“Advance the Global Anti-imperialist Women’s Movement! Strengthen the International Women’s Alliance!” – this was the theme of International Women’s Alliance First General Assembly, held in the Philippines last July 5-6, 2011. Realized just three years after IWA’s conception at the 2008 Hong Kong conference of the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) when it was passed as resolution #7 by the Women’s Commission, and taking place just a year after the 2010 Montreal Founding Assembly, the 2011 First General Assembly was a testimony to the enthusiasm all over the world for its development.
The Manila General Assembly was a resounding success in many senses. The numbers were outstanding: 99 women from 20 countries, representing 67 organizations. Two representatives of GABRIELA-Ontario were able to participate through the co-sponsorhip of the Women of Steel of the United Steelworkers, OPIRG-York University and OPIRG-Toronto. The event also marked the formation of an international alliance of these grassroots organizations. Above all, this was a landmark move of women from many nationalities, classes and perspectives to advance together in developing an international women’s anti-imperialist movement.
On the morning of July 5th, IWA delegates attended a joint event held with the International Migrant’s Alliance, the International Conference on Progressive Culture, and the RESIST! conference, which were all part of the International Festival of People’s Rights and Struggles. This event opened the four conferences with a ritual headed by a Cordillera leader and a joint cultural performance highlighting the different sectors of society such as women, workers, peasants, youth, indigenous, migrants, professionals and their struggle against the various forms of imperialism. Opening speeches were then heard from a panel of experts on Gender Rights and Women’s Struggles: Lina Solano of Ecuador , Azra Sayeed of Pakistan, and summed up by Antonio Tujan of IBON Foundation, a research organization. After the opening keynotes, the women marched to commence the assembly.
The IWA conference hall was decorated with colorful banners and “banderitas” (paper buntings), gaily marking the first general assembly of the alliance. Contagious camaraderie and solidarity ruled the day as the women rolled up their sleeves and eagerly went to work vowing to move ever forward together. The heat in Manila was no match to the burning sentiments at the conference, and militancy marked statements and cultural expressions. Songs were sung in different languages such as Tagalog, English, French, German, Dutch and Spanish. Throughout the 2-day conference, the cultural wing of GABRIELA-Philippines, Sining Lila (Purple Art) never failed to amaze us as the artists rendered songs of women, workers, peasants and migrants with one unifying theme: rising up to fight back.
For the two historical days, delegates from different regions worked diligently in workshops wherein they agreed on the general program of action which was to be the content of the of a four-year plan of action. The body then voted for the first set of officers that represented different parts of the world. Having agreed on the resolutions, the assembly also adopted the Manila Declaration of Unity of the International Women’s Alliance which called for a global militant, anti-imperialist women’s movement that will “link ourselves and our struggles to fight our common enemy-imperialism and feudalism including patriarchy, to stop the economic and political domination of the capitalist system, and to end imperialist wars of aggression and measures against the oppressed peoples of the world.
The assembly elected the following officers:
- Chairperson – Liza Maza (GABRIELA, Philippines)
- Vice Chairperson for Internal Affairs – Azra Talat Sayeed (Roots for Equity, Pakistan);
- Vice Chairperson for External Affairs – Lina Solano (El Frente de Mujeres Defensoras de Las Pachamama, Ecuador);
- Secretary General – Marie Boti (Women of Diverse Origins, Canada)
- Deputy Secretary General – Maitet Ledesma (Pinay sa Holland, the Netherlands)
- Treasurer – Retno Dewi (Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria, Indonesia)
- Auditor – Daphna Whitmore (Aucklands Philippine Solidarity, New Zealand)
- Member – Lana Linaban (Gabriela, Philippines)
- Member – Monica Gail Moorehead (Women’s Fightback Network, USA)
- Valerie Francisco of FIRE USA was assigned to lead the women youth platform in IWA.
In order to celebrate and recognize the highly-valued contributions of militant women leaders, the assembly looked back with respect into women’s history and honored some of the women for devoting their lives for the emancipation of women. The ‘Women of Valor’ awards were given to participants such as Carmen ‘Nanay Mameng’ Deunida, leader of the urban poor organization called ‘Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (SAMAKANA)’ from the Philippines, Edith Ballantyne of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom of Canada, Leila Khaled of the General Union of Palestinian women of Palestine and Clelia Iscaro of National Encounters of Women from Argentina.
At the close of the conference, the delegates representing women of the 21st century vowed that as they went back to each of the countries they lived in, they would all continue to move forward the struggles of women. This time, they would move together, forging unity every step of the way as an anti-imperialist, anti-patriarchy, anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic militant women’s international alliance. Ever stronger this way, each one envisioned a great movement surging forward towards gender equality and the emancipation of women everywhere, strongly linked with the people’s movement for national and social liberation.