On March 8, 45 days after the Women’s March and 46 days into the presidency of Donald Trump, women around the world took part in a strike as part of International Women’s Day. They demanded to be treated fairly, paid equally, given proper maternity leave, not harassed at work, not have their bodies subjected to patriarchal or religiously-motivated distress, not be exhausted by the “second shift,” and other issues that affect us. Some women stayed home from work or took to the streets to protest. Others pledged to only spend money at women-owned businesses.
But for all the women going on strike, there are just as many who are unable to despite supporting those who are striking. One of the biggest critiques of the Day Without a Woman is that it may be an action of privilege. For many women—particularly low-income women, women of color, LGBTQ women, and disabled women—striking is too big a risk. They may face repercussions, retaliation, and rejection from their bosses and families.
We asked some of the women who couldn’t strike on Wednesday about how they chose to mark the day.
Amal, 31, Secondary teacher, Part time lecturer
Syrian woman living in Malaysia
I am unable to participate because my principal decided that this historical stand isn’t important, simply because I am a woman. In the workplace, I face a lot of discrimination regarding race and gender. My male workmates have privileges we don’t have. You get by by keeping quiet and accepting all the injustice they throw at you, or by being a flirt to win the bosses.
Unfortunately Malaysia isn’t the ideal country and culture for women rights, and some weren’t granted a permission from authorities to carry on with the strike. I truly believe if we did a strike for one day, we would shake the balance of the world and open eyes to the importance of our existing. Imagine a mother stopped being a mother for one day. A wife stopped being a wife, a lawyer, a teacher and a leader. They need us to survive because we are more than half of the society.
Diana Feliz Oliva, 44, Transgender Health Program Manager
Los Angeles, CA
I’m unable to participate because we recently received a federal grant that focuses on Transgender Women of Color that experience substance use, mental health and living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS. I’m very passionate about my work and the patients we serve who are very marginalized, discriminated against and even violently attacked. I have to make sure I’m there for them at all times.
Instead I’m wearing red in commemoration of International Women’s Day. I wore [this dress] last year for Transgender Day of Remembrance November 20, 2016. I thought I would wear it again for International Women’s Day and A Day Without Women March. I’ll make sure I reach out to the most important women in my family to let them know that I love them and will thank them for making me the strong, courageous, independent and compassionate woman I am today.
Priya Shukla, 27, Climate change scientist at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory
I think the strike is biased towards women who can afford to take a day off of work without pay. My mother was the primary breadwinner in our household growing up and often picked up extra night shifts to make ends meet. Ten years ago, taking a day off of work to strike would not have been option for her with two young children.
As a scientist, my schedule is often dictated by the lab and field work I have to do. My absence would prevent me from participating in monitoring changes in seawater chemistry, and detract from our ability to measure how climate change is impacting our oceans. Thus, I am choosing to contribute to that work while supporting the strike in other ways. For example, my partner and I made contributions to Black Girls Code and Code.org in anticipation of my decision not to strike today. And, on behalf of 500 Women Scientists, I will be hosting a “Pint Night” this evening with several other Northern California scientists that support women both inside and outside of science.
Veronica Wells, 36, Special Assistant to the President at Wilberforce University
To me, the women’s strike mean that millions of women will have their voice heard. In a past job, I had felt like because I am a woman I can’t speak how I feel based on my gender. I worked in a position in the past where women who stood up for what they believe were either demoted or fired.
Unfortunately, [with] my position I am currently in, I have an important deadline and being out one day would set me back on what I have been working on. With me recently finding out about this movement, I was not able to prepare. But I have participated by wearing red, asking my colleagues to wear red and not shopping in stores or online on this day, which is definitely a hard task.
Jane*, 30, works in the communications office at a community college
The strike has me thinking a lot about our history—the women who organized the Iceland strike in 1975, the suffragettes who faced imprisonment and force-feeding in the UK in the early 1900s. There’s a lot of power and pain behind us.
[I couldn’t participate because] the timing didn’t work. I’m just coming back from about a week and a half off to deal with a very unexpected family loss, plus the end of a round of exhausting fertility treatments. My department is chasing a big deadline, and there’s a lot I need to get done. Even if I’d taken today off, I think I’d end up working from home so I don’t fall farther behind. I feel like it’s important to say my employer is very supportive of causes like this and of me taking time off in general; coming in to work today was my call.
*Jane’s name has been changed at her request because she was concerned about personal medical details being made public
Anne, 29, Case manager and therapist at a psychiatric clinic and hospital
I like the idea behind the Women’s Strike. I think that if there was a large enough amount of women that it would have an impact, it would be noticeable. It gets tricky depending on which field you’re working in and also what what your work life looks like and how many people are dependent on you. I go back and forth with going on strike. Historically with civil rights, it took people taking that risk to make change happen, but I also have feelings of guilt.
I’m in the mental health field. My concern is that it’s predominantly women, whether they’re nurses or therapists, or even our psych techs, and if they’re not there, then our patients won’t receive the care that they need. There are ethical obligations in my profession. Something I need to figure out is that if I feel like because of my job, I can’t participate in long-standing rallies or walkouts, how I would be able to make or be part of an impact like that without hurting the people I’m responsible for?
*Anne’s name has been changed at her request due to professional concerns.
Isadora Levy Corbella, 29, works in Marketing Research
The idea of asking women to take a day off from economic activity is a good theoretical exercise, since it would help us quantify our enormous economic power. I’m sure policymakers and marketers would be impressed by the real figures, considering women are the main financial decision makers in most homes. But it’s also unrealistic in practice, since so many women can’t afford to step out in such a radical way.
[I didn’t strike because] I recently quit my job because I have to go back to Chile and this is actually my last week at the office. I guess it could have been the perfect time to participate in “A Day Without a Woman” since I can’t technically get fired anymore, but I felt it was important to guarantee a smooth transition. Taking a day off and leaving unfinished work behind for my colleagues would not be a very responsible or solidary move, so it would make me feel like a hypocrite.
Emily Augsburger, 32, Proposal Manager
I did not take today off—I need to save my paid time off for my upcoming maternity leave. In order to receive full pay for a small fraction of my twelve-week leave, I need to save as many PTO days as possible. But I am wearing red, and I do not plan on making purchases today; however, if I absolutely need something (I have a toddler with a cold, so it’s possible), I will shop local.
Alice Dilbeck, state coordinator for Women’s March Alabama Chapter
When the call came out for the strike, it gave us a lot of pause. Twenty percent of the people live under poverty in Alabama, and that affects all people, especially women. In a recent study of states, Alabama ranked 47th in percentage of women living in poverty. Most of us [thinking of striking] would consider ourselves pretty privileged—I grew up under the poverty level, but was able to retire from a good corporate job. The strike is a great to call attention to the economic disparity and the power of women economically, but we couldn’t in good conscience say, “Hey, everybody should go out on strike.”
We support women who can participate to go do volunteer work for women’s organizations and we’ve supported not purchasing things, wearing red, etc. But we recognize there are a lot of vulnerable women. [Alabama] is a right-to-work state, which means that employers can just fire you for any reason. It was not a burning issue that we thought warranted challenging people to risk their economic state.
Janaye Pohl, 26, Operations Manager
New York, NY
To me, the women’s strike is a platform for women to speak out about women-oriented political issues in a way that they don’t often get to during other protests (read: because of MANSPLAINING). Like THIS IS OUR DAY ALRIGHT! Women are Black Lives Matter, women are Fight for $15, women are Occupy, etc etc. WE OUT HERE.
The fact that trans issues weren’t on the list on their website kind of kills me. I guess “all forms of bigotry” kind of maybe covers it but CALL. IT. OUT. Women can be just as transphobic as men and we need to stand in unity with trans women! I also was disappointed that not a ton of emphasis on higher education was made, especially in male-dominated subjects like the sciences/business entrepreneurship.
I work for a women-owned small business – emphasis on small business! Taking days off is kind of impossible. Even though I wasn’t specifically told I cannot participate, participating would be detrimental to my work life because I’m doing so much of our day to day operations and I’m already always behind on everything, as is the way when you work for a super small company. Unless the whole company decided to participate, that sh** wouldn’t fly!
If I could participate, I would stay at home and pamper my cat with love because he never devalues my work as a woman. I’m choosing to mark the day by scheduling my next OBGYN appointment with my lady doctor.
Cheryl Morgan, Diversity Trainer
One of the things that gender transition teaches you is the extent of male privilege. Women, in general, work harder for less pay than men. I’d extend that to note that if you are part of a minority group you’ll often be expected to work for free “for the good of your community” while those who are attacking you get paid lavishly for what they do. So yes, I’m very much on board with the principle, and want to see equality for all.
I have been running a series of trans awareness courses for mental health workers in the Bristol area of the UK. These have been arranged for some time and people have scheduled their work around being able to attend. This is important work, and consequently there’s no way I could take the day off.
After a long and exhausting LGBT History Month (which is February in the UK) I would have liked to spend the day asleep, or at least catching up on TV series I have recorded. As it is, I wore as much red as I could manage. And I participated in a Reclaim the Night march in the evening.
Editor’s note: We misquoted Alice Dilbeck and published an inaccurate assertion that forty-seven percent of women are living in poverty across the country.