Seminar about the Women

Seminar about the Women’s Question

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

Intervention by Lydie Neufcourt, National Bureau member of the Workers' Party of Belgium

Brussels, March 26, 2010

Dear comrades,

2010 is an important year for the celebration of women's struggles for their political, economic and social rights:

  • the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day proclaimed in 1910 by Clara Eissner, better known as Clara Zetkin

  • the 15th anniversary of the action platform adopted in Beijing at the 4th World UN Conference on Women.

  • the 20th anniversary of the law decriminalizing abortion in Belgium.

  • the 3rd World March of Women with 4 themes:

  1. Women’s Work,

  2. Violence against Women,

  3. Peace and demilitarisation,

  4. The Common Good and Access to Resources.

Despite feminist struggles and advances, the situation of women in Belgium and around the world is alarming. Indeed, in Belgium, one of the richest countries in the world, one in five women is living in poverty, mainly elderly women with minimum pensions -  more than half of whom have limited access to health care. Capitalism cares nothing for the elderly.

Today, the offensive of capitalism emphasizes the exploitation of women. Deeply affected by the economic crisis, many single women with or without children are living below the poverty line, because of precarious, part time or temporary work. Working women are strongly present in poorly paid and 'feminized' professional sectors, with fixed-term contracts. They are subjected to unacceptable working conditions and wages, including when they work in the system of so-called 'service checks'. They represent 80% of the working poor with low wages, often below the poverty line. They are victims of a wage gap of 23%, and a gap of 30% for pensions. In Belgium, women job seekers controlled by the unemployment services are excluded from unemployment allocations, and left without any income in spite of there being no jobs available! Women are always and more and more victims of domestic and family violence during and especially after their married life, of harassment on the workplace that has become a new form of management. The number of divorces has exploded (2 marriages in 3), marginalising single women with children, who have to live with minimum salaries and without alimony!

Struggles of the working women of Carrefour and Godiva in Belgium

As in other countries, workers in Belgium are waging important union struggles against the break-up of established social rights, against business closures, job losses and they have won victories as in Liege and Leuven (Louvain) in Belgium, in the production centres of AB-Inbev, the top brewer in the world.

Today, 1672 workers of Carrefour supermarkets are fighting against the closure of stores and layoffs. According to the unions, 5,000 jobs are at stake if we take into account the sub-contractors. Carrefour, the 2nd distribution group in the world, intends to suppress over 11% of its 15,698 jobs in Belgium, where 10,900 are part-time positions staffed mostly by women. These are often single women with or without children, who will either have no  right to unemployment benefit or will receive very little. Carrefour claims that the check-out assistants' wages are too high and are thus responsible for this restructuring, in spite of the fact that it benefited in 2008 from more than 129 million euros in public subsidies, paid only 0.008% taxes and made more than 300 million euros profits.

The case of the Carrefour workers or of those of the food sector such as Godiva chocolate illustrates the situation of women in the labour market in Belgium very well!

Similarly, the "white anger" of workers in the non-profit sector, countering budget cuts in public services, hospitals and the social sector where many women are employed, has swept the whole of Belgium. In this sector 60,000 additional jobs are needed, but the government has no money for that.

Women against the crisis

According to the annual report of the International Labour Organisation of March 2009, the economic crisis will cause some 22 million more unemployed women in 2009.

To comply with the European Treaties, the Belgian Government is embarking on a reform of pensions and early retirement. In 2005, the full career of women was already extended by 5 years from 40 to 45 years. For women, it becomes even more difficult to obtain a full pension.

In Belgium, as in various other European countries, the fight for our pensions is and will remain in the news.

With the WPB, we are present and active in all these struggles. Men and women together, we fight against the dismantling of our social rights and to improve our living and working conditions. There is money in Belgium: we are waging a campaign to finally tax the millionaires.

On the other hand, we judge it indispensable to pay special attention to the struggle for equal rights and empowerment of women.

In the struggle for socialism, we need empowered women with equal rights. And we all know: it is under socialism that women's rights and their position in society will be best guaranteed.

Because capitalism threatens women's work and rights, the WPB has created a Women’s Commission, which brings together women from all party sections. 

It will strengthen international solidarity with women’s groups. Particular attention is paid to a better gender representation in the WPB with support for the younger generation. There are currently too few women in the leadership. Education, discussion and assistance are needed.

Marianne, the mass organization of the WPB, includes women from all regions of Belgium. It organizes regular meetings, conferences on International Women's Day and an active participation in demonstrations. It is present among both Belgian and immigrant women, participates since 2000 in the World March of Women and has assumed a responsible position in the national coordination of the March. It organizes, among other things, trips to Cuba and projects in solidarity with the women of Palestine. It supports strikers, such as those of Carrefour or Opel (General Motors) and helps organize solidarity with their struggles. Marianne participates in popular women’s education for the appropriation of the history of women workers.

Lydie Neufcourt, National Bureau member of the Workers' Party of Belgium