First established by the Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910, March 8 is International Working’s Women’s Day. During the past 100 years this has been a day on which women have taken to the streets in order to advance their struggle for equality, as well as to advance the general struggles against exploitation, discrimination, impoverishment and imperialist wars -- all of which weigh especially heavily on women. And today, when women around the world continue to face severe oppression and inequality, while the rights they’ve won through past struggles are under attack, it‘s heartening that International Working Women‘s Day is set to be the largest in decades.
The liberation of women is a decisive question for the working class. The fight against women’s oppression, now and historically, has been a vital component of the revolutionary movement against capital. There are many struggles encompassed in this fight: against sweatshop labor globally; against abusive treatment, sexual exploitation, and cultural oppression; against foreign occupation and fundamentalist oppressors; for equal rights, equal pay for equal work, equal job opportunities; abortion rights, healthcare and child care. It is in the interest of all working and oppressed people to take up these struggles, which are part and parcel of the struggle for complete emancipation of women.
In the early days of capitalism, abject poverty forced women into industrial wage-slavery along with men. Now, in addition to their domestic "duties," women were commonly working 12+ hours a day for a capitalist as well. Their second-class social position was reflected in their second-class wages.
Today, with globalization of capitalism, billions of women in the poor countries face these same conditions; and seventy per cent of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty in the world are women and girls. But they’re also fighting back against both their social oppression and economic exploitation, with women often taking the lead in struggles to raise wages and conditions of the working class as a whole. They deserve the support of the working people in the rich countries, both women and men.
Meanwhile, women in the rich countries are also under attack. While there is always unlimited money to bail out the banks and to fund imperialist wars, the bi-partisan cutbacks on health care and other social services, the lack of affordable child care, the deterioration of the schools and other support for children, attacks on abortion rights, are especially hard on working class and poor women. To this day, in the imperialist countries, women workers on average continue to make about 1/4th less than male workers and are still generally expected to cook, clean, single-handedly raise children, etc. (meanwhile in the poorer countries, the situation is even worse). The enthusiasm around organizing this year's International Working Women’s Day events reflects the determination of women to fight back against all of these attacks.
The striving of capitalism to dominate not only brings sweat-shop labor in its wake, but also imperialist wars. Thus, today the masses of Afghan, Pakistani, Iraqi and Palestinian people suffer disruption of their lives, death, terror, dislocation, and economic devastation. Besides this, women face particular oppression: they must maneuver among women-hating fundamentalists vying for power and occupation forces, and suffer sexual and other types of abuse by reactionary military forces. On International Working Women’s Day it is essential that we support their struggles against US imperialism and local reaction, and denounce these wars.
The war in Afghanistan has never had anything to do with women's rights despite the imperialist propaganda (much of it coming from prestigious bourgeois feminists) used to justify the 2001 invasion. This same rhetoric has been used by the Obama Administration and its supporters to justify sending 30,000 additional U.S. troops to kill and be killed in Afghanistan.
Under the U.S./NATO occupation, the brutal oppression of Afghan women has continued unabated. For the average Afghan woman, the threat of violence has been vastly increased either from US-led air-strikes or Taliban-inspired atrocities. A report by the UK charity Womankind Worldwide, Afghanistan Women and Girls Seven Years On, said, "Seven years after the US and the UK 'freed' Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, our report proves that life is just as bad for most, and worse in some cases." The attempt by the U.S.-backed Afghan government in 2009 to enact laws forbidding women from leaving their homes without male consent and legalizing marital rape recalls Taliban era edicts.
In fact the government of President Karzai himself is dominated by fundamentalist warlords and other anti-women reactionaries. This is why they, as well as the Obama Administration, have no qualms making deals with so-called moderate Taliban to consolidate their grip on the country. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan, and Obama's murderous escalation of the war, have simply served to replace one group of brutal oppressors with another.
Such is the liberation imperialism has brought to the women of Afghanistan.
The women’s movement that arose in the 1960s made the historic gains it did because ordinary women took political matters into their own hands. But bourgeois misleaders in the women's movement often advocated that women could advance their struggles by voting for capitalist politicians, usually Democrats. But under Bill Clinton (not Nixon, Reagan or Bush the first) the Democrats returned this favor by ending “welfare as we know it” -- legislation that brutally affected the lives of tens of millions of poor women and children. And now Obama’s imperialist wars, refusal to include affirmative action provisions in TARP, and his health care reform restrictions on abortion, all negatively affect the lives of working women more than men.
In other words, the Democrats fight for the interests of the capitalist class. But the vast majority of women are working women. The lesson to be learned is that they must take the lead in fighting to build the women’s movement independent of and against the two parties of the rich.
The women who established International Working Women’s Day were inspired by all of the immediate practical struggles being fought by the women of their time, and they devoted their lives to better organizing them. They also saw that the final emancipation of women was bound up with the struggle to end capitalism and all systems of class rule. And the rising of the women, they said, was the rising of the human race. We think that this remains as true as ever.
Long live International Working Women's Day!
Workers and oppressed peoples of the world unite!
Seattle Anti-Imperialist Committee, March 5, 2010
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