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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