National Sections of the L5I:

Women: Organise self-defence against police brutality!

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A video of a police sergeant brutally attacking a young woman in Ratnapura town has gone viral on social media in Sri Lanka. The policeman grabbed the woman by the hair, whipped her with a wire and kicked her on the ground, all the while screaming obscenities at her. This attack happened after she refused to have sex with him, something that he had demanded several times. So he viciously beat and publicly humiliated her.

View video clip here:

The young woman is a sex worker. Like many other women around the world, she is forced into sex work due to crushing poverty. She has to support two children and a husband, who is jobless because of an illness, by any means at her disposal. Sex workers are often portrayed as dirty, immoral women and feel the full brunt of the law come crashing down on the heads; yet it is the “upholders of social mores” – the police, judges, politicians and government officials – who are their frequent customers.

This policeman obviously thought it was his right to have sex with the young woman against her will. Yet she, like all other women, has every right to decide if and when she has sex, and with whom. The police use the fact that sex work is illegal to harass and attack sex workers for violating the law.

Women should not be criminalised for the economic hardship they bear. Sex work must be decriminalised and sex workers should have the right to organise in trade unions, to collectively fight for decent working conditions, access to healthcare, a living wage and retraining for free. Sex workers’ unions must be recognised and integrated into national union federations.

It is reported that the woman has fled the area, and it is no wonder, as she surely lives in constant fear of police reprisal against herself and her family. Consequently, it is important that sex workers, women and local communities organise self-defence against police brutality.

The video posted on social media showed hundreds of onlookers watching, yet not intervening to stop, the vicious attack. This is because there are hundreds of such incidents where policemen have attacked or tortured men and women and got away without punishment. We need to act collectively to defend ourselves and our communities from police violence.

In addition, organising women’s self-defence will be effective in sexual harassment at work and domestic violence.

Fighting for women’s rights

A number of women’s organisations, human rights lawyers and socialist groups have united in a campaign to support the assaulted woman and attempt to bring the police to account. The campaign has agreed to file a court case against the police to win compensation for the woman.

Although we are not against using the courts to prosecute perpetrators of such vicious assaults, as socialists we should have no illusions in the bourgeois legal system. The police close ranks and try to cover up these incidents, and it is close to impossible to get a conviction.

It is telling that a police statement stated that “if it is proved that an offence had been committed” then they would take action under criminal law. So a video of the young woman being brutally beaten by the policeman is not considered to be “evidence”.

Quite apart from fighting in the bourgeois courts, the Socialist Party of Sri Lanka calls for a workers’ inquiry into this and other police attacks. We want the offenders to be brought to justice, a workers’ tribunal is the only way to truly achieve this. We want to break the reign of terror that the police and the state apparatus

Rather than relying on a legal challenge, which even if it won would only benefit a single woman, we should build on the collective outrage to form a mass working class women’s movement against police attacks, domestic violence, sexual harassment and poverty.

To further this end, we believe the campaign should also place demands on the government for equal rights for women in all spheres of society; in education, jobs, wages and housing. Women must have unrestricted rights to participate in all public and social activity, and not be confined to the home. Only this will start to challenge the subordinate position of women in society and put them on equal footing with men.

However, equal rights will not be enough to truly liberate women; to do that we also need to tackle the root of women’s oppression; economic foundations of class rule and male supremacy.

Only a socialist society, run for human need rather than private profit, will be able to ensure that society as a whole takes on the responsibilities, such as childcare and cooking, which today are mainly performed by women in the home. Only then will women be able to realise their full potential.

This is why the SPSL and the League for the Fifth International support the struggles of working class women across the globe, at the grassroots, in the factories and at national and international levels. These struggles lay the basis for forging a movement led by working class women that can fight against sex discrimination, the oppression of women and the super-exploitation that grows out of it.

A working class women’s movement needs to be open and democratic and should refuse to recognise national borders by linking up with struggles in other countries. It needs to involve local activists, women’s groups and federations, but also pull in the trade unions that together can strike a blow against the capitalists and bring the system to a grinding halt through strikes and occupations.