The Global Women’s Strike has evolved into a worldwide protest

Decades after Iceland’s ‘day off’, our women’s strike is stronger than ever

The Global Women’s Strike has evolved into a worldwide protest with myriad demands

 ‘As a result of Poland and Argentina coming together, the International Women’s Strike was formed.’ Women march in New York, 8 March 2017. Photograph: E McGregor/Pacific / Barcroft

On the first day of the UN Decade for Women in 1975, the women of Iceland took the day off to demonstrate the importance of all their work, waged and unwaged, in the countryside and the city. Almost all women who were physically able came out of their homes, offices and factories, and even female television presenters were replaced on the screen by men holding children. Some 90% of women took part. They called it a day off but we at the International Wages for Housework Campaign called it a strike, and took as our slogan their placard which said: “When women stop, everything stops.”

Iceland was not international but it was of international significance. What moved them to strike had to be moving in the souls of women everywhere: the question was: when would it manifest itself?

In 1985, at the final conference of the UN decade in Nairobi, we had won the UN decision that unremunerated work at home, on the land and in the community should be measured and valued. We called Time Off for Women for 24 October and a number of countries joined us. But we could not sustain international action.

It was not until 1999 that Margaretta D’Arcy, a writer, anti-war and Irish Republican activist, called for a national strike of women in Ireland to mark the new millennium on 8 March 2000 and asked the Wages for Housework Campaign to support her call. I wrote to the National Women’s Council of Ireland, telling them that if they called the Irish women out on strike, we would make it global. They didn’t, but we did. We launched the Global Women’s Strike with Margaretta and women from a number of other countries at the UN in New York in 1999. In most of the 60 countries where women went on strike it was a celebration, not a mobilisation. But we were making a variety of demands. The first was: “Payment for all caring work – in wages, pensions, land and other resources.” What was more valuable than raising children and caring for others, we asked. “Invest in life and welfare, not military budgets and prisons.”

The more women went out to work, the harder it was to also be a carer, and what was most galling was the lower pay for doing a double day. Caring and pay equity have risen on the political agenda, as well as other injustices that women face, beginning with rape and domestic violence often going unpunished.

Two years ago, two important movements manifested themselves. In Poland women went on strike to stop anti-abortion legislation. They succeeded in getting the government to back down. In Argentina, following police inaction after the rape and murder of a number of women, hundreds of thousands took to the streets with the slogan Ni una menos (not one less). Their call for an end to femicide swept across Latin America and beyond. This spoke to a pervasive injustice – in the UK, for example, two women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners. As a result of Poland and Argentina coming together, the International Women’s Strike was formed last year and co-ordinated by Polish women. It was agreed that each group would determine their own demands. There were regular four-hour Skype calls (with English and Spanish translation) with women from more than 30 countries exchanging information about what they would be doing. In some countries, hundreds of thousands downed tools for some part of the day, had rallies and banged pots; in others, the events were smaller.

Selma James and male journalists at the launch of the Wages for Housework campaign in 1975.
 Selma James and male journalists at the launch of the Wages for Housework campaign in 1975. Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images

Today, the idea of women massively withdrawing labour, waged and unwaged, is not a reality yet. The actions now are often overtly anti-racist and anti-every discrimination, anti-poverty, anti-war, anti-deportation and anti-imperialist, including in Trump’s US. They are always anti-violence. In Peru, the strike slogan is: “If our lives have no value, produce and reproduce without us!” Every sector brings its own concerns. Peruvian domestic workers are launching their petition: “A living wage for caring work – in your own home and other people’s.”

But how can you strike if you can’t risk being sacked or endangering those you care for? This has always been the dilemma, especially of the carer on whom vulnerable people depend. In countries such as Spain, where there is general recognition of the strike validity and even union backing, it’s easier for women to walk out for at least part of the day – hundreds of thousands are expected to do just that.

In the UK, where such support is not yet forthcoming, women can still publicise our situation and what we want changed in call-ins and letters to the press, returning from lunch even 10 minutes late, banging pots in the streets or at the window, as women in Spain did against the 2003 Iraq war.

The Global Women’s Strike is putting the family courts on trial for unjustly taking children from their mothers in a speak-out in the shadow of parliament; cleaners are demonstrating for a living wage; there is a sex work strike for decriminalisation in Soho; and a picket of Unilever in support of the Sisters of Rohingya’s call for disinvestment from Myanmar to end the rape and genocide there.

In Germany, another possibility to improve women’s lives has opened up, which we are bringing to the strike. Some 3.4 million members of the IGMetall union are winning the right to a 28- (instead of 35-) hour week for at least two years in order to care for children and elderly parents. This is what we can win when striking and care come together.

 Selma James is founder of the International Wages for Housework Campaign

Selma James in Hunger Magazine

Selma James in Hunger Magazine

“In the recent months what has happened is that women in prominent positions have complained about what they suffer, and that has been very useful. It can be even more useful when they include the rest of us in their complaint. You can move high up in society but you still suffer from injustices because the rest of us do. You can’t escape your identification with those down below you – you get it because we get it. It’s systemic. The entire system has to change before everybody will be free.”

Equal Pay article by Selma James for What Women Want report


Co-ordinator of the Global Women’s Strike and author of Sex, Race & Class – The Perspective of Winning

“[I want] wages for housework. Equal pay. Safety from violence and bullying.”

Equal pay was a defining theme in the responses to the What Women Want 2.0 survey, showing that, despite commitments from companies and government, little progress has been made.

But change is coming. Women are making headlines by confronting employers who take advantage, sexually and with gross pay differentials! Even women who rose from the ranks are speaking out, acknowledging that they are not immune from sexist discrimination; they are making a way for the rest of us to be heard – finally.

Pay is social power; it determines how we live, with whom and on what terms. I once worked in a tobacco warehouse

when women on the assembly line were about to get equal pay with men who shifted stock. In our excitement, one woman proclaimed: “From now on I’m paying half the mortgage, and that’ll change everything between us!”

Of course, women want jobs we enjoy, but most of us go out to work because we have to.

Wages measure the value of our time – which happens to be our life. When our wages are lower than men’s, we are disrespected and undermined. In the UK, the pay gap hovers around 19.2%.

Inequality of income is inseparable from the unpaid caring work most women do at home, especially if we are mothers. In 2006, Baroness Alison Wolf showed how different sectors of women are affected by this. She compared women’s incomes with the incomes of their male partners over a lifetime. A woman graduate born in 1970 with two children can expect lifetime earnings that are 88% of her male partner; 57% for women with middle level qualifications; and 34% for women without formal qualifications.

These income gaps reflect part-time work and career breaks for the 80% of UK women who are mothers. It’s like an employment tax on motherhood, felt most heavily by women who have least. But even non-mothers are expected to put up with less. Employers know what they can get away with in terms of discrimination,  not only on grounds of gender but also of race, age, disability and immigration status.

A century ago, suffragette MP Eleanor Rathbone was outraged that mothers who made society were denied “any share in its wealth”.  She spent her life campaigning for Family Allowance, introduced in 1946, the first act of the welfare state. She wanted this income to give mothers a level playing field to negotiate equal pay. And in 1968, the strike of the Ford Dagenham women established “comparable worth” – equal pay for work of equal value – and won us the 1970 Equal Pay Act. But jobs like caring, cooking, cleaning remained “women’s work” – undervalued and underpaid. Then the austerity cuts, 86% of which fell on women, created an employers’ market and women’s power to refuse even barbaric zero-hours contracts almost evaporated.

Now the struggle has resumed, everywhere, and it increasingly focuses on caring. In Ireland, an employment tribunal ruled that “caring responsibilities” had been used to discriminate against women academics. In Germany, thousands of metal workers downed tools for a 28-hour working week if they needed to care for children or ageing parents. “We want employers to recognise that traditional gender roles in modern families are changing, and we want workers to have the chance to do work that is important to society,” said a union spokesperson.

Paid time to care is on the agenda. Just when new technology threatens to massively cut jobs, the status of caring is rising. We might reconsider Virginia Woolf’s call for “a living wage for mothers”, updated to include all carers and all genders. What an opportunity!

Global Women’s Strike

Invisibility would undermine carers’ struggle for equity

Abolishing the Constitution’s recognition of caring work done within the family would be a disservice to those doing this work

Fri, Jul 13, 2018, 05:11Maggie Ronayne4

Family Carers Ireland estimates there are 200,000 family carers, but the means-tested carer’s allowance is only €214 per week for caring for one person. Photograph: Getty Images

Family Carers Ireland estimates there are 200,000 family carers, but the means-tested carer’s allowance is only €214 per week for caring for one person. Photograph: Getty ImagesShare to FacebookShare to TwitterShare to Email App

The Government has bowed to pressure, and agreed to postpone a referendum on the controversial Article 41.2 of the Constitution. It reads: “… the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved. The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.”

Few will defend the reference to women’s “neglect of their duties in the home”. But to abolish the Constitution’s only recognition of the invisible caring work done within the family, primarily by women, would be a disservice to those still doing this work, and to the common good of the society produced and reproduced by it.

The women of my mother’s generation would not be uplifted by hiding their contribution. Neither would those of my generation as we struggle to fit unwaged caring for loved ones around the demands of waged work. Invisibility would not help our struggle for equity, it would undermine it.

The vast majority of women in Ireland are mothers and their family’s primary carers. They are also the poorest. According to One Family, lone parents, overwhelmingly women, head 25.4 per cent of family units with children; 50.1 per cent of those families live in deprivation.

Family Carers Ireland estimates there are 200,000 family carers, but the means-tested carer’s allowance is only €214 per week for caring for one person. And it is well known that carers have to struggle to get basic supports that should automatically be theirs.


Reviews, from the Constitutional Convention to the Government’s own task force, have recommended amending Article 41.2, including an explicit reference to caring, rather than abolishing it. The Government never explained why this advice was ignored.

Article 41.2 has never been fully tested, but this could change. Once mothers and other carers are aware that the State is to “endeavour” to keep them out of poverty, they may expect financial support instead of the austerity that has hit them so hard. The cuts and changes to the One Parent Family Payment alone may be a contravention of the Constitution.

Some 62 per cent of mothers, according to a 2017 survey by Amárach Research, would prefer to stay at home with their children, especially in their early years, if they could afford to. Such deeply-felt concerns for children appear in every country we know of. Is the Government worried that such mothers may make demands on it?

Unremunerated caring in the home has also been used to lower women’s wages and status on the job market. In 2014, a Sheehy Skeffington equality tribunal ruling noted that academic women applicants for promotion at NUIG seemed to be disadvantaged when they declared their caring responsibilities. This ruling triggered a movement for pay equity and gender equality in higher education which has now been extended to all grades – from cleaners and administrative staff to lecturers and professors.

Less respected

Gender equality would not be advanced by removing wording which values caring and the person who does it. A minority of women who can afford it would be able to shed the persona of carer, but most would be drawn into more invisibility, as would men who do this work.

Caring would be less respected and less supported, and carers, including waged carers, would be at greater risk of discrimination, impoverishment, dependency and domestic violence.

The spotlight on one Article has brought attention to the gold that’s in the Irish Constitution, reflecting the legacy of revolutionary ideals: the right of all women and men to an adequate means of livelihood; protection against exploitation; the principle that the State should safeguard the economic interests of the “infirm”, “widows”, “orphans” and “the aged”, ensuring that no one is forced by economic necessity to engage in “avocations unsuited to their sex, age or strength”.

Again, the language could be updated, but, most importantly, this Constitution sets down a standard by which we as a society aspire to live. Article 41.2 must be seen in this humane context.

Now that fast-track abolition of caring work from our Constitution has been halted, we can consider this issue fully. We must first hear from the women and men on the frontline of caring, and explore what language can best acknowledge and support their massive contribution to the common good.

Maggie Ronayne is a lecturer at NUI Galway, a trade unionist and a member of the Global Women’s Strike.

8 March: Protest Unilever, disinvest from Myanmar!

8 March 2018 International Women’s Day

5-6pm  PROTEST outside UNILEVER HQ
UNILEVER House, 100 Victoria Embankment, London EC4Y 0DY


UNILEVER claims to embody principles that respect the dignity and rights of women and girls, especially in the marketing of Dove products. UNILEVER has been so successful in this that the company holds the title of “Impact Champion” appointed by UN Women as part of their campaign to advance women’s rights. As an Impact Champion UNILEVER proclaims that “UNILEVER aims to improve safety for women and girls in the communities where they operate.”

This is at odds with their $667 million investment in Myanmar where the military are committing systematic rape and other torture with total impunity as part of their genocide against the Rohingya people.

A new report,Rape by Command, by Kaladan Press Network was released on 21 February detailing Myanmar Army’s use of rape:

“Women and girls were raped, mutilated and killed for their very identity as Rohingya. Rape is being used as a weapon of genocide.”

Sisters of Rohingya have called for UNILEVER to divest:

UNILEVER is one of the biggest foreign investors in Myanmar and has the power to impact directly on the actions of the government. By withdrawing from Myanmar, UNILEVER can reduce the funds available to the military and encourage other corporations to put people’s lives before profits.

Sign theirpetition:

Tell UNILEVERon Twitter: @paulpolman @Dove @UNILEVER
Tweet using hashtags: #nopeacenodove #boycottdove

More things you can do on the Sisters of Rohingyablog:

8 March: Family Courts on Trial – speak out outside Parliament


8 March 2018: International Women’s Day

12-2pm, Old Palace Yard, Westminster  All Welcome

On the centenary of (some) women’s suffrage, mothers, grandmothers and women’s organisations will expose and protest the devaluing of mothers and the unwarranted rise in children being taken into care and adopted against the wishes of birth families.

For more information and interviews contact: Nina Lopez or Kim Sparrow 020 7482 2496

Celebrations of the centenary have centered mainly on women’s access to the boardroom, parliament, etc., and the salaries of the few at the top. Little has been said about women as primary carers in 90% of households.

Eighty per cent of UK women are mothers. The unpaid caring work women do within the family which leads to part-time employment and ‘career breaks’ is a major reason for the 19% pay gap[1] between women and men (much greater if we consider incomes over a lifetime)[2]. On top of this, 86% of austerity cuts have fallen on women,[3] especially mothers. Single mother families are 47% of the statutory homeless[4] and nearly three-quarters of families affected by the benefit cap. The majority of the nearly 1.2 million people who relied on food banks last year were women and children.[5]

Devaluing and impoverishing mothers has led to a growing number of children taken into care, especially from poorer single mother families.

More and more children are being put up for adoption – 22,580 children were adopted over the last five years, the highest number in Europe; 96% without the consent of the birth family. The policy of adoption from care has led to an increase in children separated from their parents.[6] The number of children in care in England is now 72,670.In some working class areas, 50% of children are referred to social services – families of colour, immigrant, disabled are disproportionately affected. In Scotland and Wales the proportion of children taken into care is even greater.

Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act instructs local authorities to ‘promote the upbringing of children by their families’ by ‘giving assistance [including housing] in kind or in cash’. And the Care Act 2014 entitles disabled mothers to extra help. The coalition Support not Separation highlights that neither is being prioritised. Instead£400 and £3,000 a week is spent to keep a child in foster or residential care deprived of their mother and siblings and other family.

This is due not only to cuts but also to an ideology of devaluing the child-mother relationship, blaming mothers for the results of poverty and domestic violence, bypassing kinship carers, promoting forced adoptions, and the increasing privatisation of children services. Only 9% of ‘looked after’ children in England are placed with kinship carers compared to nearly half in Spain. With 40% of foster care and 80% of children’s homes privatised, children’s and mothers’ misery is profitable for some.

The powers of social services and the family courts are shrouded in secrecy, so there is little public awareness and scrutiny of what is happening to children and their families in the name of ‘safeguarding’. Victims of domestic violence are most likely to have their children removed following accusations that they ‘failed to protect’ their children while the same authorities insist on violent fathers having contact with them. Another common accusation is that of putting children at risk of ‘future emotional harm or neglect’. The charges are vague and unproven, while the real pain inflicted by separation is dismissed.

The government recently apologised for the 130,000 children trafficked to Australia and Canada between 1920s and 1970s, where they were enslaved, including sexually. What is happening today is not so different. Working class mothers are being treated as surrogates for wealthier families ready to adopt infants and small children against the mother’s wishes – a form of social engineering and child trafficking.

On 8 March, mothers, grandmothers, men who support women and children, and professionals who oppose this abuse of power by state agencies will hold a speak out before Parliament.


  •  Abusing the law to snatch children from their mothers
  •  Traumatising children through separation
  •  Depriving children of breastfeeding
  •  Denying mothers and children their legal right to support
  •  Impoverishing mothers and children with austerity
  •  Discriminating against single mothers & vulnerable families
  •  Punishing victims of rape and domestic violence by taking the children we’ve tried to protect
  •  Handing children to violent fathers
  •  Valuing ‘experts’ over mothers
  •  Holding secret hearings without public scrutiny
  •  Gagging us so we can’t get community support
  •  Deporting mothers, keeping their children
  •  Taking children for profit  Part of International Women’s Strike events

[1] ONS, What is the gender gap, 12 February 2016

[2] Baroness Alison Wolf,

[3] Women’s Budget Group

[4] DCLG 2017

[5] Trussel Trust, April 2017


International Women’s Day events 2018


Celebrating International Womens Day meeting Manchester TUC Pensioners Tuesday 6 March 2018 Methodist Central Hall

Wednesday 7 March 2018

17:00 – 20:45
What Women Want 2.0 Report Launch
London: Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, 1 Parliament Street, Westminster, London SW1A 2JR
Selma James and others will speak about their chapter in the report.
More info here.

International Women’s Day

Thursday 8 March 2018, 12-2pm
Family Courts on Trial
London: Old Palace Yard, Westminster, SW1P 3JY
Bring your charges and your evidence!
Part of International Women’s Strike events.
More info here.

Thursday 8 March 2018, 5-6pm
UNILEVER: DISINVEST from MYANMAR!End rape and genocide of Rohingya!
London: UNILEVER HQ, UNILEVER House, 100 Victoria Embankment, EC4Y 0DY
Protest in support of Sisters of Rohingya. More info here.


Thursday 8 March
Lima: PROTEST at the National Confederation of Private Businesses and the Ministry of Labour
WOMEN’S MARCH: ‘If women’s lives have no value, reproduce yourselves!’
Part of International Women’s Strike activities

Saturday 10 March
Trujillo: Launch of petition: FOR A LIVING WAGE FOR CARING WORK – in your own home and the home of others


Los Angeles
Thursday 8 March 2018
International Women’s Day Strike LA/Paro de Mujeres
Los Angeles Federal Building 300 N Los Angeles St, Los Angeles, California 90012
More info here.

San Francisco Bay Area
Thursday 8 March 4:30pm to 6pm
Invisible Workers Unite!
Civic Center Plaza, SF. More info here.

Thursday 8 March 5 PM – 8 PM
Int’l Women’s Day Reception Speak-out in Memory of Nancy Carroll
Broad Street Ministry 315 S Broad St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
More info here.