International Women's Day 2012
Women, capitalism and the cuts
N30 - Millions strike back at Con-Dem government on 30 November 2011, photo Paul Mattsson
International Women's Day 2012 falls against the backdrop of ever more cuts being imposed by the coalition. Last year saw a major wave of government attacks on jobs, benefits and services realised, with working class women disproportionately affected in all of these areas.
In particular, the brutal cull in public sector jobs combined with pay freezes and pay caps will have a devastating effect on women, who continue to make up two-thirds of the public sector workforce. Thousands of teachers, nurses and social workers will face the brunt of the Con-Dem assault on the public sector.
There have also been recent government announcements of up to £18 billion of cuts to social security and welfare. Access to domestic and sexual violence services will be increasingly limited as 31% of funding for these vital services has been slashed.
Cuts to working tax credits and child tax credits will hit women particularly hard, just as the closure of care services and day care centres will mean that more women are expected to 'pick up the slack' and take over care responsibilities from these important services.
The Con-Dems' cuts package will hit working class women the hardest, not because it is a conscious policy choice because Tories hate women - although some of them do - but because women are already disadvantaged in society to begin with.
Despite advances in the economic and social position, women in Britain continue to be paid an average of 15.5% less than men, even after 40 years of the Equal Pay Act. Young women will therefore be affected by the rise in tuition fees and the scrapping of education maintenance allowance (EMA), as a whole generation of young people are priced out of higher education. And women are still expected to be the main providers of care within the family.
The oppression of women is rooted in class society, and came about through the development of the patriarchal family as an economic and social unit.
When ordinary people talk about 'family' they mean real individuals - parents, children, partners. But for the ruling class, the institution of the family plays a vital role in reinforcing their own ideals and values throughout society, as well as being a means to pass on wealth and private property.
N30 - Millions strike back at Con-Dem government on 30 November 2011, photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
Furthermore, big business shareholders and their representatives in government want to maximise profits by keeping their costs to a minimum. This applies not only to actual wages but also to what is known as the 'social wage' - the tax cost of health, housing and education for a new generation of workers. They do this by off loading these costs as much as possible onto individual families, and women particularly.
The family also serves to reinforce hierarchy widely in society, and is presented as a reflection of the 'natural order' of things. But the patriarchal family as we know it has only existed for around 10,000 years. Before this, for the majority of human history, nomadic hunter-gatherer societies, based on shared resources and shared responsibility for the upbringing of children, were the predominant form of organisation. Although a division of labour based on sex existed, women's work was valued equally by the group.
It was the development of private ownership and concentration of wealth by an elite, as well as the concept of inheritance and the oppression of women's sexuality, that led to a loss of status and freedom for women.
Nevertheless, women, especially working class women, in Britain have fought hard for advances in their position in society, and have won many rights and freedoms that they were previously denied.
The overwhelming majority of people would now accept that men and women should be equal and support the many rights that have been won over the years such as domestic violence and marital rape being recognised as crimes. There is a general view that women should have some fertility rights. The Socialist Party fights for all women to have the right to decide when and whether to have children.
The struggles of women have made clear that any attacks on these hard-fought for rights will be fiercely resisted. The most successful movements for women's rights in the past have taken place at times of increased struggle of the working class in general.
We have already begun to see resistance to the Con-Dems' savage austerity package in both the magnificent 30 June and 30 November public sector strikes, where a majority of strikers were women. Also the fantastic student protests in 2010 involved many young women from university and college campuses.
This struggle against the cuts is encouraging women to campaign on other issues too. The successful 'slutwalk' marches held around the country helped expose myths about rape and questioned why sexism and discrimination exist in society.
Attacks on women's rights more generally have been seen, through plans to erode abortion and fertility rights, as well as Nadine Dorries' 'Abstinence for Girls' bill, that aimed to promote the teaching of abstinence to female students in sex education lessons. Protests were organised around these proposals, leading directly to the defeat of both and victory for women across the country. It can certainly be said that faced with these attacks women are fighting back.
The Socialist Party has been involved with all of these campaigns, and fights to link the struggles of women to the struggle against capitalism more widely.
We have already seen how the government has attempted to divide workers - young and old, unemployed and working, private and public sector. There is no question they are also prepared to use sexism to divide the movement against austerity. It is clear that any successful movement must be united and involve both men and women.
A united working class struggle against austerity and the rotten capitalist system must take place. Only with the construction of a socialist society - one which has freed the family from its role as a social and economic institution and where economic resources are owned and controlled collectively through a democratically planned economy - will the true emancipation of women be fully realised.
- A living minimum wage for all. Close the pay gap
- Axe the Health and Social Care Bill! No cuts to sexual health or maternity services
- Protect and improve abortion services
- No to all cuts! Support the public sector pensions struggle
- No cuts to services for rape survivors or victims of domestic violence. An end to victim blaming
- A new mass workers' party to provide an alternative to the big business politicians
- A socialist world free from sexism and inequlity
Housing cuts hit women hard
Changes to housing benefits, and funding cuts to services women rely on to escape problems such as domestic violence, will result in more women being forced to live in dangerous conditions.
The government has increased from 25 to 35 the age at which people can claim enough housing benefit to live on their own, meaning single claimants up to 35 can only afford a room in a shared house.
Renting in this way can be dangerous for women who are vulnerable to being attacked by other people sharing the accommodation - 70% of sexual attacks on women are by people they know. 17% of rape within the home is perpetrated by landlords.
The only way to achieve safe housing for all women is through affordable publicly owned housing. Housing associations are not the answer.
They are run like businesses and often by organisations with separate agendas than providing housing for those in need.
It is legal for housing associations to ask for 'proof' that women have been suffering domestic violence before giving them priority status.
One association has been down-grading the applications of women suffering from non-physical forms of abuse.
All this comes at a time when emergency shelters for women trying to escape violence are being closed because of cuts, resulting in many having no alternative but to remain in abusive situations.
Women are more likely to be in receipt of housing benefit, because of the wage gap that still persists despite equal pay legislation, so will be hit hardest by any changes made.
Women are also more likely to have dependents (children or other relatives they care for) so will be hit by the stricter rules being imposed on how many bedrooms a family can claim housing benefit for.
Coupled with other cuts to services women rely on to be able to work and the benefits cap the government is attempting to impose, more women and families will be left in overcrowded and possibly dangerous homes. The housing market is out of control with private rents sky rocketing.
High quality affordable housing should be available to all, giving women the chance to live in safety and the ability to leave violent relationships and keep their families safe.
- Reverse all housing and housing benefit cuts
- Reintroduce private sector secure tenancies and rent controls
- For massive investment in building and renovating truly affordable, good quality council housing
- For a huge programme of construction job creation with trade union rates of pay
- Councils should use their planning powers to stop housing associations issuing short-term tenancies. If the associations refuse, take them in-house!
Stop benefit cuts!
David Cameron claimed in 2010 that he would make his government the most 'family friendly' ever. Not surprisingly, in a recent survey of new mothers, only 6% believed this statement.
The Con-Dems have cut, in a most 'unfriendly' way, the very benefits which were there to provide help for pregnant women and new mothers.
- CUT £190 Health in pregnancy grant
- CUT £500 Sure Start maternity grant limited to one child
- REDUCED Childcare help
- CUT threatened to child benefit from 2013 if you earn around £35,000 a year
- CUT £545 Working Tax Credit baby element
The government has frozen child benefit and intends to means test it from 2013, so that households with a higher rate tax payer (earning around £35,000 or more) will not get it.
However, for many women, no matter what their partner earns, child benefit is the only guaranteed income they have.
This independent income, although small, can be vital if they are in an abusive relationship.
Maximum help with childcare costs, via Working Tax Credits, has been reduced from 80% to 70%, leaving many families on low incomes with an extra £546 a year added to their childcare bill.
Given the rising costs and reduction in help available, it's not surprising that, in one recent Mumsnet survey, 16% of women with families had been forced to quit work because they didn't make enough money to cover childcare costs.
Some nurseries are exploiting the shortage and increasing their fees. The Day Care Trust estimates that in the south of England those with two children are likely to be paying a similar amount or more than their mortgage in nursery fees.
Government cuts have made it harder for women, especially lone parents, to work. Yet they are continuing down New Labour's path, forcing lone parents off Income Support when their youngest child is five.
With close to three million already unemployed (over one million of them women), how exactly are they to find work?
The Con-Dems aim to cut at least £18 billion off their social security and welfare budget. The Fawcett Society estimates that lone mothers can expect to lose the equivalent of one months' income every year by 2015.
- Scrap the benefit cap - for a decent living income for all
- Defend and extend pregnancy and maternity benefits
- Restore Income Support to lone parents
- Defend housing benefit - restrict rent levels not benefits
- Flexible, affordable childcare for all that want it