Women: Fighting sexism, violence and capitalism – an international struggle

The international executive of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI, the international organisation that the Socialist Party is part of) took place from 27 November to 2 December in Belgium.

A prominent part of the discussions throughout the week was struggles of women across the world and the CWI’s role in these. Here, the Socialist (paper of the Socialist Party – CWI in England & Wales) speaks to CWI members from four countries.


Carla, Mexico: “to end this oppression we have to transform society”

In Mexico there is a strong crisis of human rights, and an economic crisis which also encourages social backwardness.

It has immediate consequences on the oppression of women and all vulnerable groups. The hardening of the crisis sees all social problems like sexism sharpened.

There’s an incorporation of women into the workforce, which has given them some independence and broken some isolation from the home.

It’s also true that at the same time this increases the burden on women because they are still doing all the work at home, as well as going to work.

Lots of women are also abused by their partners. Every day seven women are killed, most by their husbands.

There are terrible cases like the women workers in Juarez, a town with a huge female murder rate, showing the women who are incorporated into the workforce also suffer sexual violence.

We also have the situation in Mexico City, where there’s much corruption, drug trafficking and human trafficking.

It’s the state with the highest number of murders of women in Mexico. In the last period it’s been particularly bad and that has led to an awakening, combined with the entry of women into the workforce, increasing social consciousness on the issue and on the possibility to protest.

There’s been lots of expressions of the movement, many radical ones, with anti-capitalist demands that also understand the need to struggle side-by-side with working class men. There are some who don’t agree that that is the correct position.

We have to have clarity that gender oppression comes from the social system, from class society and capitalism. To end this oppression, we have to struggle to transform society, for socialism.

But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle for immediate improvements for women’s conditions, including against sexism within the workers’ movement and organisations.

We’ve set up the feminist platform Libres y Combativas which has had a lot of success, especially in schools.

A lot of young women are very conscious of the political situation and want to organise themselves to struggle.

We’ve only had a few months of this platform but we have already had a lot of success and we hope to keep contributing to this struggle.

Emily, Belgium: “women earn 20-25% less”

If you are unemployed and you live with your partner, you only get half of the unemployment benefit. Women earn 20-25% less than men.

Most women work part-time because the jobs that lots of women work in don’t exist full time, and also because there aren’t enough public services for childcare, care of sick and disabled people, etc.

For young women another big issue is the use of women’s bodies in advertising. They see how at the same time that society merchandises women’s bodies, if they wear a small skirt they can be harassed for it.

There have been some protests, though it’s not yet a big movement in Belgium. There’s a lot on social media and in discussion all the time in schools, universities and workplaces.

Protests have been bigger than previous years. We organised a protest on 8 March which was the biggest in lots of years, with 600 students.

An annual protest for abortion rights is usually a few hundred people but this year was 2-3,000.

Trump has also been important. He came to Brussels on 25 May and there was a protest of 10,000. There were many issues taken up – racism, environmental issues, but women’s issues were probably the most prominent.

We said oppose Trump’s politics and the politicians in Belgium who represent the same, and oppose the division he tries to make within the working class.

ROSA stands for resistance against oppression, sexism and austerity. We started the campaign nine months ago.The question we raise is, who does sexism profit? Is it men, or is it capitalism?

Women’s struggles from the past managed to win some sexual liberation. But that was taken back to use women’s bodies as merchandise in advertising, pornography, etc.

The system also uses gender stereotypes to be able to make cutbacks. They say ‘women are so good at home, they should be at home more to help the kids, so we don’t need to provide childcare’.

Or that women have natural ‘people skills’ and you don’t have to give money for natural skills – so to some extent ideas like that are part of justifying the low wages in health and education.

Our main message is about the economic situation of women. Changing that is key to change sexism.

Laura, Ireland: “it’s about breaking with the repression of the past”

There’s a crucial struggle happening against the existence of the Eighth Amendment, which is the constitutional abortion ban.

This is a hangover from the fact that the state in Irelandhas been entwined with the Catholic church from its creation, leading to huge crimes against women and children.

The working class and poor have been the worst affected – for example the Magdalene Laundries, which was literally the slavery of poor women.

It’s a defining struggle, as it’s seen as being about breaking with the repression of the past and putting a marker down for what kind of society young people, women and working class people want and desire.

Five years ago, Savita Halappanavar, an Indian woman living and working in Ireland, died as a result of the Eighth Amendment.

She died in agony during a miscarriage, having repeatedly requested an abortion, which could have been lifesaving for her.

She was not allowed to get one because of the existence of a foetal heartbeat. A new movement exploded in that context.

Two very important things happened this year. International Women’s Day was an explosion of young people onto the streets.

The city centre of Dublin was blocked for hours on end. There was a youthful 10,000-strong march to parliament with a very radical mood.

And the government set up a Citizens’ Assembly on the Eighth, selecting 100 people randomly. They tried to set it up in a way that it would recommend only a very limited change.

But the Citizens Assembly listened to the facts and came up with a pro-choice proposal. Now there’s a Dáil committee to make proposals flowing from that, which TD (MP) and Socialist Party member Ruth Coppinger has been on.

But unfortunately, many other spokespeople in the abortion rights movement are only really calling for repealing the Eighth Amendment.

Repeal alone doesn’t mean pro-choice legislation. It could be a lost opportunity. Young people are saying ‘I want bodily autonomy, I want equality, I want secular laws.’

Unfortunately some don’t recognise how much things have changed and don’t have confidence in the fact that the majority, over 60% according to a recent poll, support abortion on request.

Whatever happens, if we get a referendum on repeal next year, there will be an incredible participation and a social revolt.

Five years ago, ROSA was established as a socialist feminist movement. This is very attractive to young people who see a world of environmental crisis caused by corporate profiteering, the refugee crisis, huge attacks on living standards of working class people in Ireland and globally.

They don’t want to see freedom for elite women and not for women of colour, trans women, poor and working class women – they want to see everyone free.

The Socialist Party playing a role in building a strong anti-capitalist pole in the women and LGBT+ movement has been an important contribution, with ROSA now a broad socialist-feminist force of hundreds of mainly young supporters and activists.

Jane, Brazil: “12 women are killed every day”

We’re seeing the worst social and economic crisis in Brazilin its history, which impacts on women in a more brutal way.

Women, especially black and working class women, have suffered from the cuts to health and education and also the increase of violence in recent years.

Every day 12 women are killed – one of the highest rates of women’s murder in Latin America. And every day ten women are gang raped.

There are elements of barbarism. Women suffered an attack from parliament – a law to eliminate the possibility of abortion for women who have pregnancy resulting from rape.

The response has been very interesting, very quick. After that law we achieved three days of big protests – 10,000 women protesting in São Paulo and others in all the state capitals.

These were organised by the feminist campaign which we participate in, called the Left Feminist Front – and then others responded to that as well.

The leader of the national parliament has been forced to say that they don’t want this law to pass. So there’s huge opposition in the street and everywhere. It’s possible the movement can defeat this law.

The CWI has had a big role in the major cities. We are at the front of the organisation of these demonstrations in São Paulo for example – a city of 16 million people – and we were the main force that organised the big women’s protests.

We demand the end of this attack and we link it to other problems. We’re building a demand for the law that can legislate for abortion and ban the criminalisation of abortion.

We link it to the other social struggles – to the fight against labour reform and pension reform and against the cuts. We clearly demand a working class feminism.

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December 2017