“Give us bread, but give us roses too” — Over 200 attend ROSA International Socialist Feminist Conference, Vienna

By Isidora Duran Stewart (ROSA Socialist Feminist Movement, Ireland)

In the wake of International Women’s Day 2023 which saw women, queer people and their siblings in struggle in the labour movement take to the streets globally, over 200 socialist feminists from every habitable continent gathered in Vienna on 18 and 19 March for the first-ever ROSA international conference. Activists from 20 different countries in person, and more on zoom, who are fighting against the deeply misogynistic capitalist system and the recent right-wing backlash came together to discuss how best to bring our struggle forward, more urgent now than ever before. ROSA and ISA members were accompanied by delegations from socialist feminist groups active in Prague and in Budapest who we had fruitful engagement with about how to strengthen the socialist feminist struggle globally. Guest speakers included Angeline Van den Rijsse, socialist and Belgian trade union leader, Dunia from Aid Access and Parisima Khoran from the Woman Life Freedom Iranian solidarity movement. 

Discussions ranged from historical analyses of socialist feminist pioneers such as Clara Zetkin and Eleanor Marx to the inspiring feminist movements of Woman Life Freedom in Iran and Ni Una Menos in Latin America, to the trans struggle for liberation from the rigid gender binary, to ongoing struggles against war and imperialism, gender-based violence and attacks on abortion rights, to tactical debates on how to bring more working-class women into trade unions and build for effective feminist strikes as a vital component of our movement.

“Hearing from Rosa activists from all continents on their struggle against oppression really showed that attacks on women, queer people, and workers are global and systemic. Despite the dire reality that we are all fighting the same battles, the conference was an incredible testament to international solidarity. It was a loud and clear call for all of us to join the movement, a movement of feminist struggle against all oppression.”–Attendee

With activists from South Africa, US, India, Israel and Palestine, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere, the overwhelming trend of the lively discussions over the course of the weekend was the interconnectedness of all of our struggles. While each delegation contributed valuable insights from the particular history and challenges of their country, it was clear that the recent global attack on the victories of the feminist movement required nothing less but deep international solidarity from socialist feminists all over the world. After the opening rally, ROSA activists gathered to send a message of solidarity to Justina Wydrzynska, an activist who was recently arrested for providing abortion pills to a woman in Poland, where the state has brutally imposed a near complete ban.

A social event was organised for Saturday night. Music of struggle filled the room, with ROSA activists singing and dancing along to Nina Simone’s ‘Feelin’ Good’ and rallying song of resistance ‘Fascists Bound to Lose’. Poignant anti-racist and feminist poetry was recited, with activists in the audience chanting alongside performers in support. The closing rally ended with a moving rendition of the socialist-feminist anthem ‘Bread and Roses’ in which all 200 attendees participated.

“The music and poetry on Saturday night were really powerful. I thought the social aspect was important for allowing unplanned discussion and for creating a sense that we are all fighting together – a sense of hope.”- Attendee

ROSA in Ireland recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. ROSA in Ireland cut its teeth in the throes of the abortion struggle in Ireland, in which it played a vital role in helping to win free, safe legal abortion, including up to 12 weeks on request with no restrictions. Since then, ROSA has been established in many more countries and has been enriched on the streets in struggle around the world. The 2023 ROSA international conference brought this to new heights and was the first socialist feminist conference to ever take place in Vienna and a first for ROSA. By Sunday afternoon, the consensus was clear – it would not be the last. After a new wave of feminism emerged in the 2010s, it was taken to new heights in Iran in the early 2020s. The Conference was summed up with the intention to ensure that this revolutionary feminism continues and that it’s imbued with anti-capitalism, solidarity of all the exploited and oppressed, and socialism.

The motivating formal and informal discussions, sing-alongs and deep solidarity felt throughout the weekend exemplified what we are and will continue to fight for: “give us bread, but give us roses too!”

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