On March 11, 2017 women and their allies in 7 Caribbean nations will stage marches in observance of International Women’s Day. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution where working people, for the first time in the modern era, overthrew the capitalist state. Women workers played an integral role in the 1917 revolution and it was their strike against the lack of bread and WWI in February which led to the overthrow of the Czar and the opening up of a revolutionary situation which culminated in the October revolution where women’s rights were qualitatively advanced.
While women have always been an integral part of struggles for a better world their role has not always been acknowledged. Moreover, in addition to the exploitation and oppression the masses of men deal with as part of the working class, women face special oppression as women. Working women especially are set an impossible task, they must maintain a household and rear children unpaid while the economic crisis of capitalism also drags them out of the house and into the workforce for exploitative wages. In addition to the pressure from these economic forces, through the structure of the nuclear family women are expected to adhere to strict social roles, such as how they dress, and when they deviate from these roles they are met with the threats of violence and sexual assault.
The oppression of women takes on a particular form in the Caribbean given the recent history of colonialism and the current condition as neo-colonial nations living under the dictates of imperialist nations like the United States, England and Canada. Caribbean women, for example, have long been employed as maids and caregivers for middle-class families in the nations to which they emigrate. This has created a disparity in the level of equality women have been able to achieve in more economically developed countries like the USA and in the Caribbean.
Despite these differences, what underlies the oppression of women all around the world is the system of economic organization which is built around profit, that is, capitalism. It is capitalism which benefits from women’s unpaid labor in the home, it is capitalism which denies equal pay to women and it is the capitalist state which normalizes violence and sexual assault against women. As a result, there is an inextricable bind between the fight against women’s oppression and the fight against capitalism.
The oppression of women, is not just a series of bad ideas or laws, but built into the structure of capitalism’s warfare against working people. This oppression manifests in a division of the sexes which seems “natural” and acts to divide men and women in our society. All institutions in our society, including the government, courts and religious groups act to reinforce this division and oppression by keeping women in their place. Women’s bodies become commodities and men are raised with a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies which leads to sexual assault.
As a result of this special oppression of women there arose movements to demand improvement and equality for women. The Women’s March in January, 2017 and the Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day are examples from the USA. In the Caribbean in recent times, the women’s rights movement has come to be embodied by the #lifeinleggings movement which was founded on social media by Ronelle King from Barbados. This campaign focused on combatting the street harassment, which West Indian women experience on a daily basis, and highlighted the ways in which the seemingly innocuous and normalized harassment of women on the street underpinned the incidents of violence and sexual assault perpetuated against women.
In Guyana, the Student Society Against Human Rights Violations has taken the initiative to organize the “March for Girls” on March 11th in observance of International Women’s Day. Working with other women’s rights organizations and NGOs, the Student Society has created a platform which speaks to the spirit of Caribbean radicalism and the tradition of women’s resistance movements.
In a social and political atmosphere dealing with the legacy of colonialism, the March for Girls has boldly come out in favor of equal rights for the country’s LGBTQ population. Given the appalling fact that both the “buggery” and cross dressing laws of the early 20th century remain on the books in Guyana, and were recently upheld by the judiciary, this is a laudable stance. The struggle for women’s rights would be incomplete if it was not a struggle for ALL women and the inclusion of activist Twinkle from the NGO Guyana Trans United as a speaker for the March for Girls will highlight the particular oppression of the transgender population in Guyana.
The present political climate in Guyana and the wider Caribbean is characterized by the beginnings of a mass movement against the decades of economic austerity imposed upon working people by our governments who serve in the interest of their imperialist backers. Moves to make Jamaican public sector workers pay into their pension program and the imposition of higher levels of Value Added Tax on basic utilities and private education in Guyana are all examples of austerity.
President Granger’s APNU-AFC coalition government, despite being elected with promises to end the corruption and impoverishment of the previous PPP/C government, has fallen into the same habits. It is not a moral failing of the coalition government which has led them down the path of corruption but their commitment to the capitalist system which is based on the exploitation and oppression of the masses, especially women, in the interest of profit.
The Socialist Workers Alliance of Guyana (S.W.A.) stands in Solidarity with the struggles of women around the world, the Caribbean and Guyana for a better world. We believe full equality can only be achieved through a revolution against the economic system which breeds the social oppression of women. A society geared towards human need and not profit.
Under socialism, the tasks of domestic labor and child labor will be socialized and women and men will play a communal role in raising the next generation. We fight with women and their allies today in their struggle for equal rights while pointing out these rights can only be fully achieved and maintained under workers power because of capitalism’s tendency to increase the rate of exploitation and oppression.
Stop the Violence against All Women & Girls!
Equal Rights for LGBTQ population!
Equal Pay and Job Opportunities for Women!
Repeal the Value Added Tax, Now!
Free Reproductive and Abortion Rights, Now!
Sex Education in Schools!