International Women’s Day: the struggle for equality continues

By Socialist Alliance (Australia)

March 8, 2012 -- This International Women’s Day falls at a time when the environmental and economic crises of global capitalism are making life even harder for most women and the communities they live and work in.Capitalism’s crisis is hitting hard in the US and across Europe. It is particularly dire in Greece where school teachers and other essential service workers are being thrown out of work or being forced to take pay cuts of between 40-50%. Working-class women are being hit especially hard.The European-wide austerity drive of the 1% is designed to get the 99% to pay for their greed. However, as the huge protests by workers, students and the unemployed in Greece and across Europe reveal, the 99% is not giving in without a fight.

These mobilisations represent the continuity between the struggles of today and those of the early 20th century – struggles that gave rise to International Women’s Day 101 years ago.

Horrendous working conditions faced by women entering the workforce before and during World War I gave rise to militancy among women workers determined to struggle for an end to gender segregation, for better conditions and equal pay.

A century later, these remain critical concerns for the majority of women across the world and in Australia.

Whether they are among the 70% of women working part-time or on short-term contracts, or sole mothers on the 250,000-long public housing waiting list, or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women in remote communities, or older women with little or no superannuation, or migrant or refugee women struggling with racist policies, life for most women is getting harder every day.

Women are still stereotyped, exploited, sexually objectified, assaulted and harassed. Female bodies are more brazenly sexualised and caricatured in popular culture today than a decade ago.

While the campaigns against medieval anti-abortion laws that still exist and against the rise in mass media-promoted sexism and objectification of women are sporadic today compared to some years ago, this does not mean that women – and particularly young women – are not concerned.

Young women are living in a world where their expectations of gender equality and the reality of sexism and injustice are constantly clashing. Just how this clash plays out will determine how the struggle for feminism unfolds this century.

In Australia today, nurses – including many who are taking part in a trade union struggle for the first time – are undertaking a protracted battle for improved work conditions. They have taken the brave and necessary step of defying the misnamed Fair Work Australia laws (enacted by a Labor Party government) – the first union to do so.

This year too, the Australian Services Union finally won its long campaign for equal pay for community sector workers – a decision that will benefit mainly women workers. For many ASU members, this was their first experience of struggle.

Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have been and continue to be outspoken about the living conditions of their communities – and against the harsh Northern Territory intervention legislation.

Our imagined world of justice and equality for women is not an impossible dream because we know that society’s common wealth could be re-assigned to meet the needs of the majority.

We know how different Australia would be if the A$88 million per day allocated for military expenditure in 2012 was redirected to social services. Or if the billions of dollars in private profits that are made each year by Australia’s biggest corporations was spent on public and community health and education. Or if workers and communities had the power to decide how the industries and services they run operated. Or if politicians were truly accountable and could be immediately recalled if they broke their promises.

That would be a very different – a much better – world for all working people, and especially for women.

Making progress towards an Australia in which there is full economic, social and political equality for women requires, in the first instance, collective opposition to each and every attack on women’s rights as workers, mothers, students, patients and welfare recipients.

Collective struggle, not “enlightened” government, has always been the driving force behind the formal, although still limited, rights achieved for women.

As the union struggles of today – here and overseas – remind us, those rights were won through long and often hard-fought campaigns in workplaces, communities, schools and homes by women and supportive men.

The Socialist Alliance is proud to present our recently updated Charter of Women’s Rights which we hope will help promote discussion about and support for the feminist struggles of today.