'Without us ... life stops': Women urged to go on strike for International Women's Day

Women around the world are being encouraged to ditch the dishes and skip work today to mark International Women's Day.

Organizers of the Women's March on Washington want to keep the momentum going

Chacha Devinci holds a sign in Montreal during a rally on Jan. 21 that coincided with the Women's March on Washington in protest of President Donald Trump. (Elysha Enos/CBC)

Women around the world are being urged to ditch the dishes and skip work today to mark International Women's Day.

Supporters of the International Women's Strike have organized events in the U.S. and about 30 other countries. Organizers of January's Women's March on Washington are also encouraging women to boycott paid and unpaid work and are calling it A Day Without a Woman.

The campaign is their latest effort to keep the momentum going following the massive protest in the U.S. capital on Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump was sworn in as president. 

In addition to taking a break from paid and unpaid work, women are urged to avoid shopping unless at businesses owned by women or minorities. The idea is to only spend money at places that support women's economic advancement.

There's also a dress code for the day: wear red as a sign of "revolutionary love and sacrifice," organizers say, adding red is a colour of action and is traditionally associated with the labour movement.

The point of going on strike is to draw attention to the contributions women make to the economy and to highlight economic injustice. Organizers are calling for an end to discrimination in hiring, affordable child care, paid family leave, fair pay and for the right of all workers to unionize.

A sea of people wearing pink hats attended the Women's March on Washington. On International Women's Day, March 8, organizers of a women's strike are encouraging men and women to wear red, a colour associated with the labour movement. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

"We are the backbone, the lifeblood of what makes our economy and our political system function," said Rahna Epting, chief of staff of a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization called Every Voice. "Without us, these things would stop and life stops."

Her workplace is among those giving female employees the day off, as requested by A Day Without a Woman organizers.

Strike has its critics

Some schools in Alexandria, Va., just across the Potomac River from Washington, are closed because so many women requested the day off and a school district in North Carolina also cancelled classes.

In addition to closing for the day or giving female workers the day off, employers are asked to audit their policies and how they impact women and their families.

Candi Churchill, an organizer with National Women's Liberation, a Florida-based feminist group that is supporting the International Women's Strike, said this isn't like a typical strike against an employer; it's a protest against a system that undervalues women's labour.

Withholding labour, both paid and unpaid, can be a powerful way to effect change, said Churchill.

"We will not know until it happens how many people will participate, but the idea is to build the movement and build our fighting force because we do not have justice and democracy right now and we are fighting for it."

Khalil Hymore Quasha and his daughter, Norah, at the Women's March on Washington.

The strike has its critics. Some are saying it's a day more for privileged women who can afford to miss work and who aren't at risk of being fired and that its goals are confusing.

"All things being equal (which is what we're after, right?), we are too essential to play hooky. That's why the idea that women should take a day off en masse to make a political point is self-defeating and vaguely insulting," wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum.

But supporters say there are plenty of ways to participate beyond not showing up to a paid job. Go on strike from doing the dishes or laundry, they say, stand up to a disrespectful man, or simply wear red.

"I do not agree that striking is a privilege. It is a risk, it is bold, it is important and the people who are doing it, I admire them and I think if you can do it, you should. But if you can't, that's your decision, no one is telling you to," said Churchill. "It's not a privilege, it's a call to action."

Protest planned at White House 

There are rallies planned across the U.S. on Wednesday, including one in Washington that will see women march to the White House to protest Trump's executive order that bars health organizations abroad from receiving federal funds if they discuss abortion as a form of family planning (the "gag rule").

Organizers of the Women's March on Washington want to build on the event's momentum. (Getty Images)

Churchill said this year's International Women's Day has particular significance for American women because many are worried about their rights, particularly reproductive rights, being rolled back under Trump's administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. Churchill said they want to send a message to the president on Wednesday: 

"Women all over this country are serious about their rights and their freedoms and we're watching you. And this is only the beginning."

Men urged to say thank you to women

Strikers have some advice for other men, too, on how to mark the occasion. 

Think about how the women in their lives support them and how they can reciprocate that support, the organizers say. At home, do some housework and look after the kids and at work, advocate for female co-workers and ask the bosses about equal pay and paid family leave.

Epting said men should wear red to show their support.

"I'd also like them to thank the women in their lives and recognize them," she said. "We are not just the caregivers and the mothers and the sisters but we are so incredibly essential to this democracy and our country and our economy and I'd like them to take a moment to pause to acknowledge that."


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitz_meagan


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