Archive article from The Socialist Issue 383
International Women's Day:
Fighting the system that exploits us
OVER THE last decade, the number of women in the global labour force has increased by 200 million. Now women account for 40% of the workforce.
But according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women are less likely to hold regular paid jobs and more likely to be in the informal economy outside legal and regulatory frameworks. Women generally earn less than men for the same type of work, even in female-dominated occupations.
The vast majority of women today, no matter what part of the world they live in, are hit hardest by the neo-liberal attacks carried out against the working class as a whole. This will not only lead to an increase in women's poverty and suffering but will also lead to the political radicalisation of more women and working-class women in particular.
Poverty, sexual violence and lack of education have led to an increase in the number of women living with HIV/Aids in every region of the world over the past two years.
According to the World Health Organisation, the sharpest increase - of 56% - occurred in East Asia, followed by a 46% increase in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa, the worst affected region, close to 60% of adults living with HIV are women.
Young women aged 15-24 are three or four times more likely to be infected than young men of the same age.
By July 2004, only 440,000 people had access to Aids treatment out of the six million who need it in the neo-colonial world.
Some politicians, like chancellor Gordon Brown, have recently developed a concern for Africa. But Africa and other deprived areas of the world will not be lifted out of poverty as long as capitalism exists. The money promised to those countries is peanuts compared to what is spent on continuing the imperialist occupation of Iraq.
In order to successfully fight HIV/Aids and poverty, a clear break with capitalism is needed which will free those countries from the dictatorship of the IMF and the World Bank. As part of that international struggle, the pharmaceutical industry needs to be nationalised and taken under workers' control and management. This is the only way of ensuring a future and a life worth living for the masses in the neo-colonial world.
The potential, readiness and capability of the African working class to unite and fight against attacks on their living standards is shown by public-sector strikes in South Africa. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, has seen general strikes against the government's hike in fuel prices. In both cases, women have played a large part in making these strikes solid.
George Bush, leaning on the Christian religious right in the US, has launched a major attack on women's rights and the gay community.
Bush's re-election marks a setback for the women's movement. But it will also provoke major opposition and a fightback.
The Million Women march in defence of abortion rights, which took place in the USA in April 2004, shows the willingness of women to struggle. Socialist Alternative, the US affiliate to the CWI, intervened in this, the biggest ever women's rights demonstration in the USA. They raised the need to build a new working-class party and demanded free abortion on demand as well as free health and childcare.
Women and single mothers in particular will be hit hardest by the bosses' offensive in countries like Germany. The so-called reform of the unemployment legislation is part of the biggest impoverishment programme in post-war German history. It enforces traditional gender roles by taking the partner's income into account when calculating unemployment benefit.
Unemployment benefit is to be cut after one year of unemployment. This will discriminate against single mothers who struggle to find child care. Child poverty, which has already reached a record high in one of the richest countries in the world, will increase even further.
In Russia, pensioners have also started the fightback against attacks by the Putin government. Mass demonstrations, road blockades and other forms of protest have attracted large numbers of women pensioners and led to a partial victory.
Women are often the most determined and committed fighters in the struggle to defend living standards, wages and working conditions. This was highlighted by the heroic strike of nursery nurses across Scotland. Around 4,000, mainly women workers, took part in a nine-week all-out strike.
This shows the change in consciousness and gives a glimpse of the determination of women workers in action.
In Belgium, Linkse Socialistische Partij - Mouvement pour une Alternative Socialiste (LSP/MAS), has initiated a youth march for jobs, free education and against racism for 19 March.
LSP/ MAS calls for decent wages, the right to a full-time job, proper funding of public services such as nurseries and an end to sexism and racism in the workplaces.
By doing so, LSP/MAS will try to encourage young working-class women to make their voice heard on that day.
New workers' party
Today, there are still women internationally who do not have the right to vote. But where they do, working-class women, like the working class in general, find it difficult to find a party to vote for that defends their interests.
The elections in Afghanistan held in September 2004 were used as one reason to legitimise the invasion of the country after the horrific 9/11 attacks. Special attention was given to the fact that 40% of the registered voters were female.
This was presented as a huge step forward for women's rights in Afghanistan. While we welcome the fact that women could vote, the situation for women in Afghanistan is still largely determined by feudal traditions and remnants of the Taliban implemented legislation. The same is true for other parts of the world.
The Socialist Movement in Pakistan, which is affiliated to the CWI, pays particular attention to women's rights. They hold public meetings and special workshops on domestic violence. They are also involved in a campaign to abolish so-called Islamic laws.
As a consequence, activists of the campaign have received threats from religious fundamentalists.
A very important part of the work is the unionisation of women in the informal sector and the campaign for a mass working-class party which would be at the forefront of campaigns for women's rights.
Working-class women are not represented by existing female MPs, ministers or presidents. US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, Gemany's health minister Ulla Schmidt, the British education minister Ruth Kelly or the Sri Lankan President Chandrika all attack the working class.
The two Belgian ministers that have most viciously attacked the strikes by the largely female health sector are women.
Socialists welcome and strive for a greater participation of working class women in politics and political activity.
But for women to live life free from poverty, discrimination, fear of violence, sexual harassment etc., it is necessary to overthrow the profit-ridden capitalist system.
This can only be achieved by a mass movement of the working class that will nationalise and take into public control the big corporations and companies which have accumulated enormous wealth by exploiting the working class internationally.
Working-class women will be vital in this struggle that will eventually lead to the emancipation of humanity and true equality between men and women.
This is an edited version of the CWI statement. For a full version, see the CWI website:
protests force resignation Women's Day campaign attacked in Israel