On the occasion of the International Women’s Day 2010, Mental Health Europe has published a report on violence against women in the workplace. The report aims to contribute to reducing violence against women at work in all its forms. Zero tolerance of this violence is crucial to change attitudes and behaviours.
MHE’s European Project “Violence against Women in the workplace… Let’s talk about it ! The mental health impacts of violence and harassment against women at work” aims at contributing to the prevention of violence against women at work in all its forms also encouraging attitudes and behaviours of zero tolerance. The Project is funded in the frame of the Daphne III Programme, Directorate General of Justice, Freedom and Security. http://www.epha.org/IMG/pdf/MHE_poster-violence-women-en.pdf
In recent years, national working conditions surveys have shown that an increasing incidence of work-related health problems develop as a result of psychological rather than physical causes.
Violence and harassment at work has immediate effects on the concerned women, including a lack of motivation, loss of confidence and reduced self-esteem, depression and anger, anxiety and irritability.
A poster, translated in 8 languages (English, German, Greek, Spanish, Slovenian, Romanian, Lithuanian and Latvian) has been published in order to illustrate graphically the importance of preventing violence and harassment against women at work as well as mental health problems that result from it.
A handbook/booklet translated in the same 8 languages is being prepared with the aim of providing guidance on recognising and tackling psychosocial risks in the workplace.
You can find more information about the Project and download the posters on the MHE website at http://www.mhe-sme.org/en/our-projects/current-projects/daphne-phase-III.html
On International Women’s Day, EPHA member the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network (IPPF EN) welcomes the political momentum to advance gender equality and women’s sexual and reproductive rights.
IPPF EN congratulates the Spanish Presidency of the European Union for firmly putting women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights at the top of the national and EU agenda. On 24 February, the Spanish Senate approved a new progressive law which finally decriminalizes abortion and reflects a comprehensive national strategy on sexual and reproductive health and rights. In a recent speech to celebrate Women’s Day, Ms. Bibiana Aido, Spanish Minister of Equality emphasized that “gender equality cannot be achieved without guaranteeing women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights.” By putting gender equality and the fight against gender-based violence at the top of the political agenda, the EU Presidency of Spain has shown what it means to act to guarantee women’s rights in practice.
We also celebrate the European Parliament’s Resolution on gender equality in the EU which clearly states that women must have control over their sexual and reproductive rights. The European Parliament recognizes that the full physical and sexual autonomy of women is a precondition for any successful sexual and reproductive health rights policy.
This means, for example that girls and boys should be equally allowed to enjoy sex and love, without fear of violence, forced marriage or any form of body mutilation. Contraception should not only be perceived as a ‘girl’s issue’ ; boys should feel equally responsible. This also means that women who choose to have children should not be discriminated in their future career.
IPPF EN calls on the EU to address all issues of gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights as human rights and to push for greater access to sexuality education as a means to combat all forms of gender stereotypes.
We encourage the new European Commission to strengthen its commitment towards a new EU strategy for gender equality and to include sexual and reproductive health and rights. IPPF’s “Sexual Rights : an IPPF Declaration” http://www.ippf.org/NR/rdonlyres/9E4D697C-1C7D-4EF6-AA2A-6D4D0A13A108/0/SexualRightsIPPFdeclaration.pdf could offer a useful framework.
For further information go to the International Planned Parenthood Federation website http://www.ippf.org/en
International Women’s Day acts as a focus point showing the importance of bringing together women of all political persuasions, irrespective their social situation to ensure that every woman can fully enjoy all human rights and basic freedoms.
The OSHA Europe website http://osha.europa.eu/en/teaser/news_article.2008-03-07.gender published an article about gender issues concerning safety and health at work. Women are still not treated the same way at work as men even though women make up 44% of the employed population in the EU. OSHA concludes therefore that a gender sensitive approach is needed to reach equal conditions for men and women regarding health and safety at work.
In order to mark the International Women’s Day EMCDDA http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/thematic-papers/womens-voices published a report about women facing drug-related problems in Europe. The report contains experiences and perceptions of women using drugs. Most drug services today are designed with male drug users in mind. However, it is widely recognised that drug policy and effectiveness are enhanced when gender differences are acknowledged. An EMCCDA expert group therefore agreed that treatment guidelines have to take into account gender differences and so-called ’service-user views’ in order to plan appropriate treatment for women and men.
Anna Zaborska http://www.theparliament.com/latestnews/news-article/newsarticle/eu-must-do-more-to-promote-gender-equality/, the Chair of Parliament’s Committee on Women Rights and Gender Equality, stressed that the EU must do more to promote gender equality as it is still the case that women are sometimes linked with a degrading image. She claimed that it is crucial to understand that the future of new Europe is linked to the situation of women. The EU has to foster gender equality so that all women can enjoy the same rights and opportunities as men do.
Female force behind Olympic London celebrated at Museum of London Docklands
Even if British athletes falter spectacularly on the tracks at the 2012 Olympics, the sprawl of futuristic facilities springing up at heat-winning pace across London will leave the nation with a legacy to savour.
Much of the construction work on the spectacular venues owe a heavy debt to the diligence and graft of hard-hatted female workers, and this project features images of 12 of them.
Taken from a set of calendars raising money for human rights organisation the Helen Bamber Foundation, it was opened on International Women’s Day – 8th March – by Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell.
“This exhibition encapsulates the legacy of the Olympics,” said Jowell, praising the Games for helping the team earn experience for “the building of future London.”
The Green Party is concerned about the disadvantages that still facing women in 21st century Britain, such as:
* Women working full-time on average earn 17% less than men working full-time; for part-time workers the gap is 36% an hour
* Retired women’s incomes are on average 40% less than men’s
* Fewer than 20% of Westminster MPs are female; less than 11% of board members on major British companies are female
* Women still carry out the majority of unpaid work in the home, and in total on average work considerably more hours than men
* One in four women is subjected to domestic violence in her lifetime, and rape and sexual assault are a societal blight, with significant under-reporting of cases, and only six out of 100 cases that are reported to police resulting in a conviction. Violence against women costs our society £40bn a year, and the psychological and personal costs are enormous
The Green Party is proposing:
* Women (and men) who take time out of paid work for family or caring responsibilities make an essential contribution to our society, and they should not be penalised for this.
* All jobs should be arranged, so every worker maintains a decent work-life balance and has time for family, social and community life. Full-time UK employees work the longest average hours in Europe, 43.5 hours as against 38.2 in France, and 39.9 in Germany. The Green Party wants a 35-hour working week, to help improve people’s work/life balance and help to share out work.
* A non-means-tested citizen’s pension set at 60% of the median national income, currently £170 a week, which would immediately lift pensioners, particularly women, out of poverty.
* Major improvements in maternity services. A full range of birth options must be available to all women, and all women should be entitled to the care of a single midwife throughout their maternity experience and post-natally.
* Breastfeeding rates in the UK are currently well below WHO recommendations, with just 42% of babies being breastfed at 6 weeks, 29% at 4 months and just 22% at 6 months of age. Greens would insist on excellent support for all mothers who choose to breastfeed, and significant penalties to ensure they are not harassed when feeding their children in public, similar to the law already in effect in Scotland.
* Supporting and enhancing Sure Start centres, which help many women and men with parenting. Our proposed citizens’ income scheme would replace the current child benefit, but in the meantime Greens argue for a higher rate of child benefit, to more closely reflect the cost of rearing a child.
A Green Party spokesperson said that: “The Green Party have the policies to make changes happen that will mean a real and positive difference for women everywhere. Greens have long supported boardroom quotas to improve the representation of women, and to address the discriminatory and insulting pay gap that still exists in 2010. Along with improved child care facilities, and access to these, we will recognizing the input of both parents from a child’s birth. Today is International Women’s Day. 70% of the world’s poor are women, and 75% of the civilians killed in war are women and children. Greens recognize that we’ve got work to do.”
You can read the entire report – “Fairness, equity and opportunity: Green Party policies of particular concern to women” – by downloading from http://www.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/reports/2010_ge_briefing_women_v4-1.pdf
- Feminist activist Hannah Austin on how International Women’s Day events this year are a great example of grassroots community activism
For women’s organisations, coming up for air from the daily grind to celebrate International Women’s Day is nothing new – the first IWD was celebrated in 1909.
But the level of participation from the wider community in Cardiff has increased hugely over the last couple of years.
Last year, we coordinated a festival of sorts to unite disparate IWD activities from women’s organisations and increase local participation. The level of response was overwhelming, and we ended up with a fortnight-long programme including most of the major venues in Cardiff.
This year, something similar is going on – but it’s growth has been more organic and community-led. There’s no steering group (as there was last year), no management, no infrastructure to speak of. The website we set up last year continues, where people can post their events for free. But everyone has really taken the ball and run with it. It’s as if the seeds were sown last year, and now people are just getting on with it themselves.
Personally I find the ‘DIY’ ethic and grassroots-led approach truly inspirational. While it’s certainly important for women’s sector organisations to raise the profile of their work, it is just as important for events to be community-focused, accessible, visible, and – dare I say it?! – fun.
The Welsh Assembly Government’s funding theme for this year is ‘getting more women into political and public life’. Few people would question the importance of getting more women represented in mainstream political institutions. But it’s also important to empower young women and girls to have the confidence to do whatever they want and to be inspired by seeing other women centre-stage doing things that interest them: whether that’s picking up a guitar, talking about their experiences or finding out how to stand for public office.
The way I got involved in activism was through music and arts, not through political debate or conferencing – that’s the same for lots of women I know around my age (25). I think a turning point occurred at Ladyfest Bristol 2004 (a feminist festival), where I met and talked to several women from Cardiff. We decided to stop moaning about the male-dominated nature of the music ‘scene’ in Cardiff back then, and came back brimming with ideas for doing it ourselves. From that, we organised fundraising gigs for local women’s refuges; Peppermint Patti was formed, and we organised a multi-venue, city-wide festival in 2006 with feminist workshops, female artists, musicians, performers and films, drawing the links between women’s under-representation in the arts and the feminist movement more widely. From these activities, further networks were formed, several of which are continuing and represented in IWD Cardiff 2010.
This is the way it works with grassroots action: networks create networks. Events like IWD should take multiple formats because people have different interests.
Feminism should be a populist movement focused on engaging as many women and men as possible in ending sexism, because sexism is damaging for everyone. And public life is not just mainstream politics; it’s also about what you do in your everyday life, about seeing your experiences reflected: seeing women centre-stage, and feeling inspired and empowered to do that yourself.
The ultimate aim, of course, is for none of this to have to happen – for there to be no need to organise events promoting women into public and political life, because they’ll be there already, with their lives unmarred by violence, earning an equal wage, with adequate and affordable childcare for their kids, and represented equally in all echelons of society. But until we achieve that, there is still a need for this. So get out there, get involved, and get inspired. Here’s to a public holiday for IWD 2011!
This is a guest post (on guardian blog) from Hannah Austin, 25, feminist activist from Welsh Women’s Aid. Hannah has been involved in organising International Women’s Day events in Cardiff from the outset. She is currently forming a network of women to work on a feminist festival next year called Breaking the Waves. You can email Hannah or Twitter: @FeministCardiff.
Read and add comments at http://www.guardian.co.uk/cardiff/2010/mar/08/international-womens-day#start-of-comments
Recommit to women’s liberation: On International Women’s Day we launch a manifesto for 21st-century feminism
Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of International Women’s Day. First agreed at a socialist women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910, its aim was to campaign for the rights of working women. Today, the lives of women have changed beyond recognition compared with those of their grandmothers and great grandmothers. But the changes in work and personal life have been distorted by the needs of the market and have fallen far short of women’s liberation.
The experience of work has been challenging and invigorating for a few, but for most women in the shops, offices, call centres and factories of 21st-century Britain it has been more likely to represent long hours, constant pressure, and growing attempts to squeeze more productivity and profit out of them. The big increase in the numbers of women working (more than 12 million today) has come from working mothers. But there has been no similar change in how the family and childcare have been organised.
So while mothers work outside the home, often full-time, they are also often expected to shoulder the needs of shopping, feeding and caring for their children. This is on top of sometimes long journeys to work, and of the demands of shift work for many. Whereas the old sexist dichotomy of the 50s was that women could either have looks or brains, now we are expected to have both, plus cooking skills at least to the level of Come Dine With Me, and an all-seeing eye to ensure that children behave at all times.
Women are expected to juggle all aspects of their lives and are blamed as individuals for any failing in their work or family life. The only people who can begin to succeed in doing this are those who can afford to pay others (usually women) to carry out some or all of these tasks. So an army of working-class women cook, clean, care for children, do ironing and washing, work in supermarkets, wait in restaurants, perform personal services, all to ensure the easier life of those women who “have it all”. Often in the process they neglect their own families to do so.
The way in which women’s working lives are portrayed reflects this. There is much talk of glass ceilings, but little about those women who are falling into the basement, struggling to work and maintain families on poverty wages. The life experiences of women (and men) are radically different, with a small minority sharing in the profits made by working-class men and women.
Alongside work has come increased sexualisation of society – now greeted with horror by respectable middle-class opinion, but much encouraged by advertising, the media and the profit motive itself, where porn and lap dancing are now big business. The other side of this sexualisation is the continuing high levels of rape, domestic violence and sexual abuse. We are still a very long way from women controlling their own lives and sexuality.
This International Women’s Day we should recommit to a women’s liberation which is connected to a wider movement for human emancipation and for working people to control the wealth they produce. That’s why women and men have to fight for liberation. We won’t win without a fight, because there are many vested interests who want to stop us. But more and more people are beginning to connect campaigning over climate change, war and inequality with fighting for women’s liberation. That’s why we are launching a manifesto for 21st-century feminism to begin to organise for real equality.
Lindsey German and Nina Power Monday 8 March 2010 12.00 GMT
You can read and add comments at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/08/international-womens-day-manifesto#start-of-comments
See report of meeting held on 6th March ‘Feminism Today’ with Nina Power and Lindsey German at http://liammacuaid.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/feminism-today-with-nina-power-and-lindsey-german/
A pledge of support for women: The Conservatives aim to tackle violence and to raise women’s aspirations – at home and abroad
International Women’s Day is being celebrated for the 99th time this year, having first been held in 1911, when women in the UK did not have the vote and equality was a distant glimmer on the horizon. Since then, we have passed many milestones, but women still face many challenges both at home and abroad. From the gender pay gap of over 16%, to the shocking numbers of women being raped, we as a society still have a long way to go before women feel safe and have choice over their own lives.
Of the many challenges that will face an incoming government after the next election, the persistence of various forms of violence against women will be among the most serious. Three million women experience violence each year in the UK, through domestic violence, rape, trafficking, “honour”-based violence and other forms.
One of the most extreme forms of violence against women – that of female genital mutilation (FGM) or “cutting” – shows the stark reality too many women face. This practice is illegal in the UK, yet latest research gives a conservative estimate that 77,000 women and young girls in the UK have been mutilated, and around 24,000 young girls are at risk.
Furthermore, the number of women being forced into marriage is on the increase. The government’s Forced Marriage Unit received over 5,000 calls for help in 2008 from women who feared for their freedom, and nearly half of the cases they handled involved repatriation to the UK. In response to these figures, David Cameron and I launched our policy paper Ending Violence Against Women in 2008, which outlines the measures that a Conservative government would introduce and affirms our commitment to ensuring a cross-government approach to tackling violence which placed prevention at the heart of our strategy.
In November, the government produced its own long-awaited paper on tackling all forms of violence against women. There has been an urgent need for ministers to take a more coordinated approach to this issue, and I regret that this strategy has been so slow in coming. I was disappointed, too, that they failed to take up some of the specific measures we proposed.
A Conservative government will increase the number of health visitors, who give valued support to women who have just given birth – the time at which domestic violence can often begin. We will explore New York City’s example of proactive policing against domestic violence, which has seen domestic murder rates fall significantly. And we will end the early release of prisoners, which has seen domestic violence offenders released without any risk assessment and allowed to return to their partner’s home.
I am pleased that the government had already accepted our call to safeguard benefit payments for women with children when they are first forced to seek safety in a refuge centre – payments that could have been cut under their original plans.
As modern Conservatives, we want to support women in every role they play. Help for vulnerable women, support for working women and choice for families are key to our domestic policies, and above all, we want to raise the aspirations of every woman – from here at home in Britain to women abroad in the developing world.
It is still the case that women bear the overwhelming burden of extreme poverty and deprivation in the developing world. Over 70% of the world’s 1.3 billion poorest people are women, and this appalling situation is getting worse as we speak. Currently, girls constitute over two-thirds of the 130 million children who have no access to basic education.
David Cameron has therefore reaffirmed our commitment to meet the internationally agreed goal of 0.7% of gross national income spent on aid by 2013. He has set out some bold and radical ideas that will help women in their fight against poverty. Using women as recipients of aid would be an important step in improving development and ensuring equality, and a commitment to primary education for all would help lower birth rates and promote female choice over marriage. More than anything else, ensuring equal participation of women across all spheres of society is crucial to economic growth and development.
These are just some of the policies that we have announced as part of our five-point plan for “Women in the World Today”. With these proposals, we want to follow a joined-up, common-sense approach to women’s issues and make our modern world a fairer place for everybody.
Theresa May Monday 8 March 2010 18.00 GMT
You can read and add comments to this article at http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/08/conervative-policy-women#start-of-comments
Government Calls On Firms To Report Action Taken
Companies may be required to report on their progress to get more women into the boardroom, under proposals announced today. It comes as new research shows that sixty per cent of people think there are not enough women directors in big businesses.
The survey which has been commissioned by the Government Equalities Office for International Women’s Day shows that half believe there will be equal numbers of men and women directors within the next 20 years. However, the reality is that it will take 60 years for women to gain equal representation on the boards of the top 100 companies at the current rate of progress.
The Government has today asked the Financial Reporting Council to consider including a new principle in its code of conduct (UK Corporate Governance Code) to require firms to report on what they’re doing to increase the number of women in senior management positions. This builds on the Equality Bill which will allow firms to choose to use positive action to appoint more women to senior roles.
Other key findings from the survey include:
* A clear majority (80%) think a balanced senior management team will be better at understanding their customers.
* Nearly two thirds (61%) believe businesses are losing out on talent by having fewer women in senior roles.
* More than three quarters (78%) disagree that, because men have more experience in senior management than women, men are better at running companies.
* Nearly three quarters (72%) think it is important that women and men should have an equal say in the business decisions over how the British economy is run.
* More than half (55%) think both men and women should share decisions in the finance sector which affect the economy. Only 7% think decisions should be left just to men.
* 71% believe having more women on senior management teams will lead to more family friendly working practices.
* More than half (59%) think that having senior management teams of all one sex will be more likely to think in the same way (‘groupthink’) and so make poor decisions.
* Just under half (43%) think there should be an equal balance of both men and women in investment banking.
Yesterday morning the Prime Minister hosted a business breakfast at Downing Street with leading women in business, to mark International Women’s Day and to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing women’s leadership in business and enterprise.
Currently, only one in ten FTSE board directors are women, and 25 firms have no women on them at all.
Women continue to be under-represented at board level despite having the right education and experience they need to succeed, and are deterred from applying due to corporate boards being dominated by “old boys’ networks”. 
Steps the Government is taking to support women in business include:
* The Equality Bill will allow employers to use positive action to appoint more women to senior roles, if they want to, provided the candidates are equally suitable.
* The Government has asked the Financial Reporting Council to consider including a new principle in its code of conduct (UK Corporate Governance Code) to require firms to report on what they’re doing to get more women into their boardrooms. This would help diversify the talent pool available to business, which in turn can drive success and competitiveness, benefiting the wider UK economy as a whole.
* The Equality and Human Rights Commission is producing further recommendations shortly on how to tackle sex discrimination in the finance sector, following an inquiry last year that found only one tenth (11%) of senior managers were women.
* Last month, the Government launched a new Women’s Employment Strategy to work towards a fair and family friendly labour market, and signposting businesses to programmes, networks and services aimed at improving senior representation.
* In 2008 the Government and Opportunity Now identified 100 exemplar employers who have taken action to increase the number of women at senior levels.
* The Civil Service is also committed to increasing the representation of women in top jobs. There are currently a 1,500 women in the Senior Civil Service representing 35%, which is a doubling in the last ten years, and 28% of those are in Top Management Posts (Director and above), with seven female Permanent Secretaries. The Civil Service has set targets to achieve 39% for women in the SCS and 35% in top management by 2013 with a stretch to achieve by 2011.
* New cross-Government targets to increase diversity of talent on public boards mean that by March 2011, women are set to form 50% of new OCPA regulated public appointments.
* The Government Equalities Office is responsible for the Government’s overall strategy, legislation, and priorities on equality issues. The Office also has direct responsibility for policy on gender equality, sexual orientation, and for integrating work on race. The Prime Minister announced the establishment of the Government Equalities Office (GEO) in July 2007 and it became a Department in its own right in October 2007. It works to Ministers Harriet Harman, Maria Eagle, Vera Baird, and Michael Foster.
* The survey was commissioned by the Government Equalities Office and conducted by Ipsos MORI.
* Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative quota sample of 1,071 adults in Great Britain aged 16+. Interviews were conducted by telephone between 20-24 February 2010. Data are weighted to match the profile of the population. The full research report will be published on the GEO website on 11 March 2010: http://www.equalities.gov.uk
* International Women’s Day (8 March 2010) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. It is an opportunity for organisations, individuals and Government to celebrate the progress made in the past 99 years since the first International Women’s Day but also to look forward to the other important action that needs to take place to ensure the lives of women both in Britain and all around the world are improved.
* The Equality Bill will allow employers to choose to take positive action to appoint a person from an under-represented group, provided candidates are as qualified to do the job as each other, and so balance things out if they want to.
* The Financial Reporting Council is currently consulting on their code of conduct (UK Corporate Governance Code). As part of this consultation the Government has asked the FRC to consider including a new principle in its code of conduct to require firms to report on what they’re doing to increase the number of women directors in senior management positions.
-  According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission
 Cranfield School of Management Female FTSE 100 Index 2009
 Cranfield School of Management. ‘Increasing diversity on public and private sector boards: Part 1 – How diverse are boards and why?’ commissioned by the Government Equalities Office, November 2009.
Full press release at http://nds.coi.gov.uk/content/detail.aspx?NewsAreaId=2&ReleaseID=411929&SubjectId=2
- The article ‘Women’s Day’ by Alexandra Kollontai was published in the newspaper Pravda one week before the first-ever celebration in Russia of the Day of International Solidarity among the Female Proletariat on 23 February (8 March), 1913. In St Petersburg this day was marked by a call for a campaign against women workers’ lack of economic and political rights, for the unity of the working class, and for the awakening of self-consciousness among women workers.
What is ‘Women’s Day’? Is it really necessary? Is it not a concession to the women of the bourgeois class, to the feminists and suffragettes? Is it not harmful to the unity of the workers’ movement?
Such questions can still be heard in Russia, though they are no longer heard abroad. Life itself has already supplied a clear and eloquent answer.
‘Women’s Day’ is a link in the long, solid chain of the women’s proletarian movement. The organised army of working women grows with every year. Twenty years ago the trade unions contained only small groups of working women scattered here and there among the ranks of the workers party… Now English trade unions have over 292 thousand women members; in Germany around 200 thousand are in the trade union movement and 150 thousand in the workers party, and in Austria there are 47 thousand in the trade unions and almost 20 thousand in the party. Everywhere – in Italy, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland – the women of the working class are organising themselves. The women’s socialist army has almost a million members. A powerful force! A force that the powers of this world must reckon with when it is a question of the cost of living, maternity insurance, child labour and legislation to protect female labour.
There was a time when working men thought that they alone must bear on their shoulders the brunt of the struggle against capital, that they alone must deal with the ‘old world’ without the help of their womenfolk. However, as working-class women entered the ranks of those who sell their labour, forced onto the labour market by need, by the fact that husband or father is unemployed, working men became aware that to leave women behind in the ranks of the ‘non-class-conscious’ was to damage their cause and hold it back. The greater the number of conscious fighters, the greater the chances of success. What level of consciousness is possessed by a woman who sits by the stove, who has no rights in society, the state or the family? She has no ‘ideas’ of her own! Everything is done as ordered by the father or husband…
The backwardness and lack of rights suffered by women, their subjection and indifference, are of no benefit to the working class, and indeed are directly harmful to it. But how is the woman worker to be drawn into the movement, how is she to be awoken?
Social-Democracy abroad did not find the correct solution immediately. Workers’ organisations were open to women workers, but only a few entered. Why? Because the working class at first did not realise that the woman worker is the most legally and socially deprived member of that class, that she has been browbeaten, intimidated, persecuted down the centuries, and that in order to stimulate her mind and heart, a special approach is needed, words understandable to her as a woman. The workers did not immediately appreciate that in this world of lack of rights and exploitation, the woman is oppressed not only as a seller of her labour, but also as a mother, as a woman… However. when the workers’ socialist party understood this, it boldly took up the defence of women on both counts as a hired worker and as a woman, a mother.
Socialists in every country began to demand special protection for female labour, insurance for mother and child, political rights for women and the defence of womens interests.
The more clearly the workers party perceived this second objective vis-a-vis women workers, the more willingly women joined the party, the more they appreciated that the party is their true champion, that the working class is struggling also for their urgent and exclusively female needs. Working women themselves, organised and conscious, have done a great deal to elucidate this objective. Now the main burden of the work to attract more working women into the socialist movement lies with the women. The parties in every country have their own special women’s committees, secretariats and bureaus. These women’s committees conduct work among the still largely non-politically conscious female population, arouse the consciousness of working women and organise them. They also examine those questions and demands that affect women most closely: protection and provision for expectant and nursing mothers, the legislative regulation of female labour, the campaign against prostitution and infant mortality, the demand for political rights for women, the improvement of housing, the campaign against the rising cost of living, etc.
Thus, as members of the party, women workers are fighting for the common class cause, while at the same time outlining and putting forward those needs and demands that most nearly affect themselves as women, housewives and mothers. The party supports these demands and fights for them… The requirements of working women are part and parcel of the common workers’ cause!
On ‘Women’s Day’ the organised demonstrate against their lack of rights.
But, some will say, why this singling out of women workers? Why special ‘Women’s Days’, special leaflets for working women, meetings and conferences of working-class women? Is this not, in the final analysis, a concession to the feminists and bourgeois suffragettes?
Only those who do not understand the radical difference between the movement of socialist women and bourgeois suffragettes can think this way.
What is the aim of the feminists? Their aim is to achieve the same advantages, the same power, the same rights within capitalist society as those possessed now by their husbands, fathers and brothers. What is the aim of the women workers? Their aim is to abolish all privileges deriving from birth or wealth. For the woman worker it is a matter of indifference who is the ‘master’ a man or a woman. Together with the whole of her class, she can ease her position as a worker.
Feminists demand equal rights always and everywhere. Women workers reply: we demand rights for every citizen, man and woman, but we are not prepared to forget that we are not only workers and citizens, but also mothers! And as mothers, as women who give birth to the future, we demand special concern for ourselves and our children, special protection from the state and society.
The feminists are striving to acquire political rights. However, here too our paths separate.
For bourgeois women, political rights are simply a means allowing them to make their way more conveniently and more securely in a world founded on the exploitation of the working people. For women workers, political rights are a step along the rocky and difficult path that leads to the desired kingdom of labour.
The paths pursued by women workers and bourgeois suffragettes have long since separated. There is too great a difference between the objectives that life has put before them. There is too great a contradiction between the interests of the woman worker and the lady proprietress, between the servant and her mistress… There are not and cannot be any points of contact, conciliation or convergence between them. Therefore working men should not fear separate Women’s Days, nor special conferences of women workers, nor their special press.
Every special, distinct form of work among the women of the working class is simply a means of arousing the consciousness of the woman worker and drawing her into the ranks of those fighting for a better future… Women’s Days and the slow, meticulous work undertaken to arouse the self-consciousness of the woman worker are serving the cause not of the division but of the unification of the working class.
Let a joyous sense of serving the common class cause and of fighting simultaneously for their own female emancipation inspire women workers to join in the celebration of Women’s Day.
- Source: Alexandra Kollontai: Selected Articles and Speeches, Progress Publishers, 1984;
First Published: Pravda, No. 40(244), 17 February, 1913, St Petersburg;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org, 2000;
Proofed: and corrected by Chris Clayton 2006.