CARACAS, Venezuela — The fight against war is part of the fight for women to become “first-class citizens in every nation,” declared Marcia Campos, the Brazilian president of the Women’s International Democratic Federation. It’s part of the fight against “all forms of oppression and violence,” she said. With this statement, the 14th Congress of the WIDF opened on Easter weekend here to rousing cheers from hundreds of women from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
What is the WIDF?
The WIDF was founded in 1945 after the end of World War II by predominantly socialist women’s organizations, with the aim to organize and mobilize women’s groups and coalitions to advocate for peace and equality for all women.
When the socialist bloc broke apart in the ’90s, it was feared that the WIDF would permanently break apart too. But because of the tremendous need for the organization, along with the grit and determination of women worldwide, the WIDF has re-emerged as a force, especially in Latin America, where in many countries left and progressive movements have been elected into power.
More than 1,000 delegates from 80-plus countries and close to 200 organizations participated in WIDF’s weeklong activities. More than 50 women from organizations in the United States participated, including Women for Racial and Economic Equality (led by Vinie Burrows, the official U.S. representative of the WIDF), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, NOW, the New York Granny Brigade, Tucson Raging Grannies, Ploughshares, the Women’s Equality Commission of the Communist Party USA, and other nongovernmental and political organizations. The Communist Party of Venezuela and the Venezuelan Young Communist League helped organize the congress.
Women in the era of globalization
The main focus of the congress was on the profoundly negative impact of globalization, state terrorism and war on women and their families. Numerous speakers argued that women’s equality cannot be fully won within the current context of imperialism — a system that doesn’t respect national sovereignty and that pushes militarism as a way to control world markets, natural resources and labor.
Numerous speakers highlighted U.S. imperialism and its impact on other nations. Although there was much anger directed at U.S. imperialism and President George Bush, most participants were careful to separate out the people of the U.S. from the policies of the U.S. government and corporations. Many speakers talked about their great appreciation of the struggles of U.S. women against the occupations in Iraq and Palestine, the war in Lebanon, and imperialism in general. It was heartening to hear that the world has heard of these struggles. Campos clearly reiterated that all women of the Americas are united in struggle.
Many speakers in the plenary sessions and workshops spoke of the importance of building international solidarity against political repression and all forms of violence against women. Solidarity must include all the women of the world, speakers said, and overcome any nationalism and political sectarianism that could stand in the way.
Workshops focused on progress towards democracy and equal rights for women in employment, health care, education, social security and overcoming hunger; on the rights of indigenous women and women of African descent in the Americas; and on human trafficking and treatment of women, children and teenagers.
Indigenous rights, national movements
Hilaria Supa Huamán, an indigenous Peruvian member of Parliament, was among many who stressed the role of indigenous peoples and their struggle against global capitalism and its effects. “We oppose violence, and most of all we oppose the violence that the United States wants to impose on us,” she told the congress. “We want an end to war, because it kills people and nature, and brings about climate change. As small farmers and indigenous people, we are opposed to pollution of rivers and land, and to measures like those taken by [President] Alan García’s government, which bombs our coca leaf fields.”
National movements from Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Western Sahara and others came. These women petitioned the world to learn more about their struggles that are often hidden by international press organizations and governments unfriendly to liberation movements and self-determination.
Cuba in the house
One of the largest, best organized and energetic delegations came from Cuba. This delegation called for worldwide solidarity with the Cuban Five, the five men serving long prison sentences in the U.S. for trying to prevent U.S.-supported terrorist acts against the people of Cuba.
A high point for delegates was hearing from the mother of René González and the wife of Fernando González of the Cuban Five about their struggle for freedom for these men. The delegates responded with sympathy to these women, for the lost years without spouses and children caused by the unjust imprisonment and blockade against Cuba. A resolution calling for worldwide support of the Five was unanimously passed.
Peace in Asia
The representatives of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) described the protections the women of Korea receive from the Law of Gender Equality established shortly after the founding of their country 60 years ago: equality in education, work, social and political life. They also called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the South and the reunification of their country. They called on the women of the world to stand up against the demonizing of their people and country and for support in bringing peace to the world.
The women of Japan also called for peace and spoke of the necessity of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Their presentation, drawing forth memories of the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, moved the plenary to tears and applause. There was agreement among the delegates that the struggle against nuclear weapons must continue to build if our planet and children are to survive.
There were two more high points of the week in Caracas. Congress participants were invited to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s weekly radio show. The delegates streamed into the hall; the mood was electric. Cheers from the many countries erupted. And there, in front of the hall, with boundless energy and eloquence, stood Chavez. For the next several hours, he praised not only the women in the hall, his mother and daughter, and the collective women of Venezuela, but all the women of the world for their daily struggles to build life and justice. He answered questions from delegates and taught some history about Venezuela, Cuba and the unity of the struggle for socialism in the Americas.
The other moving experience was the march commemorating the survival of the Bolivarian Revolution and the Chavez government after a U.S.-backed coup in April 2002. A million flag-waving, exuberantly chanting Venezuelans clearly demonstrated the popularity of their president and their support for continuing the Bolivarian Revolution.
The women of the congress were united in their call for peace and for an end to war, terrorism and corporate rule. As is always the case in international gatherings, many paths to these ends were described. There were disagreements over the necessity for armed struggle, the nature of socialism, and strategy and tactics. There was little disagreement, however, that unless the rights of women and children to food, health care, education, jobs, economic security and freedom from violence become a major part of all struggles for peace and self-determination, we have little future as a planet.
Among the many resolutions passed at the congress were a call for World Solidarity Day with the Colombian people, June 27, at all Colombian embassies worldwide, and a demand that U.S. chemical companies who profited from Agent Orange in Vietnam should at long last pay reparations to the victims.
Winds of change
WIDF President Campos spoke of the “winds of change” sweeping the world and especially South America. The winds have definitely been stirred even more by the 14th Congress of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in Caracas. Let’s keep them blowing here at home.
Carolyn Trowbridge is a peace and health care activist. She represented the Communist Party USA at the WIDF meeting.