This March 8, International Women’s Day, is time to celebrate our history of struggle for equality, and to unite in action for a better and more just world. In Canada we celebrate the defeat of the anti-women Harper Tories, who shut down virtually every federal agency or service which supported women’s equality, closed Status of Women Canada offices, eliminated funding of women’s organizations which engage in advocacy, passed Bill C-36 (which endangers the lives of sex workers) and blocked legal avenues to fight for pay equity.
The unequal status of women has been condemned 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. The new Liberal government must be pressed to take real action for full equality.
The Liberals have promised to implement the Call to Action recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, most notably an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed a gender-equality cabinet, including Indigenous lawyer Jody Wilson-Raybould as Justice Minister.
However, this government has also signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12 nation corporate rights deal which will be a disaster for the working class, in particular women. Resistance is building against this anti-democratic, anti-worker, anti-environment, anti-farmer agreement. We join with all those working to block ratification of the TPP.
The Liberals have promised changes to the police state Bill C-51, which imposes sweeping new powers to criminalize dissent. Raising the spectre of Islamic terrorism, C-51 in reality targets the critics of austerity, environmental destruction and imperialist war. The Harper Government’s Islamophobia disproportionately impacted women. This legislation directly impacts women, who play leading roles in labour, Aboriginal, environmental, and student movements. This dangerous bill must be scrapped – just as the Liberals withdrew Harper’s anti-labour Bills C-377 and C-525.
Millions of women in Canada do face violence and oppression, but not from “terrorists.” Aboriginal women and girls suffer the racist burden of higher rates of poverty, unemployment, and incarceration, and dramatically shorter life spans. Thousands of Aboriginal women have been murdered or disappeared.
Women remain oppressed by the double burden of exploitation in the workplace and the major share of domestic labour. As real wages drop, work becomes more precarious, and social assistance rates remain stagnant, and there is still a huge pay gap, particularly for non-unionized women. Women are disproportionately poor – especially those who are Aboriginal, racialized, immigrant, disabled, queer and single mothers.
In the last few years, awareness has grown of “rape culture” – the societal normalization of sexualized violence, found in images, language, and laws. While the Ghomeshi trial has magnified this issue, we need to organize against all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, and violence faced by sex workers – particularly women who are Aboriginal, racialized and transgender. Funding of campus women’s centres must be increased, and effective anti-oppression education regarding rape culture is urgently needed.
The trial has also publicized the need for justice reform (including the introduction of trauma informed practice in policing and the courts), and improved access to legal aid for victims of sexual violence. Police must also face democratic and independent reviews. From shootings of young Aboriginal, Black and mentally ill men, to the documented rape of Aboriginal women by RCMP and Surete du Quebec officers, police must face real justice.
Women in Canada still do not have full reproductive rights. Women in PEI can only access abortion services at certain hospitals in New Brunswick or Nova Scotia.
Women are disproportionately affected by reduced access to EI benefits. The “restructuring” of Canada Post is wiping out thousands of jobs held by women. The attack on equality extends to the provincial arena, including abolition of women’s equality ministries, tuition increases, and cuts to welfare, health care, legal aid, child care, and emergency shelters and supports for victims of violence and abuse.
War vs. women’ s rights
While the Liberals have announced an end to participation in bombing in Syria and Iraq, they are expanding Canadian military personnel in Iraq to provide planning, targeting and intelligence expertise. The size of the “train, advise and assist” mission will triple, pulling Canada deeper into yet another imperialist war.
“Fighting to defend the rights of women” is a frequent rationale for military intervention. But while the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIL are deeply reactionary, such movements are largely a product of the imperialist drive for resources and profits. Prior to western interventions, the status of women in the secular states of Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Iraq was much better than in Saudi Arabia and other regimes backed by Canada.
War has caused a massive world-wide increase in refugees. In Syria alone, over 3 million refugees have fled, and 6.5 million are internally displaced. Women and girls are used as tools of war, kidnapped and raped from Nigeria (by Boko Haram) to Central America (by paramiliitary forces). From the Middle East to Afghanistan to Colombia, wars fuelled by transnational corporations, western powers and local elites waste billions of dollars which could provide education, economic opportunities, clean water, and healthcare, or help grassroots movements achieve human rights, personal security, choice in marriage, and reproductive choice. Environmental devastation particularly impacts women and children, from those near Alberta’s tar sands, to millions living in drought stricken sub-Saharan Africa.
We express full solidarity with the women of Palestine, and our support for the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel’s apartheid policy, which imposes terrible hardships upon the women of Gaza and the West Bank. We condemn the imperialist wars in Iraq and Syria, and the U.S.-backed destabilization of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela.
A united fightback can win
Recent years have seen important struggles by women’s and pro-equality movements. The Fédération des femmes du Québec and the Canadian Labour Congress women’s conferences have helped keep the equality fight alive. The fight continues to defend and improve Quebec’s child care program. But the women’s movement has been deeply wounded by the lack of a truly pan-Canadian voice. Both Liberal and Conservative governments were responsible for the loss of the National Action Committee, which fought for decent jobs, education, child care, and employment insurance.
The re-establishment of an organization to bring together women from labour, youth and students, and Aboriginal and racialized women, and from organizations that fight for legal rights, reproductive rights, disability rights, and child care, would be an important advance.
Working people of all genders and backgrounds need a genuine alternative to corporate greed. Led by the labour movement and its allies, such a People’s Coalition could fight to win sustainable jobs, universal day care, improved social services, and an end to poverty and income disparity.
The Communist Party of Canada demands Full Gender Equality NOW:
– Restore funding for women’s equality programs.
– Close the wage gap – legislate full pay and employment equity.
– No to the TPP and all corporate austerity attacks
– Guarantee accessible and publicly funded abortion and reproductive rights services in every province and territory.
– Establish universal, quality, affordable childcare with Canada-wide standards and union wages for child care workers.
– Protect women’s right to EI maternity coverage; expand parental benefits to 52 weeks.
– Fund equality-seeking women’s groups.
– End all forms of violence against women and provide adequate funding for crisis centres and transition houses.
– Repeal Bill C-36.
But while capitalism survives, it will always generate poverty, inequality, exploitation, environmental degradation and war. These outrages are inherent in a system based on maximizing profit in private hands. Only socialism, based on democratic, collective ownership and working class power, can liberate the enormous creative and productive potential of the people for human needs.
The real alternative for gender equality and human survival is socialism. As the tiny island of Cuba demonstrates, when social equality is a priority, huge advances in the status of women can be achieved at every level.
Since IWD was adopted by a Socialist women’s conference in Copenhagen in 1910, the full participation of women has been essential for the success of working class and democratic movements. A better world is both possible and urgently necessary – the world of socialism, which can guarantee full equality and a future for humanity!