The Guardian • Issue #2042


Put socialism back into IWD

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2042

The inspiration for International Women’s Day arose out of the struggle of working-class textile women to form trade unions and for the right to vote in the USA. The actual proposal for such a day was put by Clara Zetkin in 1910 at a conference of socialist women in Copenhagen. “… the Socialist women of all countries will hold each year a Women’s Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage. This demand must be handled in conjunction with the entire women’s question according to Socialist precepts,” the motion put by Zetkin read in part. In the following years the concept was taken up by socialist women across Europe, including in Russia, as well as the USA. The date moved around but eventually settled on 8 March.

In the socialist countries, women have made great social and economic gains such as tackling discrimination; gaining access to paid employment, pay equity, paid maternity leave; provision of childcare; education; cultural and sporting programs; and much more. This put capitalist governments under pressure to give some concessions to women.

In capitalist countries such as Australia, women make up a significant section of the working class in lower-paid industries such as the care sector, hospitality, community work, as cleaners, and in the retail sector. Australia has one of the most highly gender-segregated workforces in the industrialised world.

Through their labour, women are exploited like their male counterparts, but they are subjected to additional exploitation and hardships. The most highly exploited and vulnerable are youth, immigrants, overseas students, other visa workers, and Indigenous women. Women are most at risk of domestic and family violence, sexual harassment, and make up a growing number of the homeless.

The capitalist class continues to find ways to take advantage of and perpetuate the historical inequality of the sexes. Industries comprised of predominately women workers pay workers more poorly than equivalent male dominated ones and are more likely to be casualised. Their qualifications, experience and skills are not fully recognised. Corporations make larger profits where they are able to recruit workers who have no choice but to accept low wages. Such people commonly include female immigrants, those on working visas, youth, and Indigenous women. These are among the most exploited groups in society.

In capitalist countries, economic oppression of women in the workplace is facilitated by a mass media that continues to portray women in subordinate roles to men. Religious institutions and conservative political parties have traditionally promoted the idea of women as the nurturer of the family, as opposed to being a breadwinner. At the same time, the capitalist class realises that bringing women into the workforce creates a larger base of workers to selectively exploit. It is for this reason there has been some progress with paid maternity leave and childcare. But capitalism cannot provide solutions to the problems that women encounter because the system as a whole is driven by the profit ambitions of private companies and not the social needs of the community.

A socialist society aspires to enhancing the position of women in society, particularly those women who form part of the working class, and to ending all exploitation of working women and men.

IWD has been largely hijacked by social democrats and capitalist enterprises; its socialist essence has been lost. The media concentrate on “glass ceilings,” senior executive positions, boardrooms, and MPs while ignoring the plight of working-class women. Social democrats call for reforms within capitalism.

The Communist Party of Australia supports the call for equality with men but stresses that we cannot stop at this demand. The primary impediment to women’s freedom under a capitalist system is the exploitation of their labour. Women should be afforded the real value of their labour, and not simply the same wage as the exploited opposite sex. It is time to end exploitation and put socialism back into IWD.

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