Three outstanding women organizers, Bernadette Ellorin of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-USA or New Patriotic Alliance-USA (BAYAN-USA), Monami Maulik of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), and Lamis Deek of Al-Awda New York, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, spoke at CUNY John Jay College. The panel was moderated by Fernanda Pardo, a member of RSCC and the Women’s Workteam of RSCC.
About 50 people joined us in intently listening to the panelists, who provided us with much needed analyses on the situation of women around the world today.
Opening with the chant “Abante babae, palaban militante!” (Advance women, fight militantly!), Ellorin elaborated on the struggle of women in the Philippines. Women in the Philippines are resolutely fighting against the three basic problems in Philippine society: imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism.
Right after, Maulik spoke about the blossoming women-led movements happening all over South Asia, especially in Bangladesh, and the immigrant movement in the US. According to Maulik, women in South Asia are organizing independently from institutionalized bodies because they have failed to be genuine political vehicles for the people. Women factory workers in Bangladesh, for example, have taken matters into their own hands by organizing work stoppages every month just so they can get their paychecks.
Last but not least, presenting on the Palestinian women’s movement, Deek discussed how the heart of the Palestinian women’s movement has always been about dismantling all Zionist structures. Palestinian women have consistently responded to and organized according to timely conditions and the power structures in place.
The speakers eloquently identified how we CUNY students share a common struggle against the same enemy. As students in CUNY, the largest urban public university in the US, the majority of us come from nations that have been looted, devastated, and raped by US imperialism. In CUNY, women face sexual harassment by men and security on campus, a patriarchal curriculum, and a lack of childcare services. These are but a handful of problems that women face.
As Fernanda aptly puts it, “I’m from Ciudad Juarez … in Mexico … it exemplifies neo-liberalism and imperialism… because foreign companies own the factories where many women work and … there are slums filled around the perimeter of the city. Women who lost their lands to US corporations in the south end up moving to the city, working for horrible menial wages … so if it wasn’t for the conditions imperialism and mass exploitation I probably wouldn’t be here in the US in the first place … I’d probably be home with my family.”
Imperialism has created miserable conditions for women worldwide—tearing up families, inhumane working conditions in foreign-owned factories, rape and pillage by the military and law enforcement, drone attacks, and many more. Yet these conditions have also provided the impetus for women to organize and take down the very system that oppresses them.
On Challenging “Bankrupt” Ideas and “Rotten Egg” Organizations
Building an anti-imperialist women’s movement comes with its challenges. In the Philippines, and other places, some feminists view the women’s movement as a “separate and parallel movement.” Those feminists are of the understanding that the fight against patriarchy is primary and is something that is separate from the fight against imperialism.
Fortunately, according to Ellorin, this error has been corrected: “[W]e have since gone through a rectification of that viewpoint wherein we have been able to assert that the liberation of Filipino women is part and parcel of the Philippine national liberation movement, and not a separate and parallel movement.”
Another huge obstacle that all the speakers cited is the co-optation of the revolutionary women’s movements by mainstream institutions, such as non-profits and the United Nations. “One of the biggest challenges as an organizer working in say a nonprofit in the US, in trade unions here or anywhere is that a lot of times it’s those very institutionalized organizations and movements that undercut and take away the power and militancy of the people and the workers and tell them that you can’t do this and you can’t do that. The potential there is enormous … but some of those forces hold people back and take the workers’ and women’s movement backwards,” said Maulik.
Adding onto Maulik’s comments about co-optation, Deek states how state repression against the Palestinian movement has prevented people from challenging imperialist-backed institutions: “[O]ur capacity to do so is constantly being challenged because the heaviest government repression that Arab and Palestinian communities are facing is against organizations of institutions which do exactly that.”
Holding Up Half the Sky
As Mao Zedong once said, “To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing but a good thing.” The anti-imperialist women’s movement—from the Philippines to India to Palestine—have continued to surge onward in the face of such challenges; in fact, it has grown by leaps and bounds.
More and more people, especially women, are seeing the decadence of imperialism and its structures. Standing at the frontlines, women have been the fiercest revolutionary fighters against imperialism because they have the most to gain from breaking all their chains.
Congratulations to the panelists and organizations that came together for such a memorable evening. Let us continue to build solid organizations both in and outside of the US. It will only be a matter of time until we reach victory!
As participants chanted to close out the event, led by members of DRUM, “Inquilaab Zindabad!” (Long Live the Revolution!)