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National NOW Times >> Winter, 2001 >> Article

Women of the World Unite to End Poverty and Violence

by Loretta A. Kane

Thousands of women, men and children marched in front of the White House, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the first-ever international action to call for an end to violence against women and poverty. They came from across the country and around the globe for the World March of Women 2000 on Oct. 15 in Washington, D.C.

"Today, our global sisterhood made history. Now, our challenge in the U.S. is to show our strength at the polls on election day," said NOW President Patricia Ireland. "We will turn the momentum of the World March into feminist victories on November 7."

As activists assembled on the Ellipse across the street from the White House, languages from every continent wafted through the air. Clad in outfits native to their countries, the crowd moved through the streets like a brightly colored quilt, unfurling for nearly one-and-three-quarter miles when the last person stepped off the Ellipse grounds.

Chants in Spanish, French and English mingled as the marchers made their way along the two-mile route. As the march passed the World Bank and the IMF, members of the international delegation used common cooking utensils, like pans and spoons, to raucously protest the effect of the institutions' policies on women worldwide. The utensils were carried to the rally site, where an artist used them to create a sculpture.

After marching, activists poured back onto the Ellipse to rally across the street from the home of the U.S. president. The speakers and entertainers on the rally stage were every bit as diverse as the women, men and children who participated in the march. Virginia Williams, the mother of Washington, D.C.'s Mayor Anthony Williams, welcomed the march to town. And Ireland delivered a rousing keynote speech.

"Today and the next two days are the culmination of the first ever action by a newly empowered global movement for women’s equality," said Ireland, who addressed the crowd flanked by members of the international delegation. "Representatives of 157 countries are involved in this march around the world to end violence against women, to end poverty, and to demand equality for women."

The rally program included speakers who addressed the full feminist agenda, including issues like reproductive freedom and abortion rights, and calls to end sexism, racism, homophobia, classism, ableism, ageism and all forms of oppression. Most of the speakers were grassroots activists at the forefront of the struggle for equality.

"Let's keep ourselves and our children alive. Let's end poverty and hunger and homelessness," said Cheri Honkala of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. Honkala traveled to the march from Philadelphia despite a stay in the hospital immediately before the march. She assured the crowd that, despite her brush with death, "I didn't live for nothing. I'm living because we’re going to end poverty and I’m going to have a good life."

"We know that the well-being of this world depends on women," said Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers. "We women are the organizers. We've got to organize our families, our neighborhoods . . . If not, they're going to take away our reproductive rights, they're going to take away our jobs."

Many of the speakers described the march as the launch of a renewed, global women's movement. And many talked about the impact of U.S. policies on women from around the world.

"I am here to tell you that it is time for you to wake-up! When refugees leave their countries to come here [to the U.S.], instead of being interviewed to find out what they are fleeing . . . they are being jailed. I am here to tell you that asylum-seekers should not be jailed," said Marleine Bastien, of Haitian Women of Miami, Inc.

Speaker after speaker also noted the importance of this year's elections, and the lasting impact the next president will have on women's rights and the civil rights of all people.

"And in the United States . . . we will carry this energy, this enthusiasm and these issues to the voting booths of this country to elect a government that will support our equality," Ireland said to a crowd of people who were on their feet cheering wildly.

The day following the march, members of the international delegation took their protest out of the street and into the World Bank and the IMF, where they met with officials at both institutions before traveling to New York City to march and rally there and to meet with a representative of Secretary-General Kofi Annan at the United Nations (U.N.). NOW Vice President Membership Karen Johnson attended the U.N. meeting at which women presented the World March demands for women's equality and an end to violence against women and poverty.

"The march is over, the election results are in. Now, we must work to fulfill the promise of our historic worldwide event and achieve our demands. The hard work is still before us," said Ireland.

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