Today, a few days before International Women’s Day, the Workers’ Party celebrates the birth in 1871 of Rosa Luxemburg, revolutionary socialist and outstanding advocate of the rights of women. Karl Marx made clear that the oppression of women was based both on the woman’s relationship to production but also her relationship to men and the family. For socialists the women’s question has been an integral part of the struggle for the revolutionary transformation of society.
In 1907, at the International Conference of Socialist Women held in Stuttgart, Clara Zetkin, a close friend and comrade of Rosa Luxemburg, proposed a resolution calling on socialists to fight for universal suffrage. She described the right of working class women to vote as “a weapon in the battle they must wage for humanity to overcome exploitation and class rule. It allows them a greater participation in the struggle for the conquest of political power on the part of the proletariat with the aim of going beyond the capitalist order and building the socialist order, the only one that allows for a radical solution to the women’s question”.
In 1910, at the Second International Conference of Socialist Women held in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin proposed that every year in every country women should celebrate and press for their demands. The resolution met with unanimous approval and International Women’s Day was born. Since that time International Women’s Day has received global recognition but for socialists this is not a bland celebration but an opportunity to mobilise women in the struggle for equality and socialism.
In the course of the last 100 years socialists throughout the world have been pre-eminent in the struggle for the parity and emancipation of women – the fight for universal suffrage, civil rights, equal pay, housing, health and social security, better child care, educational opportunity, against poverty, the campaign against gender discrimination and harassment, and family planning, to name but a few.
The role of socialists in the struggle for women’s rights, equality and emancipation is not merely historical. That work continues as long as inequality remains. Women are in the front line of the current economic crisis. The denial of equal pay, gender discrimination in employment and beyond, the casualisation of labour, increasing unemployment, public expenditure cuts in health, education and child care impact heavily and disproportionately on women. The minority of the population who hold the majority of the wealth are predominantly male. Women are under-represented in the political institutions of the state and local government. Women are routinely subjected to sexual objectification, gender stereotyping, domestic violence, rape, trafficking and prostitution. It is primarily women who continue to carry out the unpaid work and the caring responsibilities in the home.
We must continue to address the rights of women, including, family planning and reproductive rights and the right of women to full and equal participation in political decision-making and public life. Women have a vital role to play in the labour and trade union movement, the people’s organisations and in the fight for the revolutionary transformation of society. While it is possible to win important rights for women, to attack gender discrimination and to improve the conditions of working women, the problem of inequality will never be eradicated without the abolition of capitalism. For socialist feminists the struggle against the patriarchal subordination of women also recognises that the oppression of women is intrinsic to the capitalist system.
Socialism remains a precondition for full female emancipation. The commitment to the creation of a truly egalitarian society remains a core value of socialism. The inequality within capitalist society is increasing. The task of attaining parity and emancipation is immediate and on-going. This remains a vital and urgent task for socialists as an essential part of their programme for the revolutionary transformation of society. It is only through the transition from capitalism to socialism that the elimination of exploitation and inequality can be fully realised, only then will it be possible for “the free development of each to be the condition for the free development of all”.
5th March 2012