To mark International Women’s Day (8 March) this year, the Committee for a Workers’ International is publishing a collection of nine articles contributed by members of our sections across the globe.
International women’s day.
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Socialists fight women’s oppression worldwide
"nancy", drawing by suzanne
While they certainly underline the horrors of daily life for a large part of the world’s women, as capitalism holds them in subjection, they also point to campaigns and mobilisations that give women the hope of achieving real changes in their lives.
Rukhsana Manzoor of the Socialist Movement in Pakistan and Sheri Hamilton of the Democratic Socialist Movement in South Africa write of the agonising sufferings prevalent amongst wide layers of women in their countries. They describe the hypocrisy of the ruling elites and the way they perpetuate a callous disregard in society for the lives of women. Most are denied the right to a decent education, to healthcare and to fully participate in life outside the home. Their survival is daily threatened; freedom from violence and poverty is a dream. There are examples of tremendous bravery on the part of women who try to break down the mores which are used to oppress them and the millions who suffer in silence.
International Women’s Day is a chance to salute the sacrifices made by the great pioneers of the cause of working and poor women as well as the thousands of nameless heroines who have been persecuted for their efforts.
Today, as Rukhsana and Sheri point out, the failure of workers’ organisations to take up the struggle for women’s emancipation has worsened the fate of many, leaving them prey to reactionary fanatics. Mullahs and ministers of all kinds try to convince them that their salvation lies in subservience, obedience and even good (!) old-fashioned witch-craft. Rukhsana and Sheri also point to the activities of socialists and to elements of a programme for combating these influences and giving courage to women themselves to fight back.
Organising and fighting
Two shorter articles reproduced here – one about a factory occupation in Venezuela and one about organising supermarket workers in Germany – deal with the problems of women in the workplace and the struggle against exploitation and redundancy as workers. Socialists see the struggle for equal job and education opportunities for women and equal pay for work of equal value as vital parts of women’s struggle for emancipation.
We also champion the right of women to choose if and when to have children. This means free contraception and abortion on demand, free fertility treatment for any woman who wants it, sufficient maternity and paternity leave, free and good quality nursery provision and adequate state benefits to allow stress-free child-bearing and rearing.
Big strides forward have been made through struggle and through the fight for greater awareness of the problems of women in class-ridden society. This includes campaigns against sexism and the sex trade which perpetuate the idea of women as a commodity designed for the gratification of the needs of men. If you include the kind of enslavement mentioned in Rukhsana’s article, across the globe, hundreds of millions of women are imprisoned legally or illegally by men to work for them and indirectly to maintain the status quo of class domination and exploitation.
Even in the wealthiest country of the world, the USA, the situation for the majority of women is getting no better. As Margaret Collins explains in her article, earlier reforms are actually under attack. The article about Sweden by Elin Gauffin also shows that, in developed capitalist countries, there are many ways in which women, especially working class women, are subjected to humiliation and danger.
A short extract from material prepared for the ‘Socialist’ in Britain, for International Women’s Day indicates the huge pressures on young women to conform to stereotyped female roles and the sexism they face that comes with the ‘commodification’ of women in a system geared to profit. The reports from CWI members in Belgium and Australia show how socialists can increase awareness of those problems and set out to involve working class and young women in the fight to change society.
The shocking statistics about violence against women world-wide at the end of this collection of articles hide a myriad of horror stories in the individual lives of women. (They are taken from a longer analysis of recent United Nations and Amnesty International reports made by Elin Gauffin and available from the CWI).
The historic elections this year of the first-ever women presidents in Africa and in Latin America- in Liberia and Chile – have been hailed as a breakthrough for women. It is true that they represent quite a political earthquake in both continents. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia and Michelle Bachelet in Chile have both known hardship and persecution, including the inside of prison cells under earlier dictatorships. Johnson-Sirleaf has pushed for the first law of her presidency to be one tackling the scourge of rape endemic in her war-torn country. But, as a Harvard-trained economist, steeped in neo-liberal capitalist ideas, she is unlikely to come up with policies to end the nightmare of poverty in a country with a GDP of just over $100 a year!
In Chile, Bachelet was the candidate of the so-called Socialist Part. She has already raised the need for radical reform of the highly restrictive laws on abortion and divorce – controversial in the reactionary religious political climate of her country. But, as a former minister in ‘Concertacion’ (Coalition) governments in Chile which carried out the dictates of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, she cannot be expected to open the road to economic equality for women by challenging the system of capitalism itself.
Neither of these women, brave as they may be, will adopt socialist policies – the only ones capable of ending the rule of the rich and super-rich and lifting the economic and social burdens that weigh down on the majority of women throughout their two continents.
The workers’ movement is the only force capable of transforming society to eliminate all injustice. But a struggle on the issues of equal pay, on domestic violence and sexual harassment can get results. They expose the system that tolerates the oppression of women and they can gain some temporary respite for women in terms of real improvements in their situation.
If the leaders of the trade unions and (former) workers’ parties of the world had taken up with real vigour some of the most important issues for women and encouraged them to challenge the bosses and the system, the plight of working class women around the globe could have been much alleviated and their enthusiasm for the struggle for socialism much enhanced. But since the collapse of the state-owned, planned economies more than 15 years ago, almost all of them have accepted that capitalism is the only viable way of organising society.
This leads many to deny the values associated with socialism – of equal opportunity and collective organisation, state ownership and democratic planning. It means accepting as unchallengeable the inequalities of power and wealth, the class division of society, exploitation for profit and the domination of the world’s economy by capitalist monopolies. The pernicious values that accompany this system must be forcefully combated, not least those that justify the unequal chances in life allotted to the majority of the world’s women.
Fighting for the future
Socialists celebrate 8 March, International Women’s Day, by renewing their determination to fight on an independent class basis for another world – a world without exploitation, private profit and oppression, hunger and wars. Socialism, the only possible alternative to capitalism, would have to be based on public not private ownership of major industry, land and finance. Production and distribution would have to be under the day to day control at every level of democratically elected bodies of working people – women and men – regularly elected and subject to immediate recall.
Working hours could be immediately cut and safe conditions at work and in the environment would enable women and men to enjoy healthy working, social and personal lives – with or without children as they choose. Harassment and discrimination because of gender, race or sexuality would soon become a distant memory, eliminated by vastly improved material conditions as well as by the values asserted within a community based on respect for individuals and on social justice.
Only on the basis of development towards socialism would we see the establishment of widespread, genuine mutual cooperation – in neighbourhoods, in regions, in areas of the world and globally. Without classes, class conflict and oppression and with the sustainable and just development of human as well as natural resources, we would see an undreamed of flowering of humankind and every individual’s true potential. At last a truly harmonious, as well as an unimaginably exciting life for all.