Women, class and revolution

November 9, 2012

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A presentation given by Wellington Branch Member, Kassie Hartendorp on October 9th, 2012.

The general view circulating the Western world is that women have it all. Women’s oppression is a relic of the past; we have independence, freedom and lions (see picture) We forged our way out of the kitchen, paved our path up the career ladder and scaled the ivory tower. There’s no doubt that we’ve made tremendous gains, on the shoulders of our courageous forebears, yet something still doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe it’s that glass ceiling that we find ourselves bumping our heads on in the workplace, it could be the harassment we encounter as we walk through our supposedly reclaimed streets, or the double shift we bear when we come home from work just to start our second unpaid job in the home. Maybe, your life seems pretty swell as an identified, independent woman; free of all of these pesky problems - I can’t speak for each of us individually. But I can point to a wider system of oppression, which continues to exist on a structural level despite our gains, our wins, our slow, but significant triumphs.

What does women’s oppression look like?

So what does the oppression of women look like in 2012? How does it manifest itself? Let me give a bit of background into the larger picture.

While women in the Western world are entering higher education in their droves, education is still an issue for a large number of women worldwide. On a global level, women account for two thirds of the world’s 774 million adult illiterates, with this being unchanged over the past two decades. Women have historically been actively barred from education, with major changes only happening within the past half a century. Even among those in higher education, women are still underrepresented in disciplines that offer the highest paying and highest status jobs.

In terms of work, women now make up a large percentage of the paid labour force in most countries. However, they are notably overrepresented in the lowest paying jobs, with men holding the most wealth, status, power and authority in their occupations. Horizontal and vertical job segregation has contributed to a global gender pay gap, which while is closing in some countries, still remains the same if not worse in others.

While women have increased in their participation in the paid workforce, they are still doing twice the amount of unpaid work as men are in all regions in the United Nations; resulting in a double burden of both paid work and family responsibilities.

According to UN gender reports women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of its food and earn a whopping 10% of its income. And they own just 1 percent of the world’s property.

Women still have little official influence and power when it comes to decision-making. In national parliaments, women make up only 17 percent of the total seats; only 7 of 150 elected Heads of State in the world are women, and 11 of the 192 Heads of Government.

In the private sector, women are beginning to make gains, but still, of the 500 largest corporations in the world, only 13 have a female CEO with many experiencing the glass ceiling that acts as a barrier to women wanting to rise through the ranks.

Statistics also indicate that universally, women are still subjected to violence, on a physical, sexual, psychological, and economic level. Many regions of the world still adhere to customs that beat, mutilate and kill women in ways that are dissimilar to how men are treated. Women are subjected to intimate violence in every single region of the world. In Aotearoa, 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence at the hand of a partner in their lifetime, while the Government continues to provide a lack of funding to offer support to survivors. Rape culture is still a rampant force that acts to blame the victim, rather than the perpetrator, thus refusing to acknowledge the true issue of sexual violence.

According to the UN, “Poor infrastructure and housing conditions as well as natural hazards disproportionately affect women from the less developed regions in terms of unpaid work, health and survival.” More than half of rural households and about a quarter of urban households in sub-Saharan Africa lack easy access to drinking water, with women taking on this burden. In these cases, as Angela Davis says, clean water is literally a feminist issue.

In less developed regions, poverty is often a burden that affects women and girls the hardest, with women having lower proportions of cash income than men. Existing laws still restrict women’s access to land and other types of property in most countries in Africa and about half the countries in Asia.

While Beyonce’s singing that we all run the world, women have next to no control in terms of economic resources. In fact, we don’t even have control over our own bodies most of the time. Access to quality healthcare, abortion and contraception are still a major issue in many regions of the world. The right to abortion on request only exists in 29 percent of the world’s countries, and even among those, there are still rigid requirements for what a woman chooses to do with her body

This is just a snapshot of women’s status in the world today. This probably isn’t news to most of you here, but when we lay it out like this, we can stop thinking of our problems, however ‘first world’ they may seem, as isolated and individual phenomena, but rather underlying threads of a wider structural issue that permeates the far reaches of the globe, albeit in different ways.  Read the rest of this entry »


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