As part of the build up to International Women’s Day celebrations on Saturday (08/03/2014) Emily Weir from YCL Edinburgh gives a sober reflection on the progress of the movement for women’s liberation and the importance of International Women’s Day in 2014. She puts paid to the idea that women have achieved equality in our era – or can ever do so under capitalism.
According to Karl Marx in 1868, social progress can be measured precisely by the social position of the female sex. How, then, would he judge our society almost 150 years later?
With austerity the order of the day in most of Europe, women are suffering disproportionately under the cuts. With a flimsy economic justification our own government has cut public services, including SureStart and childcare places, and liberalised healthcare provision to the point that extremist “pro-life” groups may provide abortion counselling and lie to their vulnerable patients. The current government’s agenda seems made to drive us back into the home – and with cuts to women’s refuges, they care little how safe that home is.
Women in work are also in crisis. 65% of public sector workers, who have suffered a real terms pay cut this year, are female, and 43% of women are in part-time work (compared to 13% of men) and hence have far fewer employment rights. Access to legal aid and employment tribunals has been restricted, allowing discrimination and harassment to go unchecked.
We have seen some progress recently. Frances O’Grady became the first female General Secretary of the TUC last year. The excellent “No More Page 3” campaign, started only two years ago, continues to go from strength to strength. Public opinion on the abuse of women is starting to change at last: after several high-profile rape and sexual assault cases at schools and universities in the USA, and in Operation Yewtree in the UK, it is becoming clear that the public is finally starting to believe victims and taking an interest in prosecuting attackers. Around the world, around 1 billion women – one in three – will be the victim of sexual violence at some point in their lives. Here in the UK it is one in five, and only 6% of rapes end in a conviction.
Capitalism, through the traditional model of marriage and the nuclear family, the sex trade and trafficking, the advertising industry and the right-wing news media, tells us that our bodies are nothing more than commodities to be used, bought and sold, with or without our consent. This is of particular concern to us as young people: since the 1990s, there has been a backlash against feminism in the form of “lad culture” and readily available porn. Boys learn to equate masculinity with violence and mistreating women and girls, and encourage each other to fit this ideal. Most schools do not teach pupils about respect in relationships, despite 16-19 year old girls being the group most at risk of domestic violence. We are now in danger of losing many of the rights that previous generations of feminists won for us.
As communists, we must fight inequality wherever we see it and whatever form it takes. International Women’s Day serves to remind us of the freedoms we have to protect, and how much we have yet to fight for.