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International Women's Day in Asia 1998
Together with women workers of free trade zones in Katunayaka and Biyagama, and women from Women's Voices, Civic Education Centre, Labour Shelter, Women and Media Collective, and Foreign Employment Shelter, Da Bindu Collective celebrated March 8 with speeches, music and drama. They raised concerns about women and development, women garment workers, and also violence against women. A pamphlet titled ' Women who Boost Up Humanity of Life in this World of Humans should be Appreciated ' was distributed, bringing clear the message that men, as much as women, should act for a society of justice and equality: "We must unite together irrespective of gender difference and carry forward this cry."

The pamphlet went on with the injustice confronting women under Sri Lanka's 'economic development':

"It is not a secret that women who share the responsibility in the country's economic development, especially the younger generation, are caught in the employment in free trade zones. These girls are....unfortunately subject to malnutrition and diseases.......Women's share of duties have become excessively more rather than less. She engage herself in looking after the children, attend to household chores, take up jobs and attend to other duties as well....Is it fair and just to be a slave today at her workplace as being a slave

at home in the past? Still, she is subject to more and more harassment and oppression at home, workplace and on the streets."

"Whatever kind of job she is engaged in, humans, let us respect her instead of humiliating her."

Finally, they called for the government to declare March 8 as a public holiday.

Another group, Women's Centre, teamed up with Community Development Centre of Badulla and Law and Society Trust of Colombo in organising a 24-hour celebration of International Women's Day under the banner of 'Women in Action, Struggle and Resistance'.

The fiesta literally started early, at midnight on March 7. Over 200 women and a handful of male supporters from the Katunayake Free Trade Zone and Ekala Industrial Estate (both in the outskirts of Colombo) filled the four buses that carried them, and their high spirit, to Badulla (east of Colombo). In Badulla, they were joined by over 3,000 tea estate and factory workers from all over Sri Lanka for a three kilometre march through the streets of Badulla, culminating in a public meeting and cultural event.

The march beginning at 11:30am was a colourful event, led by young women dressed in purple and white, twirling purple flags with the emblem of the event a woman with her arm raised in strength and slogans flied across the sky:

'Provide a political solution to the national conflict'

'Equal Pay for Work of Equal value' (for women tea plantation workers)

'Monthly minimum wage of Rs 3000 [US$ ?] for free trade zone workers'

'Provide all kinds of protection for migrant women working in the Middle East'

'Implement the National Workers Charter now'

'Stop violence against women'

'Implement the Women's Charter'

'Stop political thuggery'

At the public meeting, there were dancing, singing and theatre performance by both Tamil and Sinhalese women and children. The celebrations concluded at 5pm. Many women took their long journeys home, exhausted and uplifted from the 24-hour fiesta.

As one of the key organisers of the event Ms. Padmini Weerasuriya said, March 8 was "an important occasion for women to get together and raise their voice and to demand solutions to the problems we face as women".

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Da Bindu Collective gathering in Biyagama, Sri Lanka

Vol. 17 No. 2 April 1998