Cöpmadam Takes to the Streets!

March 8, International Woman’s Day, is a big deal in many countries, notably however, not in the USA, where it all began…

The day is not a day to celebrate the objectification of women, ie, offering sales on beauty supplies or giving flowers. Make-up sales are good and flowers are nice but they are not the point for March 8, a day that started in the US and was brought to life at an International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, back in 1910. The point is to bring greater rights and equality to women and to put an end to oppression. In too many countries, women are still placed in a category of ‘the underprivileged;’ there is still discussion about quotas for women in the workplace and in government show that while progress has been made in the past 100 years, gender equality is still something many of us are striving for.

This year was the first year that çöp(m)adam participated in March 8. It was the first time that our ladies had marched in protest or in favor of anything. I told them that I would be marching and that we would close the workshop at 2 pm on Friday, the 8th. If any of them wanted to march with me, that would be great but I was not going to pressure them. I reminded them that they were now seen as examples of women who were empowered in the community and that women who felt they had no voice or felt they had no role other than to be subservient to her husband and male family members, now looked to the women at çöp(m)adam as examples and options to life as they know it. Our full-time ladies were eager to join; one is gently referred to as ‘the mouse that roared,’ and the other one views our workshop as a women’s shelter. Two of our part-time ladies also joined, one who was no surprise, the other, well, it was a huge step.

One of our more reticent ladies was working quietly in the workshop, concentrating on a technique that bridged recycling with her best handwork, fine crochet work. Someone asked what time the march would start and H. quietly said, ‘there are those who say that women are flowers, but flowers need care, they need sunshine, they need to be watered and no one is taking care of me like they would take care of a flower’ and tears started streaming down her face. H. is an official second wife to the father of her two children; the man is still married to his first wife and while each woman has her own bedroom, they do share the same house. And same man. She comes to us without her husband’s permission and certainly without the knowledge of the first wife, who would not look warmly on H.’s venturing out to empower herself at all.

A. spends more and more time in the workshop, quietly working, saying little, smiling often. She stays away for days, which is nothing unusual, as most of the ladies do most of the handwork at home, and come to the workshop once or twice a week. A. however was staying away because she was embarrassed to be seen in public with a black eye. The morning of March 8 however, she was with us not to march but to be with the support of women, with shades of purple and yellow around her eye, letting her beaten face be seen by all.

N. is our youngest worker. She just finished a two-year degree in accounting and is trying to find work. Her mother is our most prolific worker and they are a good team together. N. was reluctant to join us as she feels she is still a girl, rather than a women, largely as she has yet to marry. We let her know that she was just as much of a woman as any of us are.

Neither H. nor A. joined us in the march though they did join in conversations in the workshop about women’s rights, about being treated equally, about believing in themselves. N. did march with us with so much enthusiasm that she did us all proud. Her mother also marched, clearly the most nervous of all the marchers in this town, but she was out there. After all, she defied her husband demand that she not work.

Ten women from çöp(m)adam marched along the main street to the main square, with placards, balloons, tambourines and self-confidence, letting themselves be seen by the entire community, subjecting themselves to comments their husbands’ friends and neighbors may make, and sang out to stop oppression against women.

Another day in the life of the garbage ladies.