The Young Communist League sends comradely greetings and solidarity to women everywhere on International Women’s Day 2018!
For over a century this day has been marked with celebrations by workers and students the world over. We take time to reflect on the gains made in recent history. Only one hundred years ago this year in 1918 voting rights for women were achieved for the first time in this country. We also take time to remember those who have given all in the struggle for emancipation. On the centenary of women’s suffrage, the YCL pays special tribute to life-long communist Sylvia Pankhurst who played a leading role in that struggle.
More importantly this date reminds us that the struggle for women’s liberation is far from over. The fight for women’s liberation goes hand in hand with the fight for the liberation of all humankind – the struggle for socialism.
In 2018 the mainstream media consistently attempts to argue there is no longer a need for a feminist movement. We are told that equality has been achieved. We are told that in the social, political and economic fields women have the same standing and opportunities as men. We as communists and feminists know that this is not true.
Worse still, recent years have seen a violent backlash against feminism both in the media and from right wing politicians. They argue that having achieved equality women now want to be ‘better’ than men. It has once again become acceptable to state publicly that equality is an offence to ‘traditional values’, that feminists are strange fanatics. The reactionary attack on feminism and the rehabilitation of these opinions can undoubtedly be linked to Trump’s America and the rise of the so-called ‘Alt-Right’.
We would invite anyone who considers themselves an ‘anti-feminist’ to consider the situation as it stands in 2018.
In the economic sphere it is common knowledge that women continue to suffer from inequality and higher levels of exploitation. According to government statistics the gender pay gap continues to sit at almost 20%. The actual figure is significantly higher. The rate at which the gender pay gap is being closed is also beginning to slow. At all levels of the economy women continue to fail to be promoted, the ‘glass ceiling’ remains a reality for the majority of women. Men continue to dominate managerial and executive roles. Women often face the most acute level of discrimination when pregnant. Employers continue to undermine and avoid hard fought rights in this field. A fortnight ago today the European Union’s so-called Court of ‘Justice’ handed down a judgment which removed the protection from redundancy for pregnant and breastfeeding women. In Britain Tory austerity has hit women hardest. Cuts to the public sector disproportionately affect women. 65% of public sector workers are women. Almost a quarter of women in work are in public sector jobs. Of the Government’s welfare cuts, 74% of benefits have been taken from women.
Socially, working class women continue to be oppressed in our society to an even greater extent and more acutely based on their sex. Women continue to bear the brunt of domestic and child raising duties. The mainstream media portrays women as sex objects and depicts an unrealistic standard of ‘feminine beauty’ as the ideal. This is presented as the only worthwhile goal for a woman. Going hand in hand with this are efforts to undermine a woman’s right to have a career and the fact that they are equally able to do so. Rates of the domestic and sexual violence have increased in recent years. Government cuts to support services and refuges have made it harder for women to escape violence and has resulted in an increasing number of tragedies.
Unsurprisingly in this context women’s representation in the political sphere is no better. In the last election only 32% of MPs elected to Westminster were women. This is in fact a record high. Compare this with Socialist Cuba’s National Assembly which has the third highest percentage of female parliamentarians in the world. Where women also make up the majority of judges, lawyers, scientists, technical workers, public health workers and professionals.
These are the facts which show in no uncertain terms that the fight for women’s liberation is far from over. However International Women’s Day is not a day to lament. Working women in Britain, our labour movement, our class and our Party and League have a proud history of fighting and are more than up to finishing the job.
The oppression and exploitation of women is not the result of some predetermined ‘human nature’. It is a product of class divided society and originates with it. In the context of class society where the working class as a whole are oppressed by the ruling class, women are a super-exploited section of our class. Women also face specific social, economic and political oppression in addition to class exploitation.
Just as capitalism can and must be done away with and replaced by socialism. Gender exploitation can be replaced with women’s liberation and equality. The struggle for one is impossible without the other.
In Britain in 2018 under capitalism we are seeing a stagnation of women’s rights and a counter attack by the right against the gains of the women’s movement. In socialist countries, such as the Soviet Union and Cuba, and in countries where the working class and other progressives have a leading role, it has been shown that it is possible to build a society free from the exploitation of man by man but also that such a society can and must be based on gender equality.
The centenary year of women’s suffrage has given us many reasons to be hopeful. Our trade unions are ready to strike to protect workers’ rights and in particular women’s rights and equal pay. Women workers and students have been at the forefront of the resurgence of progressive and socialist politics in Britain. Scandals in Parliament and especially in the film industry have highlighted the extent of sexual harassment and violence against women. This has galvanised the will to fight this oppression and change society.
Communists say that approaches to feminism which ignore the class nature of society represent a dead end in the struggle for women’s liberation. This isn’t to disregard the particular and different ways in which women are exploited and oppressed in our society. It is to acknowledge that oppression is a product of capitalism and that the struggle against capitalism and for women’s liberation are one and the same.
A woman’s place is in the fight for socialism!
Long live International Women’s Day!
Workers of the world, unite!
Young Communist League
8 March 2018