day, first observed on Mar. 19, 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

Well-known U.S.-based anti-imperialist women’s organisations like Movemiento de Acion, Inspirando Servicio (Movement of Action, Inspiring Service – MAIZ) and Babae (Tagalog for “woman”), both from San Francisco, were joined by organisations from developing nations in Asia such as Gabriela Philippines, Asian Rural Women’s Network and Action Network for Marriage, Migrants Rights and Empowerment (AMORRE).

IPS spoke with key panelists who shared their thoughts and views for the new movement – Dr. Azra Talat Sayeed, founder of Roots for Equity at the University of Karachi; Monica Moorehead of the Women’s Fightback Network, based in New York City and Boston; Eni Lestari Andayani, chairperson of the International Migrant’s Alliance (IMA); and Marie Botea, a coordinating member of the conference.

All four panelists condemned imperialist governments, citing the United States in particular as a leader in “monopoly capitalism”. They stressed that economic globalisation as currently practiced impedes women’s rights and further oppresses those who are already mired in poverty.

Excerpts from the interviews follow.

Q: Monday marked the conclusion of the first International Women’s Conference. One of the goals for this convention was to create the first International Women’s Alliance. Was this accomplished?

A: DR. AZRA TALAT SAYEED: Yes the Alliance has been created. We are calling it IWA – International Women’s Alliance. The general assembly was founded this weekend. Next year will be the first general assembly.

Q: How will you keep the momentum from the conference going?

A: DR. SAYEED: Momentum will come from women’s grassroots organisations and women continuing to fight for equality in the third world. I do not conform to Western labels for developing countries. It is what it is, the third world.

In fact, my organisation, Roots for Equity, represents a network of organisations within the Asia Pacific region on law and development. It is an organisation where I work with both men and women.

Q: Would it be correct to state that the Alliance correlates women’s issues and abuses with capitalist, imperialist governments?

A: MONICA MOOREHEAD: Yes. Capitalist governments are imperialist governments who undermine women’s rights. Imperialist governments did not bring about social justice and equality for women. The USA has not given anything to women. Most gains for women have been as a result of women’s activism.

The alliance has to be on a global scale because there is so much violence that women are suffering from as a result of capitalism. The recent economic crisis is ravaging the entire world. The USA is an imperialist country and practices rampant exploitation and what it (in turn) does to developing countries…where exploitation is rampant anyway.

Today, the USA is suffering. There are 30 million people not employed or under employed. At a recent rally for affordable housing, 30,000 people came out in support of, and in need of, affordable housing. Women are suffering the most. That is why this conference is timely. Thirty-two countries were represented, covering such issues as migrants forced to leave homes and so many more.

Q: What topics will be on the agenda for the IWA 2011 General Assembly?

A: DR. SAYEED: A very big issue now is hunger. There is an issue of lack of food, especially for women in Pakistan. This is as a result of women being the first to cook and the last to eat. Women are the biggest percentage who suffers from hunger. Privatisation has had a terrible impact on food items. Women and girl children are facing hunger more and more.

A second issue is women in conflicts zones where there are major operations on the ground such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. A third issue are worker’s rights and fourth, the extreme rate of unemployment.

The U.N. reported that the highest number of unemployed is youth. Worker’s rights such as exploitation of women, where women are not even paid five cents for a full day’s work and instead they are given these microfinance loans where the loan repayment is at very high interest rates.

Women are given these loans to create enterprise but repayment is at 10, 18 even 30 percent interest rates which is due even if their enterprises do not work out. These are really poor women who are living in urban tenements, slums or project housing. The loan policies are governed by organisations such as the World Bank, Citibank, in imperialist countries and societies.

ENI LESTARI ANDAYANI: Most women at the conference are exploited so exploitation will be an issue. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) which convened this June came up with labour conventions for domestic workers. We need to keep pushing governments to have an international standard. The majority of countries have agreed.

But this is not the end of the meetings. They (the ILO) are coming up with a new draft which will be discussed again at the ILO meeting in Geneva next year. Finally domestic workers will benefit equally from the global social economy.

Q: How many members attended? Were there any members from the EU?

A. ANDREA BOTEA: Over 300 people registered. We had about 40 speakers. We had one member of Filipino descent from the Netherlands, and reps from Germany, Norway and Kurdistan.

Q: Do you expect a positive outcome for the 43 women prisoners detained in the Philippines as a result of the declaration you sent to President Benigno Aquino III?

A: BOTEA: These 43 health workers have been detained and tortured since February 2010. It is not the first time President Aquino has received messages. It is going to take more pressure to convince him.

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