I can’t help smiling every time I see a picture, video, or posting on my Facebook about the historic Women’s March on January 21. It was great to be in a sea of mainly women and girls in their pink pussy hats and to see the diversity of issues we are concerned about. The serious and comical slogans on their signs taking back from Trump the word “pussy” reminds us all that women have the right to control our own bodies. But in between the moments of basking in those happy moments of being with 150,000 people and 3 million worldwide, I wonder why it took so long for people to say and understand, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”
I first heard that slogan in 1995 when I traveled to China to attend the United Nations Fourth Conference on Women along with some 40,000 women from around the world. Along with State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos, we brought a group of 33 women from the Seattle area to join in the development of the Beijing Platform of Action, a strategy of equality, development, and peace for women. The theme of that conference was “Women’s Rights are Human Rights.”
Hillary Clinton, then First Lady, was sent as her husband’s emissary because the United States refused to send a formal representative. Her speech said that, “it is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food or drowned” simply because they are born female, and “it is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery or prostitution.”
Combined with the myriad of workshops and forums on issues that women all over the world were dealing with and how they organized, Clinton’s and other women’s speeches were transformative and gave new meaning to the women’s movement. For me and the thousands of other women who attended that UN conference, we left China dedicating ourselves to building a women’s movement that understood that “women’s rights were human rights” and “human rights were women’s rights.
I saw intersectionality at its best as women from 189 countries worked across racial, national, and cultural lines to build an international women’s movement with common values and principles. Every year at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women Conference in New York, women gather to continue to assess the progress and setbacks of women in relationship to the Beijing Platform for Action.
The Beijing Conference left an indelible imprint on my life. It gave me a glimpse of what was possible, and I saw that same possibility at the Women’s March. At the same time, I am dismayed that in the building and aftermath of the march, the cynicism of women of color stops some of us from building the broadest women’s movement possible. We cannot go back in history and change the fact that white women and middle class women have not been there for us or that they have not prioritized our communities’ needs.
We cannot change the fact that the small businesses in the International District lost a substantial amount of money on that Saturday because March organizers did not understand Lunar New Year was on the horizon. But what we can do is answer the call to come to the table and add our voices to ensure our communities’ issues and needs are represented and that Asian and Pacific Islander women are not marginalized in the fast expanding social justice movement.
Over the last week the Trump administration has shown that they have every intention of implementing policies that will be devastating to our peoples as demonstrated by his executive orders around immigration policies. At the same time, the mass movement has accelerated its resistance to these policies. Thousands of people all over the country have been inspired and motivated to march, rally, organize, and commit civil disobedience—many for the first time in their lives. We must welcome all who can build the broadest front against Trump. And if we build it right, women of color, including Asian and Pacific Islander women, will be in the leadership, ensuring our women’s demands are front and center.