Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Thinking about women

In January, following Trump's presidential inaugeration, women around the world took part in demonstrations and marches. International Women's Day (originally called International Working Women's Day) on March the 8th may well be equally if not more impressive. Women have plenty to get angry about but protests mean nothing unless practical gains in understanding, organisation and action spring from them. Part of the understanding is to link women’s issues to the wider issues of the 95%, to realise the class nature of society. This movement will not have any future if it is not linked to the class struggle and to the class character of the capitalist society it is not a sexual confrontation between women and men.
Women worldwide carry the double burden of domestic labor and income-generating work outside the household. Despite working typically 12-13 hours per week more than men in developing countries in Africa and Asia, working women usually go unrecognized. Women in rural areas spend more of their time on domestic chores such as collecting water and firewood, preparing food, transporting goods and caring for children, the elderly and sick. They also work on family farms – spending on average three hours more per day than men on unpaid agricultural work. Equitable access to decent employment opportunities for women is critical to the well-being of their families and communities. Yet most rural women are either unpaid family workers, self-employed or hold precarious jobs for low pay. It is estimated that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million. Rural women often work under conditions that are hazardous to their health. In Cote d’Ivoire, as in much of West Africa, women smoke fish in poorly ventilated rooms. Traditional smoking releases carcinogenic contaminants that lead to respiratory, eye and other health problems for women and their children.
Both sexes of the workers are exploited. Both are victims of those who live by the ownership of the means of life. Therefore the solution for working-class women lies in the emancipation of their class from wage-slavery. We must liberate ourselves as human beings and the Socialist Party have never tried to appeal to any one section of the population other than fellow workers. Members of the working class are treated with the same accord regardless of age or sex or ethnic origin. We do try to address certain social problems, hence our pamphlets, in the past on women, racism and education but our attitude is to link them to the whole and not view as separate issues deserving of any distinct attention. There is no league-table of oppression and exploitation, in other words.
Many newcomers to the Socialist Party are surprised by the critical attitude we held towards the Suffragette Movement. The suffragettes fought for the freedom of the vote so that they could have their say in the laws governing their property. The position of millions of working class women who had no property and were, in fact, bound hand and foot by their economic dependence upon the employer directly or upon some employed male relative did not rouse the ire of the suffragettes. Obtaining the vote has done nothing to alter that. Only when working class women learn their true position in society will they know how to use their vote wisely, and for this, the suffragette movement had no time.
  The freedom upon which all freedom rests is the economic freedom of a class in society from the domination of another class. This freedom is the object of the Socialist Party and is the only freedom worth fighting for because it embraces all liberty that is possible for all mankind without distinction of race or sex. Working class women, as well as men, will find their political expression in the S.P.G.B. The woman question is no different from any other working class problem. Working women are either in economic bondage to an employer or to their husbands, and socialism ends both states of bondage. The tyrannies of domestic life are often the shadows of those in the industrial world. The worker eats, sleeps, and takes his leisure at the dictates of his job. His life is moulded around his job. In other words, while producing everything worthwhile in life his ability to enjoy life is regulated by the meagre amount of wages he receives. The man, then, should regard his wife as a partner and as a comrade to let off as lightly as possible and with whom to fight jointly against capitalism. Instead of this he sometimes assumes in his turn the role of master and initiates a fresh set of tyrannies. It is useless for women to fight against these various effects of the one great evil. They must break the economic stranglehold which holds the man, and they can only do this by breaking the economic stranglehold of capitalism upon the whole of the working class. On, then, with the fight for freedom, but let us first realise what we mean by freedom
In short, capitalism has largely nullified the intentions of those who thought to change women’s position by legislation.



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