Introduction for Revolutionary Women Meeting, March 2014

by Louise Gartrel

This speech was written as an introduction to a meeting titled ‘Revolutionary Women: The Story of Rebellion’, which formed part of Scotland FRFI’s ‘Voices of Resistance’ series of events. The meeting was held on 16 March 2014 in celebration of International Women’s Day.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has called this meeting today to pay tribute to the undeniable contributions which women have made towards the Revolution throughout history and to make the point that the struggle against imperialism and towards a society rid of oppression and exploitation must necessarily have women at the forefront. It must also be recognised that women throughout history have had to face not only oppression from the ruling-classes in terms of the effects of a capitalist system, but have also experienced the domination of, and subjugation to, male privilege within the home and throughout society. And for this, we see that women have had to face the greatest hardship and as a result shown the strongest resistance.

 

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Women in employment: the statistics that matter

There are 14 million women in work, the highest number since the Office of National Statistics’ records began and a rapid increase from record-breaking unemployment two years ago. The number of women in full-time employment has increased to just over eight million. On paper, things appear well. However, the government’s line that, therefore, ‘more people have the security of a regular wage and can plan for their future’ fails to correspond with a reality which, for many women, means punishing hours, lower wages than men for the same roles and discrimination in the workplace. The huge fluctuations in the number of women in work shows that employment based on the whims of the market cannot be secure.

 

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Women seeking asylum in racist, sexist Britain

Sexual violence dismissed

Women make up a third of asylum seekers in Britain. 70% have been victims of sexual abuse. In a recent report, of 72 women seeking asylum, 39% said they were persecuted because they were women and 36% for being politically active.[1] Sexual violence is frequently used to punish women who resist oppression.

All asylum seekers arriving in Britain confront an entrenched culture of cynicism and disbelief. Interviews conducted in public rooms by officials behind a screen create a hostile atmosphere; for women it is exacerbated by the fact that their interviewers are usually male. Often, there is a shortage of hard evidence of persecution, as well as understandable discrepancies and late disclosure of abuse. The appeal success rate for women is relatively high at 35-41%, compared with 26% for men, because women are overwhelmingly refused asylum at this early stage.

 

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Women’s health: rising inequality and resistance

2012 was a year of swingeing cuts to women’s reproductive, sexual and maternal health services in Britain. As the capitalist crisis deepens and inequality rises, the gap widens between those who can afford to make choices about health and reproduction and those who cannot. RACHEL FRANCIS and CAT ALLISON report.

Contraception and sexual health

Contraception and sexual health (CaSH) clinics around the country have been closed over the last two years by health authorities desperate to make cuts. The greatest users of CaSH clinics are young people, ethnic minorities and women from deprived areas. A recent audit by the All-Parliamentary Group on Sexual Health (April 2012) found that up to a third of all women in the UK did not have access to a full range of contraceptive services; clinic opening times have been reduced and posts for trained clinical staff cut. Derbyshire Community Health Service is cutting 20% of its sexual health budget over the next four years, resulting in ‘cuts to contraceptive, STI and menopause services … and cuts to doctors and nurses’. Southampton has lost nine of its 17 sexual health clinics in the recent period.

 

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Women’s Oppression under Capitalism

Revolutionary Communist 5 November 1976

PART I. WOMEN AND THE CRISIS

1. The Capitalist Crisis 

The post-war boom saw the greatest rise in industrial production ever known. Yet the remarkable fact remains that there are less nursery places today than in 1900.

‘In 1900, 620,000 children aged three and four were in school, or 43% of the age group. By 1973 there were fewer than 400,000 children of that age in nursery schools, or a little more than a quarter. Provision is not expected to return to the level achieved at the beginning of the century for another 75 years.’[1]

Capitalism was not able, even with this rise in industrial production, to provide one of the basic requirements for the emancipation of women – adequate nursery provision. What then is in store for women in a period of deepening crisis? Dismissive of all the current calls for equal opportunity, the ruling class makes ‘equality’ serve an end especially its own,

 

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Women in north east England face sharp end of austerity

The north east of England faces savage austerity measures which will add to the poverty and deprivation afflicting much of the region, and working class women will be at the sharp end. The starting point is already bleak: long-term unemployment, amongst the lowest life expectancy in the UK, and the lowest gross disposable household income in the country, 15% below the national average. The TUC says that the region’s job market is the worst, with high unemployment and falling wages. There are two new food banks opening every day, catering for low-income families unable to put food on the table. This is the context for two recent reports, one by the NEWomen’s Network and the Women’s Resource Centre, and the other by the Fawcett Society. Both reports are damning of the cuts, with their consequences of increasingly entrenched gender roles and show that things are set to worsen, especially for working class women, as the capitalist crisis deepens.

The struggle to meet basic needs is acute. Homelessness has risen by 19% nationally and by 40% in the Northeast, where rows of boarded-up homes sit empty and private rents increase rapidly. Of the homeless households ‘accepted as being in priority housing need’ by the local authorities in the region this year, 47% of them were single female parents with dependent children. Couples with children made up to 20%, and 4% were single men with children. The number of women supporting dependent children living in unsuitable accommodation or unstable circumstances, remains overwhelmingly high. Bearing the brunt of caring responsibilities women face the brutal combination of housing, unemployment and benefit cuts with decreasing support.

 

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Women: bearing the brunt of Coalition cuts

Women: bearing the brunt of Coalition cutsWorking class women continue to be the hardest hit by the ConDem government’s austerity measures, particularly those with children. Unemployment and underemployment, rising childcare prices, and cuts to benefits and services are leading to rapidly declining living standards and increasing numbers of women living in poverty. This is set to intensify as the cuts deepen and increase.

94% of Child Benefit claimants and 92% of single parents are women. Women are far more likely to have insecure and low-paid positions in the workforce, with 5.86 million women working part-time, compared with 2.01 men. 65% of public sector workers, a vulnerable sector, are women, with women forming over 90% of part-time public sector workers earning under £15,000 a year. This means that the most oppressed are the hardest hit: for example a part-time care assistant on a low wage faces not only the very real threat of unemployment, but also changes to child benefit allowances, tax credits, childcare costs, wider benefit changes such as housing benefit, and reductions in family and women's services. The impact of austerity measures on women is a particularly savage aspect of the wider and unprecedented attacks on the working class as a whole.

 

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Women’s Organisations Speak Out In Favour Of The Bolivarian Revolution

Demonstrating the continued input of social movements to Chavez’s presidential proposals for 2013-2019, women’s right groups presented their proposals at a televised event on 12 September at the Teresa Carreño theatre in Caracas. Chavez stressed the importance of the political participation of women in the Bolivarian Revolution, highlighting the many gains of the last 13 years, stating ‘All Venezuelan women have my deepest respect... never before has any government treated Venezuelan women with such dignity and respect,’

Whilst abortion is still a heavily debated topic in Venezuela (‘Venezuela: The Dangers of a Revolution against a Woman’s Right to Abortion’) many inroads have been made in addressing the issue of gender inequality. This has included social missions such as the ‘mother of the barrio’ Misión Madres del Barrio where the government pays 80% of the minimum wage to mothers who live in extreme poverty, and the inclusion in the recent New Labour Law, ratified on 1 May 2012, of legally guaranteed job security for the mother as much as the father for two years after the birth of a child, the reduction of the working week by two hours, and the right for fathers [and mothers] to be absent from work if their child is ill.

 

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Abortion rights under attack

The past few months have seen an increase in ‘pro-life’ protests, underhand government moves to force through regressive amendments and high-profile smear campaigns; an ideological offensive against abortion is underway. These campaigns are led by a section of the ruling class intent on rolling back women’s rights. Sexual health education is coming under the same attack, ensuring that access to independent advice and evidence is absent from the start.

In February an undercover reporter for the Daily Telegraph set out with a camera and a scenario to find doctors who would authorise an abortion based on the sex of the foetus. Finding three who asked no further questions and consented, the paper published a series of inflammatory, misleading articles condemning apparent widespread malpractice. This opened the intended floodgate; women’s choice and abortion came under attack in further articles by the right-wing media, paving the way for a high-profile investigation led by Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley.

 

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Communist, internationalist and fighter for women’s rights: the legacy of Sylvia Pankhurst

Communist, internationalist and fighter for women’s rights: the legacy of Sylvia PankhurstSylvia Pankhurst: Everything is possible

Produced by WORLDWrite,

directed by Ceri Dingle and Viv Regan, 2011

www.worldwrite.org.uk/sylviapankhurst/ DVD: £20, plus p+p

‘To British manhood: comrades, how much longer will you be willing to fight, work and pay for the war which the British capitalists are making on the working people of other countries?’ (Sylvia Pankhurst, Workers’ Dreadnought, May 1920)

After another International Women’s Day was marked in Britain by corporate lunches and lectures, with little to no talk of the capitalist crisis affecting women worldwide, the documentary Sylvia Pankhurst: Everything is possible proves the necessary antidote. It details Sylvia’s committed anti-imperialist, anti-racist, feminist politics, and her dedication to building a mass movement with working class women and men. It touches on her unique, and overlooked, contribution to communism and the politics of class struggle. We can learn crucial and inspiring lessons from her opposition to inequality, war, patriarchy and racism, and their cause – the system itself.

 

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Women: hardest hit by the cuts

Women are experiencing the brunt of the public sector cuts. Benefit cuts will hit women doubly hard as on average they account for twice as much of women’s income as men’s. More women will lose their jobs in the public sector as they make up the majority of the workforce. The already limited public services that women rely on most will be cut further. Driven out of employment and education back into the home, women will be expected to care for children and for those for those for whom the state will no longer provide. If left unopposed, the next round of cuts will force more women to provide this unpaid, largely unrecognised, isolating domestic work and care for longer hours, all with less support.

George Osborne’s Autumn Statement announced the extension of a 1% cap on public sector pay rises for a further two years. This is a pay cut for 4.6 million women and 2.6 million men. He also announced cuts to child tax credits costing women £908m. 73% of the combined cost of these measures will be borne by women. 94% of child benefit recipients are women; this is to be frozen for three years.

 

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Women, the crisis and the cuts - Cuba shows the alternative

maydayincuba

In a time of global crisis, Cuba represents a unique reality for women. Understanding that sexual equality is necessarily bound with economic and political equality, women's emancipation is crucial to the ongoing process of revolution. The huge grassroots political involvement of the people, and the planned economy driven by their needs, means that society actively works to challenge sexism and inequality. Accordingly, Cuba stands out in The World Economic Forum's study on gender disparity and economics - despite its small economy and the blockade which attempts to strangle development, its women rank highly in health, education, political and economic equality. The index shows Cuba's gender disparity has improved; Britain, despite its imperialist wealth, is only four places above Cuba, and has fallen in ranking.

 

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A victory for abortion rights…for now

On 7 September, the latest attack on abortion provision in Britain was defeated when MPs voted against amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill proposed by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries. These amendments, originally jointly proposed with Labour’s former welfare minister Frank Field, would have stripped organisations that provide abortion services of their role in offering impartial counselling to women.

Dorries argues that non-statutory organisations such as the British Pregancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes, non-profit charities that provide the majority of abortions in Britain – have a ‘vested interest’ in persuading women to have abortions as part of some wider, sinister ‘abortion industry’. This is nonsense. No one in her campaign has been able to present any evidence that BPAS and Marie Stopes have done anything other than provide impartial advice, as they are required to do.

 

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Speech to International Working Women’s Day panel discussion

international womens day

5 March  2005

I would like to bring the greetings of my organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Group, to this meeting in celebration of International Working Women’s Day.  This speech is in three parts.  Firstly, I am going to talk about specific struggles of working women in this country during the past 20 years; secondly, I am going to say something about women prisoners; finally I am going to explain a little about the political stance of my organisation.

1. The past 25 years in Britain since that very unrevolutionary woman, Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher, came to power have seen a huge change in the social structure of the country.  Previously, rich because of its imperialist plunder; the state could guarantee a sizeable section of the working class lifelong employment, affordable housing and welfare provision. Thatcher announced there was ‘no such thing as society’, only individuals and made it clear she was declaring war on the working class.

 

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George Galloway, Respect and abortion

A recent article in The Independent on Sunday (4 April 2004) quotes George Galloway as saying that he is ‘strongly against abortion. I believe life begins at conception and therefore unborn babies have rights. I think abortion is immoral...I believe in God. I have to believe that the collection of cells has a soul’. This reactionary position will be a surprise to many people but in fact it is consistent with his record as a Labour MP. The completely reactionary Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child lauds him as a ‘courageous fighter’ in defence of the ‘unborn child’.

 

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