25 November: Socialist Feminist Struggle Against Gender Violence!
To mark 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 2019, this article was produced to celebrate and stand in solidarity with the myriad struggles and social movements that have broken out around the world in opposition to gender violence in all its forms.
“We are not silent. We are not scared. We are not obeying.” — Istanbul, Turkey — chants from protest against gender violence International Women’s Day 2019 in defiance of a state ban on the demonstration and police use of tear gas
“My life is not your porn” — Seoul, South Korea — main slogan on 70,000 strong demonstration against ‘spy cameras’ in public bathrooms, October 2018
“Sexist violence is killing us, as is the state’s policy” — placard in Buenos Aires, Argentina — demonstration against femicide and for abortion rights, June 2019
“My body is not your crime scene” — placards in Cape Town, South Africa — protest against gender violence after a spike in femicides, September 2019
As we approach 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, 2019, we celebrate and stand in solidarity with the myriad struggles and social movements that have broken out around the world in opposition to gender violence in all its forms. #MeToo lifted the lid on the prevalence of gender and family violence, harassment and abuse. The reverbrance of #MeToo has been earth-shattering, taking down powerful business-men and politicians; and inspiring survivors in every walk of life, from athletes in the sporting world, to students in the universities, to workers in workplaces as diverse as agri-business, hospitality, factories, entertainment and tech, to speak up . #MeToo has focused the spotlight on the systemic nature of gender-based violence, and the reality that at minimum all or almost all women and gender non-conforming people experience some form of sexual harassment and in that sense, at minimum experience fear of the threat of violence, at some time in their lives. The bravery of individual survivors coming forward with their personal stories has brought the question into the public sphere on an unprecedented scale making some impression in every country on earth, and giving a huge impetus to the building of collective struggle against gender violence.
Gender violence rife in the capitalist system
Furthermore, be it Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein or Donald Trump, #MeToo has emphasised for millions, the enormous sense of entitlement to abuse and harass with impunity, that rich and powerful individuals in the ruling class exude. These individuals are a personification of the need to fight the capitalist system itself, as we rise up against gender violence in all its forms, and wherever it happens, including the most common form of abuse which comes from a partner of ex-partner. The statistics alone are an indictment of the system. One in three of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. In a recent study that interviewed over 13,300 women between the ages of 18 and 45 across the US, approximately one in 16 women reported that their first sexual encounter was rape (JAMA Internal Medicine). The same macho ideas that feed into violence against women and children, feed into violence against the LGBTQ community, most sharply the trans and gender non-conforming community. It’s impossible to measure the toll that widespread gender and family violence and abuse takes, with often life-long financial, mental and physical health implications for survivors — to give one narrow example, a major study has shown that severe childhood abuse is associated with a 79% greater risk of developing endometriosis in adulthood, an excruciatingly painful and debilitating gynecological condition. A Women’s Aid survey of female domestic abuse survivors from Britain released in March of 2019 found that more than two in five were in debt and one third had to give up their home as a result of abuse.
The explosion of struggles onto the streets in opposition to gender violence and harassment in all its forms is the most powerful antidote to the violence, abuse and harassment that is the antithesis to the working class solidarity and collective action needed to change society.
Organising against workplace sexual harassment
Part of the movements that have developed in the recent years include workers organising against sexual harassment in their workplace. Eighty percent of Bangladeshi garment workers, the large majority of whom are women and girls, have either seen or directly experienced sexual harassment at work, and this issue has been a major contributor to a drive by garment workers to unionise. Google workers took coordinated action in countries around the world 1 November 2018 on the issue of pay-offs for top executives accused of sexual harassment, as well as the question of racist discrimination in the workplace. Not only did this action result in concessions from management, it has been integral to the first steps towards unionisation of workers within this notoriously non-union corporation. In South Africa In June 2019, 200 predominantly male miners took courageous strike action, including refusing food while occupying a mine for a number of days in protest against the sexual harassment by a boss of their female colleague. Strikes of workers in hospitality called under the #MeToo banner were a brilliant step towards concretising the struggle against gender violence and harassment flowing from the outpouring of individual #MeToo stories on social media.
Bringing the struggle on the question of gender violence into the workplace is particularly powerful because being in collective struggle with your fellow workers, not only has the economic power, via strike action, to exert massive pressure on companies to fire sleazy managers, or to bring in the necessary procedures for workers to ensure zero tolerance to sexual harassment at work, but also because the very act of struggle raises the consciousness of workers of all genders about issues in relation to gender violence, sharpening a sense of solidarity in opposition to gender violence in all its forms which in and of itself is a dynamic challenge to sexist and misogynistic behaviour and attitudes. Workers’ most basic demand for dignity and safety at work — as well as being a demand for decent pay and conditions for all workers — by necessity is also a demand for a workplace free from sexual harassment.
Our answer is mass struggle
The other major development in the feminist movement of recent years is that of the ‘feminist strike’ — at its most developed with up to 7 million workers in the Spanish state on 8 March 2019 taking action around a range of demands from equal and decent pay, to the reversal of austerity measures, to the ending of gender violence, building upon the 5 million strong general strike action from International Women’s Day the previous year. On 14 June 2019 in Switzerland, half a million took to the streets in a similar ‘feminist strike’, general strike action. The strike was initially called by women in the trade unions who passed a resolution at the Swiss congress of trade unions in June 2018 calling for a strike on the 14th of June 2019. The fact that rank and file women trade unionists, and young women supportive of the call across the country moved into action to flesh this call out and ensure it not only happened, but caused an earthquake being the biggest mass mobilisation and workers’ action in decades, was testament to a broad radicalisation and mood for change. This was also apparent in the movement in December 2018 in Israel that inspiringly united Jews and Palestinians in a “women’s strike” and protests of tens of thousands against femicide. In September 2019, a Palestinian women’s group defied brutal repression by the Israeli state and organised protests against femicide in the West Bank, Gaza and in Israel.
The “women strikes” or “feminist strike” actions, as well as the mass occupations of universities in Chile, and squares in Argentina which has been a feature of the mass movement against femicide across Latin America, “Ni Una Menos”, or “Not One Less”, show the movement taking on the most powerful weapons of the labour movement, strikes and occupations, in a development inevitably uncomfortable even for the most radical of pro-capitalist and establishment feminists given the working class methods of struggle employed and the inspiration provided to the whole working class of the power of mass action, most especially the general strike. In Argentina, Ni Una Menos has sharpened the focus of the mass movement against femicide on the question of state violence that is the abortion ban in a phenomenally inspiring mass movement, a victory for which would save the lives of women and pregnant people and would be a huge spur to the struggle to legalise abortion across Latin America.
Like the climate youth movement, it’s noteworthy that there’s no single issue consciousness within these struggles. It’s correct and entirely necessary that the movement in opposition to gender violence takes on austerity measures against existing public services and poverty wages, fights for public housing and against gentrification of our cities, challenges lone parent and pension poverty, and takes on a sexist, racist and anti working class court and legal system, and fights for climate justice — given the way in which gender violence and harassment impacts on the lives of working class and poor, it’s all one struggle. Therefore waging an effective fight against gender violence necessitates a strict break with the ‘Lean In’ feminism of female CEOs like Sheryl Sandberg, and liberal feminists in the political and business establishment in general — precisely because their class interests inevitably clash with these broader demands that are essential for the working and poor female masses around the globe.
From victories against “marry your rapist” laws in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia and Malaysia, to the victory against the sexist treatment of the “Wolfpack” case in the Spanish state, to the provision of abortion for free via the health service after a mass movement in Ireland to lift a decades long constitutional all-out ban in which socialist feminists in the CWI-Majority played a pivotal role, the recent wave of feminist struggle and mass movements have already achieved important victories.
However, from Trump to Bolsonaro to Viktor Orban, the rise of populist right, hard-right and far-right political forces is the most startling evidence imaginable of the capitalist system’s threat not only to victories when we win them, but rights won decades ago in previous waves of mass feminist and workers’ struggle. This is starkly represented by the ongoing threat to Roe vs Wade that legalised abortion in the US in 1973 in what’s considered one of the most prized victories of second wave feminism.
The atmosphere created by the political campaign, ascent and victory of Bolsonaro in Brazil who once said to a female member of parliament, “I’m not going to rape you, because you’re very ugly”, with his fascist links and thuggish unashamed misogyny and racism, has increased the violence experienced by black, female and lgbt people, those from the working class and poor most of all. Femicides in Brazil rose by more than 4% to 1,206 in the year 2018. Incidents of sexual violence reported that year rose by 4.1% with over half of the female victims being children under the age of 13. Figures also show that a woman was attacked in Brazil in 2018 in a domestic violence incident every two minutes. It’s little wonder in this context with this social crisis worsening further since he took power in January 2019, that women, especially young, poor pensioner, working class, black, indigenous and poor women have been at the forefront of the struggle against Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro’s naked support of corporate greed no matter the cost is embodied by his privatisation and destruction of the Amazon — in the most graphic example imaginable of how the profits of the capitalist elite are burning the planet.
The only sure-fire means to challenge and defeat the right-wing threat is to build a working class left-wing challenge to the capitalist status quo that is creating the conditions of discontent and alienation linked to the rise of the right. With a new global downturn looming that the capitalist political and business elite will predictably attempt to use to worsen the precarity facing workers and youth as well as the extreme class inequality that characterise capitalism today, there’s an urgent need to unite the working class and oppressed in struggle, with such a movement posing the socialist alternative to capitalist crisis.
We must put capitalism in the dock
Women and LGBTQ oppression, and therefore its most graphic expression, gender violence, is in-built into the capitalist system. Historically, capitalism as a system from its outset fostered the backward ideology of the patriarchal family as a tool for its ascendancy. Today, according to an Oxfam study, unpaid work done by women across the world amounts to a staggering USD 10 trillion a year, 43 times the annual turnover of Apple, in an example as to how the oppression of women is in the DNA of the system — specifically, this unpaid care work is a vital tool for capitalism in maintaining and renewing its workforce whose labour creates profit for the capitalist class, in a clear illustration of how capitalism needs women’s oppression, as did earlier types of class divided societies. Societies which rely on and perpetuate women’s oppression by their nature seek to control women’s sexuality, for example through the patriarchal family structure. Gender and sexual violence are part of the coercion into this structure, as well as for example, the state’s limiting of access to reproductive rights. Different forms of gender violence are connected, from sexual harassment up to rape itself, with the objectification of women’s bodies as a common basis.
The fight for a socialist society, in which the patriarchal family structure is cut across and really becomes a thing of the past, in which housing, childcare, elder care, jobs and shorter working week, are all public, quality and completely accessible to everyone, is a vital aspect of the struggle for women’s and LGBTQ liberation. Under capitalism, it’s also the case that, as Marx explained, everything becomes a commodity, and the bodies of women and girls are often objectified and commercialised by the profit-system. Billion dollar industries such as the porn and sex industry inevitably reflect, perpetuate and profit from gender inequality, and therefore are an enemy of genuine sexual liberation and freedom. Capitalist states reaction to these industries is often to repress the majority women and gender non-conforming people, often migrant and people of colour, working in the industry, rather than challenging the business mogul sleazes making the profits. Furthermore, those that are brutally coerced and trafficked into the industry have received capitalist state repression — including in a highly publicised case in the US of Cyntoia Brown who had already spent more than a decade behind bars. Cyntoia Brown as a vulnerable 16 year old was controlled by a brutal trafficker and pimp when she killed a ‘john’ who was violent towards her, and was looking at spending four decades more in prison were it not for a huge campaign for her release in 2019.
Furthermore, the very fabric of the system, the very nature of the capitalist state, is founded upon violence — how can interpersonal violence be ended in a world in which capitalist and imperialist armies are employed by the ruling class to at times violently repress and to wage war?
Today, we are witnessing a brutal invasion by Turkish forces of Northern Syria with the aim of crushing the Kurdish Autonomous Zone of Rojava. Erdogan’s dictatorial regime is seeking to destroy any form of Kurdish self self-government in the region. This is being done with the full backing of the Trump regime. Once again US imperialism, and imperialism generally, have proven to be the false friends of the oppressed Kurdish people. The courage of the fighters of the predominantly Kurdish armed factions of the YPG (People’s Protection Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) based in Rojava in fighting ISIS was inspiration for many globally in 2014–2015. The brutal state violence being employed against them is emblematic of the violent nature of capitalism and imperialism itself. Furthermore, we know that refugees created by war are some of the human beings most vulnerable to experiencing sexual violence in the world.
Violence and Sexism of the Capitalist State
In Hong Kong, a mass social movement for democracy, inevitably imbued with much opposition to the precarious working and housing conditions faced by workers and youth in one of the most neoliberal cities on earth, has been subject to violent state repression, including live ammunition being fired at protesting teenagers. Similar tactics are being used against the masses in Catalonia. This is an example of capitalist state violence employed to protect the status quo. Given this aspect of the capitalist state, as well as the inextricable connection between capitalism and imperialism and war, the existence of macho and racist attitudes within police and armed forces is in fact useful and necessary for the system. This reality is reflected back in statistics. For example, in the US, studies have indicated that at least 50% of male veterans with combat related mental health issues commit intimate partner and family violence, and also that at least 40% of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10% of the general population. Furthermore, out and out victim-blaming in court proceedings is a feature of sexual violence cases the world over. In November 2018, Socialist Party member (CWI Majority in Ireland) and member of parliament, Ruth Coppinger, went viral on social media and received unprecedented media coverage internationally, from appearing on Indian national television to featuring in the New York Times. Ruth protested against victim blaming when she held up a thong in parliament to say “this is not consent” after the lawyer of man accused of raping a teenager held up the teenager’s lacy underwear in court, and used the platform to call significant protests in Ireland against ingrained sexism in the state and also to advocate for global strike action on International Women’s Day, 8 March.
Build the international socialist feminist struggle
In the run up to 25 November in which major demonstrations against gender violence will take place in many countries around the world, we will publish articles from a number of our sections about the struggle against gender violence. On the day itself, our comrades from around the world will be participating and helping to organise many demonstrations and actions against gender violence, and specifically, will be pushing to build the socialist feminist wing of the movement. By this, we mean breaking decisively with any strand of feminism that seeks to accommodate itself to the interests of the capitalist establishment and big business elite. Socialist feminism is collective struggle. It’s solidarity. It’s allying ourselves with the working class, poor and oppressed of the world of all genders and nationalities in a common struggle against capitalism. Stepping up the movement to end gender violence that has already brought millions onto the streets around the world, including in Southern Europe and Latin America, in mass strikes and occupations is urgently necessary, and for socialist feminists is inextricably linked with the building of a mass movement of the working class and oppressed for socialist change.
In Hong Kong, the mass pro-democracy revolt that has broken out has been accompanied by women organising #MeToo protests taking on state and gender violence. In Lebanon, where struggle exploded onto the streets against poverty in October 2019, women protesters have been tweeting that they are revolutionaries, not “babes” in response to the sexist and objectifying treatment they’ve received in the media. As the Bread and Roses song about the strike of women garment workers in Lowell, USA in 1912 proclaimed, “the rising of the women means the rising of us all”. Let’s rise up against gender violence, and let’s rise up against the capitalist system that breeds inequality and a lack of democracy with a handful of billionaires calling the shots, profits from women’s oppression, and seeks to divide up the working class along whatever lines it can from gender to race in order to stave off a united fightback. A socialist alternative would take the key wealth and resources, from banks to major corporations, out of private hands, and into democratic working class ownership and control, to plan the economy for human and planet need, not profit. Such a society, based on solidarity, human cooperation and equality, would remove the roots of oppression and begin to build a world in which we can really ensure that there’s “ni una menos” or not one less life lost, or mental or physical health shattered due to gender violence.
-Ni Una Menos —Not One Less — no more lives must be lost due to gender violence; no more mental health or physical health damaged — we fight to end gender violence, abuse and harassment in all its forms and everywhere it takes place, the workplace, the home, schools and universities, state institutions, on the street, online build for mass demonstrations on 25 November against gender violence as a step towards building mass protests and mass strikes internationally on 8 March 2020
-Seize the wealth of the capitalist elite to fund a massive expansion of public services; from free healthcare, including excellent mental healthcare and free counselling; to free childcare; to specialized domestic violence and sexual violence services available locally to everyone who needs them. Mental healthcare should include local access to the counselling and therapy required by victims, as well as specialised psychological assessments and treatment for perpetrators Real rent controls and the building of public housing en masse — everyone has the right to a safe, affordable and peaceful home -For free, quality, public, secular education with progressive, age-appropriate, LGBTQ inclusive, sex education that has a focus on consent The trade unions must lead a real struggle to unionise, to fight for an end to precarious work, for a living wage for all workers, and against sexual harassment in the workplace — such a movement could take the lead in fighting all forms of sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia and transphobia to build a united working class struggle
-End the courts reproducing sexism, discrimination and victim blaming. Every part of the state and welfare service that comes in contact with victims and perpetrators should be educated about the issue of gender violence and trained to ensure that complainants and victims are treated with respect. We fight for a state that is democratically governed by the working class from below, removing the current bias in favour of the ruling classes as well as eliminating the presence of racism, sexism and discrimination in the state and judicial systems once and for all.
-End war and fight for climate justice — end racist immigration policies — for the democratic right to asylum Democratic public ownership of the key levers of the economy, of the main wealth and resources; for working class democratic control and ownership over the same; for a democratic socialist plan of the economy to provide for the needs of people and planet, not profit
-We fight for bread and we fight for roses too — for a socialist society whereby the patriarchal family structure is truly a thing of the past — for a socialist world free from class division, oppression, war and violence in which every person has the right to a good quality standard of living, and has the freedom to enjoy life!