National Sections of the L5I:

Unite women’s struggles with those of the working class and the oppressed!

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Women have been in the forefront of working class and democratic struggles over the last year.

- In Iran they spearheaded a mass uprising against oppression and the rule of the clerical dictatorship.
- In the US and many other countries they fought back against attacks on abortion rights.
- In Ukraine and in Russia they are in the forefront of the struggle against Putin’s imperialist invasion.
- In Britain, Germany and France they are at the centre of strikes for wage rises to meet rising inflation and of mass mobilisations in defence of the health services and pension rights.
- Women have been in the centre of the fight-back against far right and reactionary populist-bonapartist regimes like those of Bolsonaro and Modi.
- In the semi-colonial world, they have mobilised against poverty, hunger, climate catastrophe, reactionary wars and the denial of their basic rights.

Often it is young women, students, women from the working class and the poor who come out en masse and form the core of these movements. It is no surprise that women are in the forefront of such struggles. Often, they are the hardest hit by multiple crises which have hit our lives over recent years.

In many respects, the situation appears little changed from a year ago: The war in Ukraine has sharpened the clash between the global powers, opening a new stage in the struggle for the re-division of the world. The war and the sanctions imposed by both sides have opened a new economic and social crisis globally with inflation on a scale not seen in the imperialist centres for 50 years and hyperinflation hitting the global south like a tsunami.

The developing catastrophe

The pandemic still looms over every aspect of the challenges facing women. Its effects have meant increases in illness and mortality rates for people worldwide. For women, this means, at best, multiple caring burdens, at worst, the crushing of their existence. They have often lost their jobs and the elementary security they bring. Lockdowns, without a functioning social safety net, meant that it was women who were forced to look after their families and displaced from their work places. Domestic violence against women in the imperialist countries went up significantly and poorer sectors of the working class in particular have had to use up their meagre savings to survive.

In semi-colonial countries, this leads to even more dire consequences. With health care sectors that are not easily accessible to people, as well as the hoarding of vaccines and medication by the imperialist countries, death tolls were much higher than in the imperialist centres.

At the same time, apart from the direct effects of disease and war, there has been an ongoing attack on women’s rights in a wide range of countries. The attack on reproductive rights in the US and Turkey's withdrawal from the Istanbul convention on violence against women are obvious examples of this. So, too, has been the revelation of murders, rapes and misogynism by police officers in Britain.

This was all intensified in 2022 with the massive rise of inflation and the beginning of another economic downturn. This is the result not only of the problems resulting from an increase of production after the pandemic, with the supply chain and resource problems remaining unsolved, but also of the energy crisis driven by the Russian war against Ukraine. All of these things hit women hardest, but they also show that advances for women’s rights are neither inevitable nor irreversible. We have to fight unremittingly and continuously to defend our victories, not just against the blatant attacks from the right but against the inherent tendencies of the capitalist system as a whole.

Struggles around the world

Since Jina Mahsa Amini’s death at the hands of the morality police in September, Iran has been in turmoil. Millions of people have come onto the streets in protest, demanding the emancipation of women from cruel restrictions and, therefore, against the regime of the mullahs itself. Its response by various forms of repression has been harsh. Not only have more than 20,000 been arrested, over 500 people been killed. The regime has started executing people to discourage the protests from spreading and to suppress the movement altogether. However, despite this massive repression, the struggle in Iran has made a massive step forward toward weakening the regime and giving inspiration to women’s struggles all over the world.

Women also play a specific role in the opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine. In Russia, the feminist anti-war resistance is trying to mobilise support against Putin’s invasion and doing so under highly repressive circumstances. In Ukraine, meanwhile, women make up around 20 % of the armed forces and continue to support refugees, as well as keep the necessary infrastructure running.

Afghanistan, after the takeover by the Taliban, has also been the scene of mounting repression against women. Young women there are protesting against the ban on their education and their protests have to be organised illegally. This could be the start of earnest resistance to the regime, even though media coverage in the west has “moved on”.

In countries around the world, there are ongoing strikes in the health sector. The crisis had been prominent for some time already but came to the fore with the pandemic. In Britain and Germany, there are significant strikes of healthcare workers – a sector which is predominantly female.

International Women’s Day

On March 8 this year, it is even more important to support the worldwide fight for women’s basic democratic rights and to connect all the differing struggles with one another. Be it with protests, flashmobs or women's strikes, we need to be unified in our goal to end capitalism. That means we need to struggle alongside the international working class, men as well as women, in order to be successful. At the same time, it is important to connect the fight with nationally or racially oppressed people.

On International Women’s Day it is vital not to forget about people who suffer from sexism, homophobia, and the imposition of patriarchal and binary gender roles. Non-binary people, trans people in general, as well as other people from the lgbtqia+ community, may not suffer precisely the same oppression but it is clear as day that their fight for their rights is part of the same struggle. If we want to overcome sexism and have a society where everyone is able to live in peace and as the people they feel they are, we need to overthrow capitalism and build up a socialist society. It is no accident that in many countries the far right is taking up issues like opposing gay marriage and trans rights.

However, whilst we need to stress the need for fighting unity, for common coordinated action, we also need to face up to the fact that, for several years now, the international women’s mobilisations have faced a crisis of strategy and direction. The mass women’s strikes inspired by the movements in Latin America against domestic and institutional violence, the US women’s movement and strikes involving millions of workers in countries like Spain, have been an inspiration and the beginning of a new international movement. The highest so far is the revolutionary struggle in Iran.

Programme and strategy

Every struggle that challenges the very foundations of women's oppression under capitalism also faces the question of how to take the struggle forward. This demonstrates that the struggle against women's oppression, against patriarchal structures and sexism, cannot be a struggle distinct from the class struggle. It needs to be an integral part of it.

In the case of Iran, the women’s struggle showed that the Islamist regime can only be overthrown successfully by mass involvement by the working class – in short, a general strike and including a progressive outcome for the mass of working women. Thus the struggle against oppression and the mullahs is linked to the struggle for a socialist revolution and its spreading to the whole region.

The same applies not only to the economic and social fight back, but also to the struggles against national oppression, against imperialism, against environmental destruction, against war and growing militarism, racism, fascism and dictatorships.

Therefore, we face two, interlinked tasks. Firstly, we need to fight for an international movement, for coordinated action around a set of burning demands and issues, which face the great majority of women. We need to call on all women’s organisations as well as on the trade unions and working class parties to join in such a united action. And we need to raise this need on International Women's Day.

- Equal rights for women! Abolition of all anti-women legislation, the end of all discriminatory laws! Full rights to participate in public and political life.
- End violence against women and the lgbtqia+ community. We need to organise free women's houses, aid and self-defence committees against femicide, genital mutilation, domestic violence and other forms these attacks take.
- Full reproductive rights and bodily autonomy for everyone, everywhere. All women should have access to free contraception and abortion on demand.
- Equal pay for women! For a minimum wage and pensions to allow women an independent life, free of poverty! Fight price increases for housing, energy and commodities – for a sliding scale of wages, pensions and unemployment benefits to cover the rising costs of living.
- Massive investment in education, health and social services of a decent quality and free for all as a step towards the socialisation of reproductive work.
- Make the capitalists and the rich pay to ensure equal rights and pay!

These are just a number of demands addressing the needs of women globally. They are important to unite women from the working class, the peasantry, the poor, young and old internationally. In order to win the struggle, working class women need to be in the forefront, but they must be taken up by all workers.

We also need to address the question of direction, of strategy and the goal of the women’s movement we need to build. Should it be simply a network and a loose alliance – or should it be a united front, which is based on agreement and commitment to carry out agreed common objectives? Should it be a multi-class movement effectively led by women from the middles classes, the intelligentsia plus a few benevolent bourgeois women – or should it be a working class women’s movement?

In order to give leadership to a global women’s movement, working class women need their own programme, their own strategy – a working class programme, which links the struggles for the liberation from women’s oppression to the struggle for a global socialist revolution. For this we need an international working class women’s movement and a new, revolutionary, Fifth International that fights for these rights not only for today but as a step towards a future where they are not always at the mercy of the unchanging profit-optimising logic of the capitalist system.