Seminar on the Women

Seminar on the Women’s Question

“On the role of communists in the struggle for the parity and emancipation of women”

New Communist Party of Britain

Brussels, March 26 2010,

Comrades, two years ago we met here, with other delegates who cannot be here today, to speak of our experiences as women in countries from all around the world, covering work, home, leisure, education, health, social activity, politics and economics.

A common theme emerged over and over again. With a few notable exceptions delegates spoke of having legal rights to equality and freedom from discrimination but in so many places this was just a piece of paper. These laws, all around the world have not been fully and properly implemented. As with so many bourgeois freedoms, for the working class they are largely an illusion.

Freedom and equality, for us and for our working class menfolk, are limited by our lack of money.

There are so many things we would like to do, that we are legally entitled to do but cannot because we cannot afford to do them.

And for women, our personal incomes are so much lower than those of men, especially when our ability to earn money is limited by our domestic duties, that we are dependent for the food on our table, the roof over our heads and all other necessities of life – never mind the luxuries – that our freedom to do anything independently exists only in our dreams.

Only when we have access to employment on the same terms as men – equal pay and opportunities – and when our domestic duties are shared by society at large, through high quality freely available childcare and care for the elderly and disabled – will we have the same freedom and choices as men in every other sphere of life.

Only then will women who have found themselves in a bad marriage situation, or who are being abused or belittled at home by husbands or fathers, have the freedom to walk away and make another home on their own. To do this they need a proper income that is their own and social childcare to look after their children while they earn it.

Equal pay and free high quality childcare are the two absolute priorities to the emancipation of women. All other inequalities and problems will resolve themselves within a generation or two once they are won.

And as we in this room know well, these essential goals will be so much easier to win and to hold in a socialist society after the capitalist state has been overthrown. But that does not mean we must wait for socialism before we start fighting for them. Fighting on these issues will recruit women into the fight for socialism.

A human being economically dependent on others for their food and other necessities can never be free.

The injustices to women are as old as the division of society into separate classes into the rulers and the oppressed.

Before the existence of private wealth the human family was not as it is today – a man, a woman and their children. Frederick Engels in his work The family, private property and the state showed that before private property marriage was an economic alliance between families, where sisters raised their children together and made temporary alliances, marriages, with groups of brothers. Each child counted its mother’s sisters as extra mothers and its father’s brothers as extra brothers. Kinships were wide and complex. The hearth, the home base, was passed from mother to daughters collectively.

It was the creation of private property and the division of society into contending classes that brought about slavery, where a human being was reduced to mere property and the hearth, the home base, also became mere property. Wealthy and adventurous men rejected the old traditional family structures and bought their own homes and women. Their right to their private property was upheld by the newly created state machines, with laws, armies and penal systems.

Women were reduced to property in their own homes.

The Latin word familia literally means a man’s household slaves – that was the status of his wife and children. A rich man had many, a poor man none.

It has taken us a long time to climb back from this abyss and we still have some way to go. For most of us now living in bourgeois society the norm is now the nuclear family – just the man, his wife and their children. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on are excluded to an outer circle.

Many women do now work outside the home but few earn enough to give them economic and social freedom. For those who do not work outside the home the bourgeois nuclear family is very narrow and isolating. Human beings are very social animals, when bourgeois social conventions cut us off from interaction with other humans we lose our confidence, our intellect and often our sanity. We become easily influenced and when we are fed a diet of fashion, celebrity gossip and other rubbish it takes the place of proper thinking and our brains rot.

But making our own way in the world of work, being properly financially rewarded, supporting ourselves and our children, we gain confidence, we dare to think, dare to challenge and dare to live as a normal human should.

Equal pay and opportunities and proper childcare are the keys to liberation. Thank you.