Feminism and Radical International Solidarity

Rehmah Sufi

Summary: Speech given to International Working Women’s Day rally, Chicago, Illinois, sponsored by the Socialist Party, March 8, 2017  — Editors

Good Evening and Assalamualaikum,

On this anniversary of the Russian women’s strike and what is now called the International Working Women’s Day, and on this blustery Chicago evening, I want your brave ears for a few minutes. But first, I want to acknowledge that we are standing on stolen land amidst towering colonial power and imperialist force built on Native American land. And I must acknowledge the significance of Native women’s resistance and leadership throughout history and especially today, in the camps at Standing Rock, and across the country. They are teaching us how to fight.

I am here to lift up the names of women, femmes, and gender non-conforming folks caught in the crosswires of imperialism, colonialism (yes, it’s still relevant), patriarchy, war, hyper-militarization, and the web of international and local “anti-terrorism” laws. While black and brown bodies are plucked in the US by the hundreds of thousands for incarceration and deportation, similar laws, strengthened by a web of “anti-terrorism” laws, policies, institutions, and incentives, are wreaking havoc on the lives of people, especially women, and especially poor women, in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan. While the people of these countries pay the highest price in terms of loss of life, livelihoods, peace, and well being in the conflict, we are further targeted by our states and their institutions, which try to claim and trade our bodies as trophies in their wars, whether as collateral damage, “terrorists” killed, or internally displaced people and refugees. We must firmly oppose it all. The registry, the ban, the continuation of horrendous policies, at home and abroad. We must do our best to cede no ground. There is no room for making deals with such powers in a radical feminism.

The women in Pakistan, as they are around the world, are what we call “Daadhi Zananian” – strong women, forces to be reckoned with. I want to speak the names of the peasant women organizing in Okara where their families have worked the land for generations, but the military owns it. Under the last military dictatorship, the army took forceful measures, against immense resistance of the peasants, to convert them from tenant farmers into contracted labor, which was more profitable for them. The resistance continues today even though almost every one of the peasants has one or more police cases pending against them. The military has classified the peasants, even children, as terrorists under its expanded authority. Under extreme weaponized surveillance, curfews, crackdowns, raids, and the threat of regular abductions and disappearances, women like Badrunnissa Apa, a peasant, trained midwife, strike leader, and organizer, continues to defy arrest, travel, speak out, lead actions and rallies, and defy the military and the police forces, to uplift the struggle of the Okara peasants. She is one of many peasant women leaders.

Another name I want to lift up is that of Hawa Bibi. (Hawa is the Urdu/Arabic equivalent of Eve.) She dared to organize and lead a resistance in her little fishing village on the Arabian sea when, riding on the wave of globalizing trade, big and powerful investors were swooping in and overexploiting the sea, starving the local fishermen. She, along with several members of her family, was killed for leading a resistance and daring to oppose the politically connected capitalists.

When you hear of the drone strikes and the military raids in areas like Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and Kashmir, when they show you the dead bodies of people they call “terrorists,” I want you to think of the Balochi, Pakhtun, and Kashmiri women who are organizing, resisting, marching, in order to find disappeared loved ones, to force the government and the military to relinquish any bit of information, to demand schools and sanitation in the camps of the internally displaced, to demand accountability and the freedom to organize. You do not see them often, but they must be seen. They are the resistance. And yes, they are often in a burqa or hijab or chadar. While ostracized transgender people like Nadeem Kashish, Aslam Shah, and Kami Sid are fighting for their civil and human rights, some of them are also fighting to create a mosque of their own in the country’s capital. I mention this to point to the complexities of our identities and the various paths of our self-determination.

Today, in the current moment, a lack of acceptable political alternatives, the brutal march of capitalism, the barbaric “war on terror,” and the rise of the right wing neo-fascist and fundamentalist regimes has forced us into a very dangerous and precarious position, where many of our communities are in a life or death struggle. It is more important than ever to build radical solidarity against our oppressors and create a radically humanist and feminist understanding of this moment, its challenge, and its potential.

With that, I’d like to end by inviting you to engage in a conversation on the occasion of another important anniversary, the 150th of Marx’s Capital. The International Marxist Humanist Organization is hosting a discussion on this thorough critique of the capitalist mode of production and addressing questions about its significance and relevance to our current struggles. March 16th at 6:30 pm at the Hosteling International building on 24 E. Congress Parkway in the loop. Hope to see you there. Thank you!


Delivered at the International Working Women’s Day rally by the Socialist Party Chicago outside the Thompson Center, Chicago. March 8, 2017.


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