BRUSSELS – Feminist activists in Belgium have called for a national strike on International Women’s Day to highlight the persistent social and economic inequalities women face globally, one of the organizers told EFE on Wednesday.
A group of Belgian activists, called Collecti.e.f 8maars, has been working with several women’s groups to coordinate and generate momentum for a strike that was triggered by a walkout that took place in Spain last year and which saw over 5 million people take to the streets across the country to demand equality.
“For this first edition, we did not imagine at all that we would receive so much support from the trade unions and the different associations,” Marina Vidal, a member of the collective, told EFE.
“We are already pleased because the aim for this year was to launch the initiative, to begin to mobilize women in Belgium on a national level,” the activist said.
The strike on March 8 goes beyond simply refusing to go to work, it also extends to myriad activities that have less visibility such as care work, studying, domestic chores and rejecting consumerism.
The key is to demonstrate that “if women stop, the world stops,” Vidal continued.
The walkout takes aim at income inequality, the fact domestic chores are loaded, too often, exclusively on women, discrimination, gender stereotypes, inequality when it comes to parental leave, rampant sexist rhetoric and gender violence, the collective’s manifesto said.
The group has also published a document with suggestions on how men can support strike action starting with a request that men acknowledge the position of privilege they enjoy.
In addition, the group suggests that men should absorb domestic duties on the day and should actively support feminism by raising awareness of it in their own social circles.
Giving women a voice on the day is essential, and as such, the group has asked men who are approached by members of the media to redirect them to women, who are the primary stakeholders and organizers of the strike, the document added.
The collective has summoned feminists to a demonstration that will kick off at 5 pm in downtown Brussels.
Throughout the day there will be various assemblies where people can debate the key issues. Gatherings will take place in several cities including Antwerp, Liege, Ghent and Mons.
Organizers have acknowledged that many women will not have the option of striking so a national call has been made to congregate at 2 pm to “make noise,” as happened in Spain in 2018 when women and men gathered to perform a “cacelorada,” a form of civic protest that consists of people banging pots and pans together to make a racket and raise awareness over a given issue.
In addition, women have been asked to dress in purple, the color that symbolizes Women’s Day and the feminist movement, to drape an apron or rubber gloves out the window for the day or to hang posters that reference the concerns the industrial action is addressing.
The main Belgian trade unions, the General Federation of Belgian Labour (FGTB) and Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (CSC), have both supported the strike, however, the General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium (CGSLB) has refused to back the protest.
Although the CSC has been the only union to have formalized the call for industrial action, which would allow its members to get paid on the day, Vidal said that, in general, the unions were mobilizing considerably and calling on their members to take part.
Vidal, a Spaniard living in Belgium, said they would love to have a similar following Spain saw last year, but she is of the opinion that it will be more difficult to get people on board in Belgium.
“This is a country that is less accustomed to going out on the streets,” the activist added.
Regardless of the turnout, for Vidal it is a triumph to have received the necessary backing to call a strike and, with this, to have ensured that feminism, the fight for women’s rights and equality, has taken center-stage in the political sphere and the media, and that a solid framework for a strong feminist movement is being forged.
“We can only hope that this will be a formidable first edition and that it will do nothing more than grow from then on,” she concluded.