Mar 16, 2015
As happens every year, International Women’s Day brings forth all sorts of official commemorations, accompanied by typical and depressing speeches about how women’s wages are unequal to men’s wages and about how we need to establish equality in all the institutions of society.
Given the number of laws in place about equal wages for equal work, it might seem surprising that women’s wages are NOT equal to men’s. But equality between the sexes is not just a question of laws, it is a question of the struggles that could impose such equality. And it’s not just that women experience lower wages, it is also that they experience layoffs that seldom allow them unemployment compensation; they frequently find only temporary jobs with worse pay and no benefits. They often miss time from work due to matters concerning their children – illness, snow days, accidents – and usually it is their careers that will suffer when they take time off to have a child. And the time they take off not only affects their wages, it carries over into their future pensions and Social Security payments, with the latter almost always lower than men’s Social Security.
What progress women have made is thanks to considerable struggle, for example, the right to a legal abortion or coverage by health insurance of contraception (both rights currently under attack by U.S. politicians). But to gain those rights in the first place, many women and men stood up to the religious, legal and political prejudices of society. Many women refused to accept “their place,” and that their place was somehow lower than that of the other half of the human race.
In 1973, the Supreme Court recognized, in Roe v. Wade, that women had certain rights to choose abortion. Almost immediately, under a Democratic majority in 1976, the Congress passed legislation denying coverage for abortion under Medicaid, directed against poor women. Women with money could always find a helpful doctor for a safe abortion, even when it was not legal.
U.S. politicians, well-financed by men like the Koch brothers, have chipped away at abortion rights, making it more and more difficult for poor women to have an abortion. In the vast majority of U.S. counties across the entire country, there is not a single clinic or doctor to provide abortion services. The constant attacks experienced by Planned Parenthood has meant fewer services for women, such as contraception counseling or help with sexually transmitted diseases.
Women will not establish the right to control what happens to their own bodies without fighting for themselves. Again!
Violence against women remains an enormous problem, especially in certain cultures where this violence from men toward women remains acceptable. For example, there are brave women from Islamic cultures, who despite their small numbers, have fought against the submission that some men demand from them – the seclusion, the hiding behind the veil or the burqa. Some women have waged a difficult battle against female genital mutilation, which continues in some cultures, and against forced marriages, even more widespread.
Even in so-called “advanced” democratic countries, violence against women is an epidemic. In 2014 in the U.S. three women were murdered every day by a current or former male partner. There are almost five million incidents of physical violence every year against women by their partners.
Historically, the battle for women’s rights is as old as the battle for workers’ emancipation. And in the U.S. women active in the abolition movements from the 1830s against slavery also organized to win their own emancipation. In 1910 at an international workers’ congress, the German militant Clara Zetkin was the first to propose, and then worked to organize, a day for women in March of every year.
On March 8, 1917, in the midst of a hideous world war, the women textile workers of St. Petersburg went on strike. That strike by women was the first act in the Russian Revolution of 1917, which would overthrow the czarist monarchy and the power of the Russian bourgeoisie. And that became the day that working women all over the world celebrated.
When the working class fights for its own emancipation, it fights for the rights of all women as well. And women will take the key position they have always occupied in the battles to finally rid the world of all oppression.