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International Women’s Day 2011 Greetings from the Communist Party of Canada
This year, the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day comes amidst inspiring new struggles for democratic rights in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries. Women have played key roles in the trade union, community, student and other grassroots organizing which sparked these popular uprisings, and in the powerful fightback against the attacks on public sector unions in Wisconsin.
Across the capitalist world, women are disproportionately paying the price for government bailouts of the banks and major corporations. Across Europe, women are active in the fightbacks against the neo‑liberal cuts to social programs, public service lay‑offs and massive raises in tuition.
In Canada, IWD 2011 comes amidst the intense battle over pension rights, such as the U.S. steel lockout of steelworkers in Hamilton. The attacks by corporations upon the hard won pensions of their workers, and by the government upon public pension plans, have the sharpest impact on women, given their lower average incomes, and higher rates of poverty.
This year’s IWD follows a groundbreaking vote in the House of Commons, adding gender identity and gender expression as prohibited grounds for discrimination and harassment in both the Canadian Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code. While it still must pass the Senate, Bill C‑384 is a major advance for human rights in Canada ‑ particularly for trans women.
March 8 has always been a day to honour women’s struggles, take stock of hard‑won gains, and put forward demands to promote full equality.
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 the growing numbers of women in Canada’s workforce, their unequal economic status is reflected in a 30% “wage gap” and many other indicators.
Statistics Canada reports that in 2009, 58.3% of women ‑ a total of 8.1 million ‑ were employed, more than double the 1976 total. This includes 72.9% of women with children under 16 at home. Despite considerable strides since the 1970s, women are still less likely to be employed than men, with the exception of young women aged 15 to 24.
While about 73% of employed women worked full‑time in 2009, another 27% worked fewer than 30 hours per week, more than double the 12% of men who work part‑time. Nearly 7 out of 10 part‑time workers are female, a total of 2.2 million women, a pattern which has changed little in recent decades. Low‑paid women are increasingly compelled to hold more than one job. By 2009, about 56% of multiple job holders were women.
Meanwhile, the percentage of women in unionized jobs has risen dramatically, from 22.3% in 1976, to 32.6% in 2009, while men’s unionization has fallen from 39% to 30.3%. Women now make up a majority of organized workers in Canada.
The majority of employed women (67% in 2009) still work in “traditional” sectors: teaching, nursing and related health occupations, clerical or administrative positions, or sales and service, compared with 31% of employed men.
Young women, and immigrant and aboriginal women, have higher unemployment rates.
The unequal economic 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. The shameful decision by the Harper Tories to deny funding for the Sisters in Spirit progam is yet another attempt to silence the voices of Aboriginal women.
Internationally, trillions of dollars are wasted on war instead of development efforts to provide women and girls with education and economic opportunities, clean water, adequate 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 living downstream from Canada’s tar sands, to those living in drought stricken sub‑saharan Africa. Changing material conditions goes hand in hand with changing social attitudes. Today it is more obvious than ever that war is the most terrible crime against humanity. In many countries, from the Middle East to Afghanistan to Congo 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 public health catastrophes arising from the destruction of power plants, water supply systems and hospitals.
The Communist Party expresses our full solidarity for all women involved in the struggle for survival under difficult conditions. We demand that the state of Israel abandon its policy of territorial expansion, violence and economic strangulation of Palestinian communities, an apartheid policy which imposes terrible hardships upon the women of Gaza and the West Bank. The women of Haiti need our full solidarity following the tragic earthquake in that country; we reject the strategy of imperialist governments which have sent troops instead of medical personnel.
International Women’s Day 2011 takes place in a time of ongoing economic crisis. Government and corporate reassurances of recovery are exposed as lay‑offs, plant closures and attacks on pensions continue. The corporations, and the governments which serve them, are increasing economic disparity by cutting social programs and giving bailouts to wealthy shareholders and CEOs. Rather than pay for the crisis which their system created, the capitalists want to roll back workers’ gains and set the stage for ever‑deepening exploitation.
The demand for a country‑wide child care system, a key issue in election after election, has again been abandoned by the minority Harper government. Incredibly, pay equity is actually under attack, and even the opportunity for complaints through the courts is denied. The Tories ignore calls to improve the Employment Insurance system paid for by all workers. As the majority of part‑time and minimum wage workers, women are disproportionately under‑protected; only three women out of ten in the workforce 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 response to the economic crisis by working people, women and men, must be a massive campaign 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 such as health, education and universal child care, to provide increased opportunities for women in the work force. To protect jobless workers and their families, EI payments must be set at 90% of previous earnings for the full duration of unemployment. Evictions and utility cutoffs against all families affected by unemployment must be banned. The labour movement must put much greater emphasis on organizing unorganized women, the most important way to combat poverty and income disparity.
But as long as capitalism continues, it will continue to generate poverty, inequality, exploitation, environmental degradation and war. These are not accidental side‑effects, they are necessary ingredients of a system designed to maximize profit in private hands. Under capitalism, the women of the world face tremendous struggles to win new progress, or to hold on to gains already won. Every step forward will be threatened by the next economic downturn, and the danger of war is never absent. 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.
Communists have played a leading role since the inception of International Women’s Day, which was unanimously adopted by a Socialist International women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910 and observed for the first time in 1911. The Communist Party of Canada salutes women who are struggling throughout the world for peace, justice and equality, whose full participation is essential for the success of all working class and democratic movements.
On IWD 2011, 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, the only system which can guarantee full equality and a future for humanity!