Women leaders met in the Philippines for the Second General Assembly of the International Women’s Alliance (IWA) held in Quezon City, Philippines on November 11, 2015 with the theme “Women building peace, resisting militarization, facism and economic plunder”.
The assembly began with a ritual of unity led by Sining Lila, the Cultural Arm of GABRIELA Alliance of Women that hosted the Assembly. The delegates, guests and observers holding organizational flags were ushered in the hall by the Executive Committee chanting “Long live international solidarity!” in several languages. The assembly formally opened with Sining Lila singing the IWA hymn, A Song of Resistance.
The delegates, speakers and guests were welcomed by Rep. Luz Ilagan, GABRIELA Chairperson. Rep. Liza Maza, IWA Chairperson gave the context and framework of the Second General Assembly highlighting the need to continue to forge women’s unity to resist militarization, fascism and economic plunder. The Second General Assembly is set against the backdrop of the intensifying world economic, political, social and environmental crises thus the assembly called on all women to heighten their militancy and join hands with the peoples of the world to end wars of aggression and put a stop to the economic and political domination of the neo-liberal system. It urges women to continue to stand up for the advances and the victories in the struggle for the liberation of women.
Ms. Marie Boti, IWA Secretary General introduced our Keynote Speaker, Ms. Leila Khaled, one of the legendary figures of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation and women power in the struggle of the Palestinian people. When Leila Khaled hijacked a plane in 1969, she became the international pin-up of the struggle. She remains one of the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Khaled, in her Keynote Speech, extolled the role of women in the struggle. Narrating how the Palestinian women resisted all kinds of repression and occupation at all stages since 1917 and developed a resistance that still exists today, Khaled highlighted that women should always be in the forefront and part of the people’s struggle for their freedom and rights. In the Palestinian struggle, she said women started participating as individuals until they found the need to be organized. In 1936, an armed revolution broke out in Palestine and the women joined it long before they established the General Union of Palestinian Women in 1965. The political program called for women to participate in the struggle to liberate the Palestinian homeland which is occupied by Israel, and to mobilize women for the Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees. And in spite of all the difficulties from the traditions of a society that prevents women from taking decisions on their own without the permission of their father or brother or husband, women got involved in the armed revolution, to prove that women are equal in the struggle with men because we are equal in our suffering from the occupation, repression and exploitation. In closing she said imperialism is a global system, and we who are fighting for our freedom and peace have to globalize our struggle. Chanting “Long live the women’s struggle! We shall overcome”, Khaled set the tone of the general assembly.
In IWA’s tradition, the Women of Valor award was presented to Leila Khaled which Leila in turn offered to GABRIELA saying “one day we will overcome. And we will all go to Jerusalem. Remember that you are all invited to come to Jerusalem”.
To further understand the world context and the women’s global situation and struggles members shared their situation in A Women’s Forum. Martina Stalleicken from the Women’s Political Council of Germany shared on The invisibility of Women Workers, Songul Talay of CENI Office of Kurdish Women for Peace talked about Women in Defense of the Motherland and Joan May Salvador, GABRIELA Secretary General summed up the morning’s discussion in Women in the Neo-Liberal Era: A call for change. Azra Talat-Sayeed of Roots of Equity in Pakistan who was invited as a panelist to speak on Women and Landlessness in the Neo-Liberal era was prevented from attending by delaying her visa application. Sayeed in a letter said the move was political and related to the upcoming APEC All Leaders Meeting.
The sharing affirmed news about the crisis in the different countries. Europe is plunged in the deepest and most comprehensive world economic crisis in the history of capitalism. The economic and financial crisis raged from 2008 to 2014 deepening the crisis of the bourgeois family system with dramatic consequences for the situation of women and families in Europe, especially in southern and Eastern Europe. Women from Greece report that they lack money for heating, electricity and food. Some women had to give their children into child-care homes because they would have starved otherwise. Public health-care no longer exists. The double exploitation and oppression of the masses of women is increasing. In many European countries violence by the racist and fascist forces is increasing. All over Europe there have been mass protests against the worsening of laws against gender violence. Because public services are being transferred back to the family, the number of women suffering from psychological and physical overwork is increasing. Kobane is now in its 40th year of struggle and the powers in Europe led by imperialist US are on a mad rage of genocide against the Kobane people. The sharing also confirmed reports of Kurdish women fighting in Turkey and other boundaries in the frontline to defend the country against ISIS. Kurdish women continue to fight for their land. It is true women are fighting by the gun but they are fighting for freedom and existence. Women have managed to create a “safe zone”. Women have established women’s houses, academies. Every woman in Rojava is engaged in at least one organization. They created a new constitution. At every level of administration, there must be co-chairmanship by one woman and one man. Rojava is fighting discrimination at every level in a democratic way. Women comprise 51% of the population. The history of civilization of the past 5,000 years is the enslavement of women. The women were the first to be oppressed by men. Kurdish women are struggling against patriarchal ideology. And the women with the rest of the Kobane people are taking up arms against imperialism. Kobane sisters ended their presentation with a call to all the women to continue to show solidarity to Rojava. “We ask you to raise our voices for Rojava.” In Asia, Fatima Burnad of the Dalit Women’s Forum spoke in lieu of Sayeed highlighting the fact that all the resources are taken away from the working class – the peasants are landless and are a big reserve labor force as women workers, running to every corner to seek jobs. “Land is now for global trade. And these corporations also want to trade our bodies not only our land. Adivasi women, Dalit women – we all come together to join in the struggles and to understand our problems globally. Agricultural land is very important to us”. She ended with a call, “Let us salute women fighting women’s rights to land and resources.”
Joan May Salvador summed up the women’s forum with the statement “the overall situation of majority of women has worsened with the current global financial and economic crisis. Governments, under imperialist dictate, were pushed to resort to austerity measures that have in turn aggravated poverty and hunger for millions of families, particularly in poor countries. She highlighted the fact that after more than 30 years of neoliberalism the world is now experiencing a crisis more prolonged and far reaching than contrary to promises of “global competitiveness,” “free flow of capital” and “free trade. She opened and ended her speech with the call to build a strong international women’s movement will give us immense strength to relentlessly expose US imperialism and other neoliberal regimes.
At the end of the Women’s Forum, the women again chanted “Long live international solidarity!” determined to meet the challenges to organize, educate and mobilize women and build and strengthen the international women’s movement. They vowed to continue to work together to build and strengthen the international women’s movement
The Recognition of the Women of Valor followed the plenary discussion. The Women of Valor award, which was instituted at the first General Assembly, was given this year to Lumad tribal chief Datu Bai Bibyaon Bigkay Ligkayan paying tribute to the courageous struggle of the Lumad people being killed and facing military occupation for their resistance to large-scale mining in their Mindanao homelands. Other awardees were the three Kurdish women martyrs Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, Fidan Dogan, head of the Kurdish cultural institute, and Leyla Soylemez, who were gunned down in Paris in January 2013. Irene Fernandez, a veteran activist who devoted her life to advocacy for women, migrants in Malaysia and the world was also honoured.
A Press Conference followed the recognition of the women of valor. On the panel were IWA chairperson and Chairperson Emerita of GABRIELA Liza Maza, IWA secretary-general Marie Boti, Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the General Union of Palestine, Songul Talay of CENI in Kurdistan and Helda Khasmy of Seruni in Indonesia, Rita Acosta of the Women of Diverse Origins in Canada, Martina Stalleicken of Women’s Political Council in Germany, Irma Bajar for GABRIELA-USA and Joan May Salvador for GABRIELA Alliance of Women. The objective of the press conference was to show women’s united voices especially that the IWA General Assembly was timed to be a part of the people’s protest against the APEC leaders’ meeting happening on Nov 18-19.
The press conference ended with IWA delegates carrying placards before the media bearing the IWA calls: Women resist militarism and plunder” in various languages along with anti-APEC placards.
The Plenary Session resumed in the afternoon to discuss organizational matters in the Second General Assembly. The afternoon was opened with the song “Babae” (Woman) sung by Sining Lila.
IWA Chairperson Liza Maza called the members of the Executive Committee to the Presidium. Chairperson Maza asked Secretary General Marie Boti to read the proxy letters. There were four proxy letters including that of Azra appointing Fatima Burnad to vote, speak and contribute on her behalf. The chairperson again shared that Sayeed was unable to come because her visa was not approved. In her letter Azra also relayed her regrets: “I am certain that it is the dictates of imperialists’ powers being followed by our subjugated government which has left my visa application still pending”. Lina Solano of Mujeres Defensoras de la Pachamama appointed Rita Acosta to speak and vote on her behalf; Maitet Ledesma appointed Coni Ledesma as her proxy; Valerie Francisco appointed Irma Bajar to act on her behalf. And Monica Moorehead appointed Candice Sering to vote and contribute on her behalf. They all sent their solidarity greetings and inspiring messages for the Second General Assembly.
Roll Call and Plenary Approval of the Delegates to the Second Assembly
The Second IWA General Assembly was attended by 80 participants from 41 regular member organizations including proxies, 1 associate member and 6 individual members, 9 observers and 5 guests. Marie Boti then read the list of new Regular Members as approved by the Executive Committee in their October and November 10 meeting. These include: All Nepal Women’s Association, Mahla Sang (Krantikari Nepal), Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum, Luna Roja of Ecuador and Seruni of Indonesia. She proceeded to read the approval of the application for membership of the Institute for Women’s studies for Associate Member. She also read out the new Individual members who included Monique Wilson, Eve Ensler and Elisa Tita Lubi. Chair Maza reported that Auckland Solidarity has resigned from IWA because they can only focus on human rights at this time.
The plenary approved the Delegates to the Second Assembly. It was followed by the Chairperson’s Report by Chaiperson Liza Maza and the Secretary General’s Report by Marie Boti. The official reports described the many involvements, statements, speeches, conferences organized and attended by IWA member organizations and representatives in all corners of the world, from the Rio plus 20 conference on Climate in Brazil to the Bali Summit where IWA was co-sponsor of the People’s Camp, as well as the Migrants’ Tribunal in Philippines, the Permanent Peoples Tribunal on Canadian Mining Companies in Latin America and many more. IWA member organizations were in the thick of people’ struggles from the Occupy Wall street movement, to the Students’ strike in Quebec, to Black Lives Matter, against land-grabbing in South Asia, and environmental pollution- the Haze crisis in Indonesia, among others. The lengthy accomplishments and involvements were impressive and laid the ground for the work to be done in the next four years. A session of regional-thematic workshops allowed the delegates to focus on planning for campaigns and priorities at a regional level. It was clear that the regional bodies of IWA would have to be built and activated to ensure growth and expansion of the organization. An amendment to the IWA Constitution was adopted to allow for the formation of regional chapters.
The plenary agreed that there are many challenges to running an organization present in 20 countries. Apart from the techonoligica challenges, member groups face crimiinalization and repression for their militant statements and actions for grassroots women and the people. To everyone it is clear that the rewards- hearing about each others’ experiences and learning from each other’s struggles, far outweigh the difficulties. As Leila Khaled said, the imperialists and their puppets are organized around the world and the women, the people, must be organized, too!
For the treasurer’s report Chairperson Maza shared that the Dewi Retno, elected Treasurer in the First General Assembly has also resigned as she is more active now in a different organization. On her behalf, the Chairperson prepared a report on the IWA Finances.
There was no opposition and no abstention on the proposed amendments to the constitution making changes to the structure of the Executive Committee, the amendments to build regional chapters and institute a Chairperson of each regional chapter as a member of the Executive Committee. Amendments include the removal of the Vice-Chairperson External and Deputy Secretary General. The officers to be elected in the General Assembly now include the Chairperson, the Vice Chairperson, the Secretary General, the Treasurer and the Auditor. They are to be joined in the EC by elected chairpersons of the regional chapters.
General Program of Action 2016-2019 (GPOA) was approved and adopted. A one- hour workshop per region to propose resolutions based on the GPOA from the regional context followed the deliberation of the GPOA. Outgoing Executive Committee members were tasked to facilitate the regional discussions: Coni Ledesma as proxy to Maitet Ledesma for Europe, Marie Boti for Americas and Lana Linaban for and Asia Pacific.
The Election of the members of the Executive Committee (2015-2018) became one of the highlights of the Second General Assembly and the following were elected. Azra Talat-Sayeed was elected Chairperson; Vice Chairperson, Marie Boti and Secretary General Emily Cahilog were both elected by acclamation. Elected Treasurer and Auditor were Helda Khasmy and Monica Moorehead, respectively. Liza Maza was nominated as Honorary Chairperson. The Pledge of the Executive Committee was led by Marie Boti.
The session ended with the singing of the IWA Hymn led by Monique Wilson. The Second General Assembly of the International Women’s Alliance was adjourned at 6:00 pm followed by a night of solidarity and sisterhood.
Proceedings and official documents will be prepared by the Secretariat.