March 5, 2013

International Women's Day 2013

Statement by the Central Women’s Commission, Communist Party of Canada and endorsed by the Young Communist League of Canada

March 8 is a day to honour women’s struggles, take stock of hard‑won gains, and to demand full equality.

This year, International Women’s Day comes amidst inspiring new struggles. Working people around the world, particularly in Europe, continue their huge struggles against austerity measures. In Canada we saw students in Quebec rose up, leading a fight against tuition fee increases, against neo‑liberal policies, and in opposition to a draconian bill that attempted to repress dissent. The result: the Quebec Liberal government’s defeat at the polls, a tuition freeze and the scrapping of Loi 10. Young women played a key and leading role in that struggle.

The “Idle No More” movement has initiated an historic struggle against Bill C‑45 and the entire racist agenda of the Harper Tory government.

The actions by Indigenous peoples have blown the lid off the arrogant colonial lie that Canada is a country of equality, fairness and social justice. In Canada today, Aboriginal peoples suffer high rates of poverty, unemployment and incarceration, and dramatically shorter life spans. In Attawapiskat and on other reserves, and even in urban centres, many live in terrible housing conditions. Over 100 First Nations communities lack clean drinking water. In Manitoba, over 2000 members of the Lake St. Martin First Nation remain homeless after their reserve was deliberately flooded to save Winnipeg and other communities from the massive floods of 2011. Despite centuries of broken treaties promising fair treatment, and decades of protests and reports, this situation has not improved. In the latest examples, Bill C‑45 is removing federal environmental protections for thousands of lakes, streams and rivers which are crucial for the well‑being of Aboriginal peoples in all parts of Canada, and the Tory government is trampling the land and water rights of First Nations which oppose the expansion of tar sands exports.

Refusing to accept these genocidal policies, four Aboriginal women in Saskatchewan took the initiative to begin the Idle No More campaign, using social media tools and teach‑ins to spread the word. Now this movement has taken root in communities in every part of the country, and everywhere Indigenous women play leading roles. Non‑Indigenous allies joined the struggle.

The opposition to the tar sands and pipelines is a growing movement that challenges the most reactionary sections of capital. Women play an integral role in this and in the larger global environmental movement.

In Canada, and across the capitalist world, women are disproportionately paying the price for bailouts of the banks and major corporations, neo‑liberal cuts to social programs, public service layoffs and massive tuition increases.

The Harper Conservative government has intensified the threats to democratic gains. The Conservatives have followed the lead of the federal Liberals (who abolished the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women and cut funding to the National Action Committee on the Status of Women ‑ NAC). The Tories closed 12 of 16 offices of the Status of Women Canada, eliminated the funding of any women’s organization involved in advocacy, and amended the Act on Equitable Compensation to prevent the use of courts to advance pay equity.

The Harper government also threatens women’s reproductive rights, with actions like a Conservative MP’s so‑called “private member’s bill” asking Parliament to declare a fetus a person under the law.

Canada’s Employment Insurance program fails the majority of part‑time and minimum wage workers, especially women. Only three women workers out of ten are eligible to collect EI. Even those who meet the requirements can’t survive on benefit rates set at 55% of their low previous earnings. The lay‑off of public sector workers has resulted in long waits for claims to be processed.

Provincially, cuts to welfare, health care and legal aid, abolition of advisory councils on the status of women, tuition increases, and inadequate child care, are just some actions which have impacted women.

IWD is particularly significant for working class women, oppressed by the “double burden” of exploitation in the workplace and the major share of domestic labour. Despite their growing numbers in Canada’s workforce, women’s unequal economic status is reflected in a 30% “wage gap” and other indicators.

The unequal status of women in Canada has been condemned internationally. High poverty levels and the lack of social assistance to women have been raised 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.

Despite the claim that women have achieved “equality,” they still face under‑funding of emergency shelters and support services for victims of family violence. Economic and social conditions are shameful for Aboriginal women and girls, who are particularly vulnerable to racism and inequality, and hundreds of whom have been murdered or disappeared. Conditions in First Nations communities like Attawapiskat are being condemned internationally.

Today, war is the most terrible crime against humanity. From the Middle East to Afghanistan to Colombia, wars increasingly target civilian populations. Women and children are casualties of bombardment from the air and atrocities on the ground, and the victims of health catastrophes arising from the destruction of power plants, water supply systems and hospitals. Trillions of dollars are wasted on militarism instead of development to provide education and economic opportunities, clean water, health care, and more human rights protection, including personal security, choice in marriage, and reproductive choice.

Global environmental devastation impacts women and children, from those near Alberta’s tar sands, to those living in drought stricken sub‑Saharan Africa. Changing material conditions goes hand in hand with changing social attitudes.

We express our full solidarity with all women involved in the struggle for survival under difficult conditions. We demand that Israel abandon its apartheid policy of territorial expansion, violence and economic strangulation of Palestine, which imposes terrible hardships upon the women of Gaza and the West Bank. We condemn the drive for new wars against Iran and Syria.

Needed: a working class response

Since the demise of NAC, a truly pan‑Canadian voice for women’s rights has been missing. The organized women’s movement has been deeply wounded by systematic cuts to funding. Yet the fightback continues.

Women trade unionists have maintained structures like the Canadian Labour Congress’s Women’s conferences, which help keep the pan‑Canadian fight for women’s rights alive. However, this is not enough. The re‑establishment of an organization like NAC, to bring together women from labour, young Rebelles women, women in organizations that fight for legal rights, reproductive rights, disability rights, child care, organizations that represent Aboriginal women and racialized women, would be an important advance.

We welcome the development of Leadership, Feminism and Equality in Unions in Canada, a research‑based initiative that is doing important work in identifying barriers and current issues relating to women in the labour movement. Moving these findings into actions is a most important next step in reinvigorating a more democratic and equity‑driven labour movement.

The response to the economic crisis by working people, women and men, must be to build a People’s Coalition for a genuine alternative to corporate greed. Such a campaign, led by the labour movement and its allies, should fight to restructure the economy, to provide sustainable jobs, and to improve social services and increased opportunities for women. To protect jobless workers and their families, EI payments must be set at 90% of previous earnings. Evictions and utility cutoffs against all families affected by unemployment must be banned. The labour movement must focus on organizing unorganized women, the most important way to combat poverty and income disparity.

But as long as capitalism continues, it will generate poverty, inequality, exploitation, environmental degradation and war. These are not side‑effects, they are built into a system designed to maximize profit in private hands. Under capitalism, every step forward for women is threatened by the next economic downturn or war. Only socialism, based on democratic, collective ownership and working class power, can permit the enormous creative and productive potential of the world’s workers to be used constructively for human needs.

Socialism has shown that there is an alternative. One small island in the south is a strong example how if social equality is a priority, huge advances in the status of women can be achieved. With intentional supports like maternity leave for candidates, in Cuba 48.7 % of those elected to the National Assembly are women.

For a century, 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.

On IWD 2013, the Communist Party of Canada stands in solidarity with all those who struggle for peace, equality, democracy and social progress. A better world is both possible and necessary ‑ the world of socialism, which can guarantee full equality and a future for humanity!

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