나는t’s International Women’s Day, so of course I find myself reflecting not on the plight of women, but on what I was up to on all previous IWDs. In the 90s, we celebrated it in pubs, because whether or not real women drank pints was one of feminism’s critical questions back then. I’m not kidding. It’s not even a stupid question – but we can talk about why not some other time.
Most of the 00s was lost to arguing on social media about why there wasn’t an International Men’s Day (ignoring the boring reality that it’s on 19 십일월), or whether that was every other day of the year.
그때, on what has lodged in my memory as aeons before the pandemic, but was actually the blink of an eye ahead of the first lockdown, I went to Berlin for a panel discussion about what a feminist 유럽 would look like. The question made me miserable. We had been wading through the toxic sludge of Brexit for nearly four years, and we had just elected a government of rightwing shysters. Even if we did come up with a blueprint for an international feminist utopia, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage would between them probably find a way to yank the UK out of it.
을 더한, you almost never see a new idea spawned during a panel discussion in real time. You would be more likely to see a scientific breakthrough on Ready Steady Cook. That was my prejudice; turned out that was just because most panels don’t contain enough feminists.
So anyway, I can’t remember whose idea this was, between Saboura Naqshband, an academic and co-founder of the Berlin Muslim Feminists Collective, Daphne Büllesbach, vice-president of European Alternatives Berlin, or Prune Antoine, editor-in-chief of Sisters of Europe. All I can say for certain is that it wasn’t my idea. I’d arrived with nothing in my head besides goodwill and the aforesaid misery.
It sounds pretty simple in retrospect. There were four basic questions. What were the origins of the women’s movement? Universal suffrage. What was its international evolution? As women’s voting rights were established, it became a Peace, Land and Bread movement, and still has the campaign against poverty and conflict at its core. What are the pressing issues now? Still poverty and conflict, the displacements they both cause, plus the democratic deficits that land us with the authoritarian governments that create them. How could we loop all that together? With a new suffrage movement for the 21st century, except not for women – many of us, I can’t help but notice, already have voting rights – but for migrants.
Everyone had an example of the transformative impact it would have in various elections, if migrants were granted the vote. The Munich mayorals were just around the corner, there was something afoot in Barcelona … I wasn’t really listening because, 다시 한번, I’d disappeared down the rabbit hole of our own referendum. What would have happened if the three 3 million EU migrants living in the UK had been able to vote in 2016? We wouldn’t be in this mess. What would happen to immigration policy – indeed, the very language around migration – if immigrants were recast as people whose votes you wanted? It might be humane. What would have happened in the 2019 general election if the long-term UK residents whose lives were about to be upended by some blowhard promising to “get Brexit done” had had a say in the matter? He wouldn’t now be prime minister.
But these sad counterfactuals weren’t really the point. It’s just morals, innit? There isn’t really a defensible civic agenda in which some people’s voices are, in perpetuity, more important than others’. Feminism was mobilised in the crucible of this understanding; if your destination is equality and justice, your route is democracy, as much of it as you can lay your hands on.
You’ll notice something counterintuitive about the plan, I’m sure. The idea wasn’t “votes for migrant women” but “votes for all migrants”. The logical endpoint for International Women’s Day would be a unisex campaign, which I do realise will bug the hell out of some people. Happy International Women’s Day!