Women are the majority of humanity but everywhere they are condemned to bear the greatest part of the burden of childcare, cleaning and cooking. This is the basis of all other forms of sexual inequality – economic, legal and cultural. Women’s wage labour is systematically paid less than that of men. They suffer discrimination in access to paid work and oppression at work.
In many parts of the world women are still consigned to the home, subjected to male guardianship, denied basic democratic and economic rights and subjected to oppression and violence from men if they break the religious rules which sanctify all this. In the sweatshops of the Third World, women workers are routinely abused, denied maternity leave and subjected to degrading treatment.
Even in countries where formal legal equality has been won, women still bear the double burden of paid work and domestic labour. This life of double toil excludes most women from real equality of access to political and social life.
The majority of women will only be liberated and free from discrimination when the economic foundations of class rule and male supremacy are overthrown. Whilst the deep roots of this oppression lie in ancient class society they are reinforced by global capitalism. Only a socialist society, run for human need rather than private profit, will be able to get the whole of society to take on the domestic duties which today are mainly performed by women in the home. Only then will women be able to realize their full potential.
A socialist society would promote collective childcare, cooking and cleaning and an equal distribution of housework and childcare between men and women in society as a whole. Women will no longer be forced to perform these basic tasks separately in isolated family units. The social provision of these services – well funded and democratically run – could be a million times better than the provisions made in the family today. In this way, real choice, a high standard of living and real sexual equality can replace the poverty, isolation and oppression facing working class women today.
Around the world, we fight for the same legal rights won by the women’s movements of the imperialist countries in the early and mid-twentieth century. Equal rights for women – rights to vote, rights to work, rights to education, unrestricted rights to participate in all public and social activity.
Equal pay for equal work is still beyond the reach of millions of women because work tasks have been redefined to avoid it. It must be implemented. Part-time workers should be on permanent contracts with full protection from early dismissal, sick and holiday pay entitlement. Free 24-hour childcare should be provided and funded by taxing the rich. All women need access to free contraception and abortion, on demand, regardless of age. With the deregulation of working hours, the provision of 24-hour childcare has become an even more urgent need so that women can enjoy a social life and participate fully in political activity.
Today we see a moral backlash against women’s rights: abortion clinics are under attack; services are cut while “family values” are promoted to put the burden of care back on the shoulders of women. Contraception and abortion must be defended against attacks by right wing forces and access to these must be free, on demand and regardless of age.
Sexual harassment at work and domestic violence must be exposed, confronted, outlawed. Fully-funded refuges must be provided to allow women to escape violence at home. Women should have the right to an immediate divorce on request and all co-habiting women (married or not) should have an equal right to share in the household assets upon separation or divorce.
Women have been drawn more and more into workplaces by globalisation. This is a positive fact insofar as it gives women more economic independence, reduces their isolation in the home and draws new fighters for freedom into the struggle. But, as always, capitalism does not do this for the benefit of women workers. It does it because it believes women will work for less and will continue to look after children and the home for free. As in the 19th century in Europe, it is also only too willing to use child labour to make its super-profits.
The increase of women’s work largely in part-time and casual jobs goes hand in hand with a neoliberal attack on the service sector. This forces women to look for work that fits around their domestic commitments, while the availability of secure full time jobs has reduced. Overall globalisation has changed the form but maintained the essence of women’s oppression, which is their continued responsibility for household and family.
The struggle for women’s liberation is widely identified with feminism, since workers’ organisations have failed consistently to take up the issues. But does feminism lead to women’s liberation? Since feminism locates women’s oppression solely in the relationship between men and women and separate from class society, it promotes the strategy of women of all classes joining together to fight their oppression. This is a dead end, because ruling class women do not share an interest in fighting the low pay, poor housing and lack of access to healthcare that cause millions of women to suffer every day.
In every country we should campaign for a mass proletarian women’s movement to fight alongside men against sex discrimination, the oppression of women and the super-exploitation which grows out of it. In the workers’ movement, we make it a priority for women to take up shop steward/delegate and leadership positions at all levels and we advocate the right of women to caucus to encourage and fight for this.