NEW YORK–Women beat drums, clanged noisemakers and sang as they gathered across the street from the United Nations yesterday to protest poverty and violence against women. Thousands of women from 150 nations chanted in at least 100 languages:
“Solidarity for women of the world,” sang some 2,000 Canadian women from Montreal in French.
“We don’t want to send our sons to war,” chanted the Colombians in Spanish. “No more violence,” chanted Americans in English.
The march to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza was the culmination of the World March of Women 2000, which began in March and has organized demonstrations and events held all over the world.
The international women’s march marks the first time that women have organized a series of globally coordinated events, protesting injustices and demanding equality, peace, an end to violence and poverty for women.
A Montreal-based group, Federation des Femmes du Quebec, orchestrated actions in more than 155 countries in conjunction with 4,500 organizations. An estimated 2,000 women were present at the march, but the number was later expected to swell to thousands more.
Representatives from 150 nations presented a petition of demands to end poverty and violence to a representative of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The full petition of 17 specific demands contains a sampling of 300,000 signatures, out of a total 6.7 million that were collected around the world. The women also presented bags full of wishes and demands of women from their home countries, scribbled on pieces of paper, postcards and scraps of cloth. Women in Bronx County, N.Y., also wrote their dreams and demands on postcards for U.N. delivery.
Delegations from Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Martinique, Mexico, Portugal, Tunisia and other countries were out in large numbers, getting their signs ready and pinning messages to their clothing.
“Women Are Poor, Hungry and Dying”–A Woman From Cameroon
A delegation from Cameroon wore bright green robes with the World March of Women logo and name emblazoned on them. Josephine Kamgang, 32, traveled from Cameroon to march in New York.
“Women are poor, hungry and dying,” she said. “My message to the U.N. is to give women what they need to survive in developing countries.” Kamgang said she expected 150 women from Cameroon to march.
Yesterday’s march follows on the heels of the demonstration on Sunday in Washington, D.C., organized by the National Organization for Women. About 25,000 women gathered on the Ellipse.
Jacquelie Ki-Zerbo, a women’s and human rights activist from Burkina Faso, marched in Washington, D.C., and at the United Nations.
“I thought I should come before I retire,” said Ki-Zerbo. “Civil society is crushed down in undeveloped countries, especially in Africa. The U.N. has been established for people, to work with people, to listen to people’s needs and priorities.
“They should strengthen democracy, but working only with governments is not enough. They think that when you have an election, you have democracy. That is not true. They should support people’s and grass roots groups that work within communities.” Ki-Zerbo said as many as 50 women from Burkina Faso wanted to march, but many of them had problems obtaining visas.
Miyuki Kawana traveled from Japan with four friends because she wants to raise awareness about the poor working conditions for women in Japan.
“We have a situation where women are given low wages, and unstable employment security is increasing,” she said.
Women Say People Are Dying From US-Driven Sanctions Against Iraq
Kurdist An Sharrif, an Iraqi woman now living in New York, was marching to protest devastating U.N. economic sanctions against Iraq that are hurting primarily women and children, she said.
“I want people to hear our voice against dictatorism in Iraq,” said An Sharrif. “People are dying every day from hunger in Iraq. There is no food, no money, no human rights, no freedom. No one can say anything.”
While women were marching at the United Nations in New York, other marches were taking place in Brazil, Mexico, India, Rwanda, Jamaica, Bangladesh and the Philippines–among other countries. Over the past couple of weeks women have been coming together in other locations around the world where they held rallies in Bolivia, El Salvador, Belgium, Burundi, Hong Kong, Peru and Canada. Today, women will be marching in New Caledonia, demanding an end to poverty and violence.
The atmosphere was festive as women gave each other fliers, face paint, drums and noisemakers and paper cut-outs in the shape of shoes on which to write their demands. A Japanese woman handed out pocket size packs of tissues in cloth holders. “I want to unite women,” she said in broken English.
Elizabeth Randolph is a New a New York-based journalist.