February 28, 2010

Reinforce the struggles of young women for full freedom and equality!

Young Communist League of Canada, March 2010.

The Young Communist League celebrates International Women’s Day and calls on youth and students, regardless of gender, to unite against the Harper Conservative anti-women agenda.

For around 100 years International Women’s Day (IWD) has been celebrated across the globe. In many places, including the socialist countries, it is celebrated as an official holiday. IWD is a time to celebrate the heroic struggles of women, including young women and girls, across the planet throughout history for equality and freedom. It is also a time to renew these struggles as they are still needed so long as patriarchy and capitalism exist.

The Harper Conservative government represents an immediate threat to the rights of women in Canada.

In 2008, the Tories proved their continued opposition to women’s reproductive rights by introducing the “unborn victims of crime act,” which would have opened the door to further laws limiting or prohibiting access to abortion. Young women need a pro-choice agenda which provides education and access to both birth control and abortion free and without harassment by anti-choice forces.

Harper has attacked women’s shelters and advocacy groups with funding cuts which have resulted in, among other things, 12 out of 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada being closed, and the elimination the Court Challenges Program.

Pay equity is also under attack. Women in Canada still only make about 70% as much as men for comparable work. The governments has ignored and rejected recommendations, including those from a federal task force, to introduce pay equity legislation. In fact, Harper took steps to deepen pay inequity when he introduced the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act which allows public sector employers to use “market demand” in determining compensation to public sector workers.

Young women typically remain stuck in low paid work of a part time or casual nature with no benefits or job security. Low minimum wages, which is some instances come in below the poverty line, limit the economic independence of young women and are a barrier to young families. Many young women are forced to work multiple jobs to get by and face harassment on the job.

The inequity of pay means an unequal ability to pay the crushing debt sentence imposed on students when they leave campuses and enter the work force. Current student debt in Canada runs over $13 billion and much of this is carried by young women. Young women face sexist barriers in education and are streamed into traditionally female roles in high schools.

Prostitution and trafficking of women and children continue to be serious issues and were worsened by the recent Olympic Games which saw an influx in the sex trade aimed at wealthy tourists attending the Games. The majority of women entering the sex trade are youth.

The brutal and unjust occupation of Afghanistan is another tragedy for women. Thousands of Afghan women and girls have been among the civilian casualties. Afghan Parliamentarian Malalai Joya was suspended from office and met with threats of rape and murder when she criticized the warlords now ruling the country with the backing of Canadian and other imperialist troops. She continues to receive threats to this day. In 2009, Afghan Parliament introduced a bill which would legalize rape within marriage. The current troop surge is intensifying violence in the region and worsening the situation for women and girls.

While the Tories represent an immediate danger to women’s rights, the capitalist system itself is fundamentally patriarchal in nature. Patriarchy is not only a development of the class system but a tool of the capitalist class. Sexism is used to divide the working class, youth and students and create conflicts based on gender in order to obscure the fact that the true enemy of working men and women is not the opposite gender, but the capitalist class. Inequity increases competition between workers and reduces co-operation. Sexism is not just a gender issue, it’s a class issue.

One of the most disturbing aspects of this sexist system is violence against women. 51% of Canadian women have faced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 16. 31% of sexual assaults are reported as being perpetrated by a date or acquaintance. Many more are carried out through the use of date rape drugs. The majority of victims in these crimes are young women between the ages of 16-24. Every minute of every day, a woman or child is being sexually assaulted. In poor communities like the Vancouver Downtown East Side, one of the most impoverished areas in North America, women are particularly vulnerable. Over 3000 Aboriginal women are known to have been murdered or disappeared since the 1980’s. At least 18 women have gone missed or been murdered on the “Highway of Tears” in BC and Alberta.

The majority of these cases go unreported and almost all of them go unpunished. Violence against women is the natural outgrowth of the sexism inherent in the capitalist system which defines women as weak and helpless, as sex objects, as second rate people.

While there is never any excuse for rape or other violence against women, we must recognize that it is not only individual men who commit these crimes that are to blame, but the patriarchal capitalist system itself. The system that dehumanizes women, turning them into sexual objects while promoting the cult of male dominance and female subservience every day through the media, entertainment industry, pornography and even the education system. It’s on the cover of almost every magazine at the grocery store, in the lyrics of every song on MTV that described women as “bitches” and “hoes,” it’s in the 1.5% rate of eating disorder amongst young women.

Women who fit these stereotypes and play into the patriarchal capitalist system are promoted as role models while women who courageously stood up for their sisters and their class are forgotten or condemned. Real role models can be found all throughout the history of the working class movement in Canada and the world; like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Annie Buller, Becky Buhay, Celia Sanchez, or Angela Davis.

The YCL fight for a socialist Canada where patriarchy will be ended and true equality will flourish. We also fight for changes that will strengthen women’s rights and equality in the present, such as:

1 Stop and reverse Harpers anti-equality agenda
2 Troops out now! End the occupation of Afghanistan. Solidarity with the women of Afghanistan and the world
3 Safe, public, accessible abortion clinics across Canada.
4 Affordable housing for all
5 Protect and expand LGBT-Q equality
6 Equal access to education. replace the student loans program by student grants; eliminate post-secondary tuition fees and pay students a stipend; massively expand trade programmes, including young women
7 A universal, affordable, non-profit childcare system with Canada-wide standards
8 A 30 hour week with no loss in pay and no reduction in public services; full benefits for part-time workers; raise the minimum wage to $16 an hour
9 Restore and extend employment and pay equity legislation; expand job creation programs, especially for disadvantaged young women; remove barriers to EI coverage; expand parental leave benefits to 52 weeks
10 Reinstate and expand core funding for equality-seeking women's organizations, including NAC; full funding for grassroots, feminist services to deal with violence against women
11 Enshrine within the constitution the rights of Aboriginal peoples, Quebec, and Acadians to self-determination and self-government, and guarantee the full economic, social and political equality of Aboriginal women
12 Restructuring of the way the legal system deals with violence against women, rape, and prostitution to better protect women from abuse

Capitalism is the root cause of the current attack on women’s rights. Corporations have everything to gain by paying women less, keeping working people divided, and promoting sexism and misogyny. Under capitalism, women face double oppression – as workers, and as women. Women work, study, and when they come home they do the majority of the housework. But they get the minority of the pay and recognition.

There is a strong need for a pan-Canadian women’s organization with a strong youth presence. Young women today can say “We won’t take it anymore!” and fight to end the oppression that their mothers and grandmothers fought against before them when they won such basic rights as the right to vote. We call for broad participation of youth and students in IWD demonstrations and activities as well as support for the World March of Women being held internationally from March 8-October 17. We look forward to a strong young women’s component to the Canadian delegation to the 17th World Festival of Youth and Students this December in South Africa. The oppression and inequality directed at women can only be ended once and for all by ending the capitalist system and building a new society where the working people, men and women together, call the shots in their common interests.

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