|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
International women’s day 2011
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S Day (8 March) takes place this year against the backdrop of unfolding revolution in North Africa and the Middle East. Tens of thousands of women have participated in the frontline of the marvellous movements in Egypt and Tunisia for democratic and social rights and an end to dictatorial regimes.
Also, in recent months, millions of women worldwide have risen up to resist the devastating effect that the economic crisis is having on their lives. Hundreds of thousands of super-exploited textile and other workers in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia and elsewhere have participated in a wave of strikes for higher wages which spread rapidly from one Asian country to another. Millions of women workers have taken part in general strikes in France, Spain, Greece and Portugal, and in huge protests against public-sector attacks which have swept across Europe. Young women have been in the frontline of a new generation of fighters in significant student movements against cuts and fee rises in Britain, Italy and elsewhere.
There is likely to be an intensification of these struggles in the coming months, especially in those countries where the austerity axe is falling the hardest. Women have no choice but to fight. Over the last 40 years the lives of women in the developed capitalist countries have undergone important social transformations. Inequality, discrimination and oppression have not been eradicated, but important changes laid the basis for the idea to take root that significant progress was being made and would continue, and even that equality was within women’s grasp.
The situation in the neo-colonial countries of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East has clearly been very different. But even there, globalisation and the economic and social changes it has engendered – particularly by drawing increasing numbers of young women out of the home and into the workforce – was meant to hold out the hope that things could gradually get better for women everywhere.
Now the world economic crisis threatens to push many of those gains rapidly into reverse. This would entail a severe worsening of life for women in the developed countries and a nightmare for women in the neo-colonial world.
The crisis is starkly revealing what the CWI has always argued: the incompatibility of capitalism and genuine women’s rights, whichever part of the globe we live in. Exploitation and oppression are at the heart of the capitalist system, where profit and competition reign. Only through a struggle against that system and for a socialist alternative will we be able to go forward.
Socialism Today reprints here some of the reports from sections of the CWI to celebrate International Women’s Day 2011. Further reports, and a summary statement, can be found on the CWI website.
Italy: A million march against sexism
ON 13 February, one million women (and men) marched in 230 towns and cities across Italy. This was a spontaneous protest triggered by allegations that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi had, amongst other things, paid for sex with an underage prostitute. But it was about much more than that. It was against the way in which his personal behaviour, and control (directly or indirectly) of all but one of Italy’s TV stations and media empire, portray women as mere sex objects to be ogled at and controlled by men; how a sexist culture has been created in which some young women now think that their bodies are their only asset and route to success in life.
This is the country in which the minister of equal opportunities is an ex-topless model and which comes 74th (out of 134) in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap league table (33 places below Kazakhstan).
The women who took to the streets were saying that things have to change. ‘If not now when?’ was the main slogan of the protest, which for many also referred to the resignation of Berlusconi himself. "I’m here because I know what it’s like to be touched by a man who could be your grandfather", said one protester. "I’m pregnant", said a nurse, "but I can’t tell them at work as I’ll lose my job".
CWI members distributed a leaflet entitled ‘We are not goods for sale; capitalism equals profits equals inequality’. The protests involved women from different social classes and backgrounds but Berlusconi’s sexism and denigration of women are the logical (if extreme) expression of a system in which profits come first and everything has a price; a system based on wealth and gender inequality.
Only an anti-capitalist struggle, involving women and men, can lay the basis for an end to sexism and achieving real and lasting equality between women and men.
Controcorrente (CWI Italy)
Sweden: New network against right-wing policies
FOR THIS year’s 8 March a new network has been set up in Sweden: Women’s Struggle against the Right. Its first task is organising a demonstration in Stockholm. The main slogans are: No to privatisation - abolish RUT (a tax reduction for households employing a maid); safe and permanent jobs; universal welfare; no profit from women’s bodies; scrap sexism; international women’s solidarity; global justice.
After more than four years of right-wing government, equality is being pushed back. Tax cuts have increased the income gap between women and men to €100 a month. The employment gap is the largest in 20 years with 230,000 more men than women having jobs – a poor record for a government that claims to stand for ‘jobs-first’.
Work, universal welfare and the public sector form the basis of equality. When society organised good healthcare, elderly care and childcare it was through women’s and workers’ struggles winning reforms that increased women’s economic and social power. Today, everyone is required to solve more and more issues on an individual basis.
Nearly 100,000 residents in Stockholm County received tax deductions for household services last year. This has increased the class divide among women. Those who can afford to have someone to clean their house get the tax refund, while the jobs created are often insecure and poorly paid. Resources should be invested in expanding elderly care and childcare to those in need.
Sanna Tefke, youth secretary in Kommunal (council workers’ union), is a member of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) and one of the initiators of the demonstration: "Privatisation of healthcare in Stockholm has gone so far that in many districts there is no council care to choose from. Millions of taxpayers’ money go on profits and dividends to private owners.
Women’s Struggle against the Right is needed to give 8 March more sting. We need to rebuild a fighting movement that can respond to the counter-revolution going on".
Other issues are against men’s violence against women. Maria Rashidi from the Society for Women’s Right said: "Victims of male violence are often not treated seriously by police and social services. Women in the asylum process are most severely affected. Many have to move every month and are being exploited as cheap labour. Sometimes they sleep over at the restaurant where they have to wash up the dishes for €2 per hour. I get two to three calls a week from women who have been abused as mail-order wives. There should be a special shelter in this regard. On 8 March it is important to note the progress women have won globally but also to recall that through struggle we can achieve much more".
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden)
Venezuelan reforms under attack
IN THE first years of the Bolivarian revolution significant gains were made for working-class women, including the establishment of a ministry for women and various education and health programmes (missions) that aimed to lift women out of poverty and financial dependence. Unfortunately, in the last few years we have seen a steady clawing back in these reforms, partly as a result of the two-year recession which has resulted in funding cuts of up to 50% in many of the missions.
President Hugo Chávez has spoken of his government as ‘feminist’. Yet the recently elected national assembly abolished the ‘women’s commission’, designed to look into sexism and machismo which continue to be prevalent in Venezuelan society. Abortion remains illegal, impacting on the lives and wellbeing of hundreds and thousands of women.
There are huge obstacles in Venezuela to organising around these issues, namely the extreme political polarisation that exists. This results in many on the left being reluctant or unwilling to take part in a campaign which may be seen to be ‘against’ the government in some way and, therefore, part of the organised right wing.
However, this International Women’s Day an international women’s conference is being organised in Caracas, providing a forum to discuss these issues and, hopefully, present a plan of action to struggle for the rights of women.
Socialismo Revolucionario (CWI Venezuela)