People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 10

March 09, 2008


International Working Women?s Day

Let Us Rededicate Ourselves To Build An Egalitarian Society

K Hemalata

IN a capitalist society, not only goods and services, but everything and anything including ideas, art, culture, sports and sportspersons, love, god and religion, and human beings and their organs are converted into commodities to be traded. Profit is the driving force and nothing is sacred, to be spared from the clutches of the market if it can yield profits. Occasions are created, promoted and utilised to mint money. This tendency inherent in the capitalist system has multiplied in the era of globalisation. Even historical occasions to commemorate working class struggles like May Day and International Working Women?s Day are sought to be ripped off their class content and trivialised and vulgarised.

Attempts are being made to remove the class content of the International Working Women?s Day, which was originally instituted as a day to mobilise the toiling women against class oppression. It is being converted into an occasion to raise the pitch for the sale of refrigerators, washing machines and microwave ovens! A few years ago, on March 8, a telecom company offered women the services of a panel of experts who would answer their queries on ?style, beauty, relationships, health, career and home? and of course, ?shopping tips?. This is nothing but making a mockery of the glorious struggles for women?s rights, launched by both men and women, and the history of the International Working Women?s Day.

It was on March 8, 1857 that hundreds of women garment workers marched on the streets of New York protesting against their inhuman working conditions and pathetically low wages. More than fifty years later in 1908, again on March 8 and again in New York, more than 30,000 women marched demanding better wages and improved living conditions, lower working hours and the right to vote. It was to commemorate these struggles that the International conference of socialist workers held in Copenhagen in 1910 declared March 8 as International Working Women?s Day. Clara Zetkin, a leader of the communist and working class movement from Germany took the initiative in making this declaration. Subsequently on March 8, 1917, the women textile workers of Petrograd went on a strike and led thousands of women in a demonstration demanding bread and peace. Around 90,000 workers joined the strike on that day. This was a precursor to the Great October Revolution, one of the most important events in the history of humanity, which showed the way to the emancipation of the exploited masses including women.

In its first few months of existence, the Soviet Union passed laws that gave women equality, the right to divorce, to abortion, paid maternity leave, equal pay, abolished the concept of illegitimate children and gave a woman the right to summon the father of a child for maintenance. All the old and unjust laws that were humiliating to women and supported their unequal status were abolished. Equality for women was not limited to formal proclamations to be confined to the paper, as in the other countries including the most advanced capitalist countries, but effectively put into practice. Women were given full opportunities to participate in social production. The Soviet state recognised the burden of household work, ?the most unproductive, the most barbarous and the most arduous work done by women?, as Lenin described it, which oppressed her in the family. Community dining rooms, central laundries and nurseries were established to liberate women from that burden. Pregnancy consultation centres and maternity homes were established to provide free prenatal and maternity care. These have dramatically changed the lives of women in the USSR. Women made great advances as scientists, engineers, doctors and managers. In comparison, today, even in the most advanced capitalist countries women are denied equal pay and equal opportunities; quality childcare in these countries is too expensive for most working women.

The victory of the revolution and establishment of socialism in Russia and later in several other countries gave an impetus to the women?s struggles for equality and freedom all over the world. Women have been statutorily provided with equal rights in most of the countries, including ours. But, mostly these remain on paper with most of the women ignorant of them and the others unable to exercise their rights. With the downfall of socialism, the onslaught of imperialist globalisation and the state opting out of its responsibility to provide the basic necessities of human existence and protecting the vulnerable sections of the society, attacks on the living and working conditions of the toiling people have increased, with women being the worst affected.

India is among the signatories of the declaration of the United Nations, which calls upon the countries to take the necessary actions to reach the ?millennium development goals? which include eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and women?s empowerment, improve maternal health, and reduce child mortality etc, by 2015. But, thanks to the neo liberal thrust to the economic policies, we are far removed from the target. While the ruling classes boast of the GDP, India keeps slipping in the Human Development Index.

1,25,000 women in the country die every year from pregnancy and pregnancy related causes; the maternal mortality ratio continues to be unacceptably high at more than 300 per 1,00,000 live births; 80 per cent of pregnant women are anaemic; two thirds deliveries take place at home and only 43 per cent are supervised by health professionals. But 50 per cent of our villages have no government health facility and public expenditure on health continues to be a measly 0.9 per cent of GDP.

Lack of adequate health care facilities for women is reflected in the health status of the children. Over 51 per cent of all Indian children under the age of 5 years are stunted, i.e. 34 per cent of all the stunted children in the world; every second child under six in India is underweight; 23 per cent children are wasted; according to the national nutrition monitoring bureau, in 2006 ? 07 there was a deficit of over 500 calories in the intake of 1-3 year children and about 700 calories among the 3- 6 years old. But the government is not willing to allocate adequate resources to expand and strengthen the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), which addresses the issues of malnutrition and underweight.

Rape is the fastest growing crime in the country; a rape is being reported every 30 minutes, an alarming increase of nearly 700 per cent since 1971; every hour, 18 women become victims of crime directed specifically at them -- rape, kidnapping and abduction, dowry-related crimes, molestation, sexual harassment, eve-teasing, etc. 40 per cent of married women are victims of domestic violence. The increasing violence against women shown in television and films, and their vulgar portrayal as objectives of sex are important contributing factors in the escalating violence against women. But no serious efforts are made to rectify the weaknesses in dealing with the crimes against women and the conviction rate remains abysmally low.

Women are the worst victims of attacks by the communal, fundamentalist and terrorist organisations. What is disturbing is the increasing attempts of the communal organisations to incorporate more and more women into their folds through seemingly innocuous organisations like the bhajan mandals etc; these women are used not only to propagate retrograde ideologies of the restricted role of women as wives and mothers, but also as active participants on the attacks on the minorities including women.

The most alarming feature that reflects the status of women in the country is the sharp fall in the child sex ratio. From 945 in 1991, the child sex ratio dropped to 927 in 2001 with the advanced and richer states having the lowest figures. While in 1991, not a single district had child sex ratio of less than 800, in 2001 there were 14; while in 1991, 21 districts had a child sex ratio of more than 1000, there were only 5 in 2001. What is shocking is that the fall is sharper among the educated and better off sections of the society.

In the era of globalisation, successive governments at the centre have been adopting policies, which promoted amassing of profits by the employers at the expense of the workers and their basic rights. Workingwomen bear the brunt of these policies. Despite the hype generated on the increasing job opportunities for women, the fact remains that the maximum increase in women?s employment in the urban areas has been as domestic workers. Women constitute 90 per cent of the total marginal workers; despite the existence of the equal remuneration act since the last more than 30 years, they get 30 per cent lower wages than men; according to a survey, 85 per cent women earn only 50 per cent of the official poverty level income. The government itself directly exploits women by calling hundreds of thousands women appointed under its Integrated Child Development Services, National Rural Health Mission etc., as ?social workers?, ?community workers?, ?accredited activists? etc., and denies them minimum wages and social security.

It has been more than a decade since the women?s reservation bill has been introduced in the parliament, but none of the bourgeois parties is sincere in getting it passed. The BJP, which never made any serious effort to get it through while in power, is trying to project itself as the champion of the bill. While it implemented the anti worker and anti people policies of neo liberal globalisation with more zeal, and was more eager to tie up India as a junior partner of US imperialism, now it wants to utilise the growing discontent among the people against the UPA, to come back to power. It wants to make a case for a two party system where governance may alter between the two bourgeois parties but the policies continue unaltered; the rich can continue to reap super profits while the toiling people remain mired in poverty and destitution.

Yet, there is alternative to the imperialist dictated policies ? as shown by tiny Cuba, 90 miles from the US, which has successfully resisted decades of illegal and cruel sanctions and guaranteed all its citizens education and high quality health; as shown by country after country in Latin America electing anti imperialist, Left and Left oriented governments.

The real issues of people - men and women ? poverty, illiteracy, ill health etc., cannot be resolved within the framework of the capitalist society. As Lenin said ?there is no ?equality?, nor can there be, of oppressed and oppressor, exploited and exploiter. There is no real ?freedom?, nor can there be, so long as women are handicapped by men?s legal privileges, so long as there is no freedom for the worker from the yoke of capital, no freedom for the labouring peasant from the yoke of the capitalist, land owner and merchant?. Real emancipation of women will only be possible in a society where the basis of exploitation is removed.

This International Working Women?s Day, let us pledge to protect its original character as a day to commemorate struggles against exploitation and oppression; let us launch a powerful movement to create awareness among women on the real causes of women?s oppression and the need to defeat them; on the existence of alternatives and the necessity for united struggles to achieve them. Let us rededicate ourselves to launch sustained struggles towards a society free from exploitation.