Women rise up in France as March 8 approaches

A coalition of unions and grassroots movements in France is preparing for a month-long mobilization linking International Women’s Day and People’s Health Day

March 03, 2022 by Peoples Health Dispatch
Health and social sector workers France

Women workers in the health, care and social sectors in France are launching a campaign in the run-up to March 8, International Women’s Day, to demand an end to austerity and violence against women. The trade union confederations, Union Syndicale Solidaires, General Confederation of Labour (CGT), and Unitary Trade Union Federation (FSU), have announced a strike in key sectors for March 8. 

At the same time, workers’ organizations from the health and social sectors – SUD Santé Sociaux, CGT, and French Confederation of Management – General Confederation of Executives (CFE/CGC), as well as the Association of Emergency Physicians of France (AMUF), Collectif Inter-urgences (CIU), Inter-Hospital Collective (CIH), coordination of Committees for the Defence of Local and Maternity Hospitals, and the collective “Le Printemps de la Psychiatrie” – have extended the trade unions’ call for the specific demands of women in the health and social action sectors.

Following the calls, activists from the feminist, health and trade union movements in the health and social sectors converged in a campaign entitled “Women, rise up.

The campaign was launched on February 23 with the publication of an open letter co-signed by approximately 100 women working in health, care and social work in six European countries. The letter was also supported by women from other sectors, as well as a number of associations and trade unions. Campaigners continue to collect signatures in support of the open letter online, with the goal of gathering at least 1,000 statements of support by International Women’s Day. A series of public events are also planned, such as a People’s Health Assembly held by the People’s Health Movement France in Lille which was held on February 24, where activists gathered to discuss the intersections between health and gender justice.

One of the main goals of the “Women, rise up” campaign is to strengthen the links between the feminist and health movements, and to keep the momentum of March 8 going until at least April 7, when another round of mobilizations will take place for World Health Day – People’s Health Day. According to Corinne Veegaert from PHM France, linking the two occasions is of great importance to build a united opposition to the austerity policies and privatization that have undermined the social system in France, as in the rest of the world, with serious consequences for women.

A call to the insurgent and tenacious women of the world

Speaking at the press conference where the petition was launched, Sofia Tzitzikou, a pharmacist and former director of UNICEF Greece, said, “Women have been the main victims of austerity in Greece since 2010.” She said this is true for both women health care workers and patients, as both have been exposed to the effects of health care budget cuts. However, it is not just systemic violence that women in Greece are exposed to, as the pandemic has led to an intensification of gender-based violence.” In the last few years, we have seen attacks on virtually everything related to women,” said Tzitzikou.

Eliane Mandine, member of the Stop patents! collective, mentioned the importance of access to medicines for the world’s population and insisted on the need for lifting patents on health technologies, including medicines, vaccines, and diagnostics. Laurence Mathioly of SUD Santé Sociaux reminded us that women make up more than 85% of the health and solidarity professions and that, as such, they demand to be recognized by improving their salaries, their working conditions and their life outside of work.

Stefanie Prezioso, a member of the political coalition Ensemble à Gauche and an elected representative on the Swiss National Council, pointed out that the pandemic has exacerbated the differences between women and men. “This has a lot to do with the fact that women make up a large part of the essential and core workforce that keeps our society going. Frontline workers are exhausted by their working conditions, and there is little support for them outside the workplace,” she said.

The rise of right-wing extremism makes it even more important for women in all movements to join hands and stand up, said Julie Ferrua, a nurse with the trade union confederation Solidaires. Conservative trends are hurting women all over the world, even more so outside of Europe. “That’s why, when we strike on March 8, we will stand in solidarity with women in Palestine, Afghanistan and other countries, who are bearing the brunt of decisions and conflicts led by men,” said Ferrua.

Sophia Guereschi, speaking on behalf of the FSU, stressed that this call for women’s uprising is an important space for building the workers’ movement in general. “Women workers are expressing what the whole movement is tending towards at the moment. Workers want more investment in public services. We want good climate policies. Essentially, we want to see less capitalism and more progressivism,” she said.

The next days in France will be used to broaden the mobilization for March 8, notably through a national meeting on February 28 and a meeting of the European Network Against the Commodification and Privatisation of Health and Social Protection that is preparing for a week of European mobilization for the right to health from March 31 to April 7, 2022.

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