Each time International Women’s Day comes round, we pay particular attention to the situation of women and their struggle for change.  If this struggle is to be successful, something much more than superficial alleviatory measures will be necessary writes CP national women's officer Liz Payne. 

What is needed is a deeper analysis of the causes of women’s oppression and exploitation and an understanding of the alternative, rooted in a radically different economic and social order. 


Every year a number of reports are published on the condition and experience of the world’s women.  While these may no longer surprise us, they are invariably shocking and those released in the last twelve months have been no exception.  Three in particular stand out: 


The Thomson-Reuters Foundation (TRF) published in mid June 2011 the results of its survey on the worst countries in which to be born a woman.  Afghanistan topped the list, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), dubbed the rape capital of the world, Pakistan, India and Somalia, where the most dangerous thing a woman can do is become pregnant.  


The issues for women in these countries highlighted by the report included grinding poverty; “near total lack of economic rights”; child marriage; forced marriage; dowry murder; “honour” killings; female foeticide and infanticide; genital mutilation; sex trafficking; lack of access to decent basic healthcare; sky high maternal mortality rates (1 in 11 in Afghanistan), intimidation and murder of women who take a role in public life and physical ‘punishments’ – acid attacks, stoning, rape and torture.  These horrors are not confined to the named countries only.  


The first report of the new agency, UN Women, Progress of the World’s Women: In Pursuit of Justice (July 2011) – “towards a world where women live free from violence, poverty and inequality” and The World Development Report (WDR) 2012: Gender Equality and Development (December 2012) make sobering reading.  The former concluded that, for millions of women and girls across the world, justice is out of reach.  Women are exposed to abuse and violence at home, while in the workplace half of all working women (more than 600 million) have no rights.  The WDR echoes these findings. Women are segregated in employment, paid less than men and own few assets.  They are double-burdened with paid work and unpaid care and are more at risk of illness and premature death.


What is particularly upsetting is the knowledge that it doesn’t have to be this way.  There are resources and technology in abundance to build equality and justice.  Reports on the condition of women invariably remark on the slow progress that has been made in improving things and how long it will take at current rates to make any difference whatsoever.  This is to misunderstand the situation.  Capitalism wilfully oppresses women everywhere in order to exploit them.  The system itself depends on this.  In turn, women and children - impoverished, marginalised and voiceless - are disproportionately the victims of war, famine and disaster of every kind.       


Even in promoting the most advanced technologies, which should everywhere be harnessed to improve the health, wellbeing and lives of women, sexism furnishes the bloodiest of profits.  Mara Hvistendahl in Unnatural Selection has shown how western governments and businesses have invested millions in exporting foetal scanners and abortion practices - very lucrative indeed - but directly linked to soaring levels of female foeticide and maternal death!


At home too, statistics cannot fail to shock us.  Here, in the sixth richest economy in the world, women are disproportionately in pensioner poverty, choosing between ‘eat and heat’; female unemployment is at a quarter-century high and four million children are growing up in poverty.  According to Women’s Aid, one in four women in Britain will be abused in their lifetime.  There are known to be at least 5000 victims of trafficking in the country and most agencies believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  So called ‘honour’ crimes – abduction, forced marriage, beatings, mutilation and murder – went up last year, according to one women’s rights organisation, by 47%.  


And as working people are forced to pay for the economic crisis they had no hand in creating, things can only get worse.  Women are the primary victims of the cuts and privatisation agenda of the Con-Dem government.  The Fawcett Society and the National Women’s Budget Group have provided ample evidence that women are picking up the tab for at least 70% (£142 billion) of cuts in public spending.  This will be through job loss - 473,000 women’s jobs in the public sector alone - wage cuts, the slashing of benefits and subsidies and the decimation of the caring services on which women so heavily depend.  This is truly criminal - £203 billion cuts in public spending, while an eye-watering £1,350 billion of public funds is siphoned into the banks and money markets.      


But we must never accept that isolation, impoverishment, marginalisation and disempowerment are women’s lot.  Neither must we be conned into the belief that the system can be reformed, that it is possible to somehow manage equality into capitalism.  This is not possible and never will be.  

Now is the time to stand together not only to oppose the cuts but fight for something different - a society in which women are no longer exploited and poor, in which we have a voice and in which we can access without barriers the services we need.  The adoption by the TUC in 2011 of an Alternative Economic Strategy, based on the People’s Charter, provides a basis for this struggle.  Into this agenda we must firmly place the demands set out in the Charter for Women for an end to gender-based oppression and exploitation.  We are not only against what those in power are doing to us now, important as the struggle to oppose may be.  While we are solely fighting against what is, we are rebels only.  What we are for is a fair, just and socialist future and that makes us a formidable force for change.


On International Women’s Day, as we have done for more than 100 years, we celebrate the achievements of women in past and present struggles for liberation from exploitation, oppression and tyranny.  We remember their courage.  We condemn those who, even since we marked this day last year, have brutally abused and tried to silence them - in Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Sudan, Syria and many other places.  But women will not be silenced.  They are at the heart of progressive change the world over.  Their struggle for the future is the struggle of all of us.


Long live International Women’s Day!