March 8, International Women’s Day, is a time to celebrate our historic struggles for equality, and to unite around today’s challenges. On IWD 2015, the Communist Party of Canada extends our warm solidarity to all who stand for peace, equality, democracy and social progress.
In September 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing. 30,000 activists held a parallel Forum, while government representatives from 189 countries hammered out the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Despite its shortcomings, the document was amazingly comprehensive, covering women and the environment, economy, education, health, armed conflict, and much more.
The United Nations is highlighting the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration with the slogan “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!” Yet women in much of the world seem even further away from empowerment.
In the past two decades, “fighting to defend the rights of women” has become a frequent rationale for direct military intervention. And while the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL are deeply reactionary, such movements are largely a product of the imperialist drive for resources and profits. Prior to western interventions, the status of women in the secular states of Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq was much better than in Saudi Arabia and other regimes backed by Canada.
Violence is no solution for the victims of armed conflicts, especially civilian women and children. War has caused a massive increase in refugees world wide. In Syria alone, over 3 million refugees have fled, and 6.5 million are internally displaced. Women and girls are used as tools of war, kidnapped and raped from Nigeria (by Boko Haram) to Central America (by paramiliitary forces). From the Middle East to Afghanistan to Colombia, wars fuelled by transnational corporations, western powers and local elites create health catastrophes through the destruction of power plants, water supply systems and hospitals. Trillions of dollars are wasted on militarism instead of education, economic opportunities, clean water, and healthcare, or to help grassroots movements struggle for human rights, personal security, choice in marriage, and reproductive choice. Environmental devastation particularly impacts women and children, from those near Alberta’s tar sands, to millions living in drought stricken sub-Saharan Africa.
We express our full solidarity with the women of Palestine, and our support for the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel’s apartheid policy, which imposes terrible hardships on the women of Gaza and the West Bank. We condemn the latest imperialist war in Iraq and Syria, and the U.S.-backed destabilization of the progressive and democratically elected Bolivarian government of Venezuela.
In Canada, the dangerous Police State Bill C-51 imposes sweeping new powers to further criminalize dissent. Raising the spectre of Islamic terrorism, C-51 in reality targets the critics of austerity, environmental destruction and imperialist war, directly impacting women, who play leading roles in labour, Aboriginal, environmental, and student movements.
Millions of women in Canada do face violence and oppression, but not from “terrorists.” Aboriginal women and girls suffer the racist burden of higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and incarceration, and dramatically shorter life spans. Over 1200 Aboriginal women have been murdered or disappeared, while the Harper Tories ignore calls for a public inquiry. Women are oppressed by the “double burden” of exploitation in the workplace and the major share of domestic labour. Women’s unequal status is reflected in a 30% “wage gap” and other indicators.
The disclosure of misogynist songs, chants, and Facebook postings has revealed the deep-seated rape culture on campuses, where policies on harassment and equity lack strong enforcement. University administrations must stop covering up harassment of women, LGBTQ and racialized students. Funding of campus women’s centres must be increased, and effective anti-oppression education regarding rape culture is urgently needed.
The rights of all women to a decent job, education, child care, employment insurance, etc. are increasingly undermined by the neoliberal agenda. The Harper Conservatives, who pose as “defenders of women’s equality,” slashed virtually every federal agency or service which supported women’s equality, closed Status of Women Canada offices, eliminated funding of women’s organizations which engage in advocacy, and blocked legal avenues to fight for pay equity.
Women are disproportionately affected by reduced access to EI benefits. The “restructuring” of Canada Post is wiping out thousands of jobs now held by women. If the Conservatives win another majority, the most extreme anti-women forces in Parliament could pose a serious threat to reproductive rights, which are still restricted in New Brunswick and some other parts of Canada.
The attack on equality extends to the provincial arena, including abolition of women’s equality ministries, tuition increases, and cuts to welfare, health care, legal aid, child care, and emergency shelters and supports for victims of violence and abuse. Quebec’s universal child care program is under serious attack, even as women in other provinces demand similar programs.
The unequal status of women has been condemned by virtually every United Nations body that reviews Canada’s human rights performance, including the CEDAW Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Human Rights Committee, and the Human Rights Council
A united fightback can win
The popular fightback against the corporate attack is hampered by the lack of a truly pan-Canadian voice for women’s rights. There have been important struggles by women’s and pro-equality movements, and the Canadian Labour Congress Women’s conferences have helped keep the fight for women’s rights alive. Over the past year, important struggles have been led by sections of the workforce which are largely women – Quebec child care workers, BC teachers, and Nova Scotia health care workers. The most important way to combat poverty and income disparity is to organize unorganized women.
But the women’s movement has been deeply wounded by systematic cuts to funding. The re-establishment of an organization like NAC, to bring together women from labour, youth and students, and Aboriginal and racialized women, and from organizations that fight for legal rights, reproductive rights, disability rights, and child care, would be an important advance.
Working people of all genders and backgrounds need a genuine alternative to corporate greed. Led by the labour movement and its allies, such a People’s Coalition could fight to win sustainable jobs, universal public child care, improved social services, and increased opportunities for women.
But while capitalism survives, it will generate poverty, inequality, exploitation, environmental degradation and war. These outrages are inherent in a system based on maximizing profit in private hands. Only socialism, based on democratic, collective ownership and working class power, can liberate the enormous creative and productive potential of the people for human needs.
The real alternative for gender equality and human survival is socialism. As the tiny island of Cuba demonstrates, when social equality is a priority, huge advances in the status of women can be achieved at every level. Cuban women are elected to almost 50% of seats in their National Assembly, for example.
Since IWD was adopted by a Socialist International women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910, the full participation of women has been essential for the success of working class and democratic movements. A better world is both possible and urgently necessary