BY BIODUN OLAMOSU
In dedication to International Women’s Day.
The question of women oppression in general and violence against women at work in particular has attracted debates for a long time before now across the world, but it seems to me that the problem has refused to leave just like the issue of witchcraft that remains to be discussed in society and anthropology studies up to date.
Trade unions have come a long way in defending the best interest of their members including workers’ conditions of service, collective bargaining, pension, health and safety etc and in alliance with other democratic forces to pursue broader interest for the working women and men; and other poor strata of society. Just as the organization is duty bound to pursue this traditional goals, it also has the challenge not to relent in its effort to eliminate violence against women in all ramification.
Political Economy of Women Underdevelopment
The main source of violence against working women can best be located in the system of capitalism that unleashes untold hardship on the people through various anti-workers-women policies. This has become aggravated today under the neo-liberalist regimes with policies of privatization, commercialization and liberalization forced on the working people by the capitalist regimes including domestic and their foreign counterparts under the guidance of multilateral institutions – International Monetary Fund, World Bank and World Trade Organization. This is responsible for how much of the resources of the societies are being plundered by the ruling class nationally and internationally through trade on unequal relationships. The system is culpable for causing unemployment, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, hunger, high maternal mortality and infrastructural decay like dearth of electricity power supply, water, bad roads and transportation (rail) system etc in the country. There is no doubt that in the country for instance, enough resources are allocated to the different sectors, but much of these end up under the transaction of corruption by the ruling elite. The violence orchestrated by the system takes different forms. It takes place at the level of individuals, corporate bodies, government or the state, the imperialist and multinational corporations. The highest form of this violence can be located in the recent period within the unjust wars by America against Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and her support for Israel against Palestine.
It is a fact of reality that half of the world population comprises of women and out of the 2.9 billion workers, women are 1.2 billion of these. They represent 60 percent of the world’s working poor people with 81.8 million unemployed. They are engaged in work for two-third of the total hours of the day. They earn 10 percent of the world income and 20-30 percent less than working men; whereas they own less than 1 percent of the world wealth. This is responsible for the reason 70 percent of women are below poverty line of less than $1 per day. Working women are commonly found in the bottom of the occupational hierarchy, much of them are low paid, lower working status and unsafe working conditions especially engaged in informal sector – unorganized, without formal contract and casual/daily labour. In this period of neo-liberal globalization, 50 percent of migrants are women seeking for employment in the developed capitalist countries in the West through child trafficking of girls of 7 – 14 years old majority of who are engage in sex work. These precarious situations made a writer to state that “poverty is increasingly feminized.”
Forms of Violence against Women
Violence against women unfold itself in different ways as it takes place at work, home, school, media, religious institutions, on the street etc. This include the followings: basic problems of inequality, discrimination as regards wage – low wage, not a few being denied employment, lack of promotion as at when due, dearth of motivation or not being sent on course; dismissals and technical qualifications, rights to work, overtime work (without pay). Discrimination could be by the law and/or policy of the state. For instance, women in the public service pay more tax than her spouse and if they are both in the same public service the woman is to forfeit housing allowance if her husband lives in official government quarters; hostile working conditions is paramount as she works as a minority and isolated; many banks operate a policy (written or unwritten) that one of the spouse must give up employment for the other and until recently they also employ young ladies as marketers purposely to attract and seduce men in any way possible to join the list of their (hybrid) customers;. Sexual harassment by bosses is also a common phenomenon in the work places; intimidation of women at work; cases of inducement to engage in illicit practices with women at work; incidences of rapping (attempt). Despite trade union campaigns over the years for the employer to provide childcare facilities nearer to the workplace for their employees needs, only few employers have responded to this.
Discrimination at the family level whereby women are burden and limited to household work and childcare; the prevailing culture and religions – Christianity, Islam and traditional that perceive women as subordinate group to their men folks and for this reason they are at disadvantage on the roles to play in society; for instance, they do not have right to inherit properties of either the father or spouse. They are being looked down upon by different strata of the society; considered as sexual object and this is responsible for the reason commercial institutions, media houses prefer using sexy female image for advertising their products; pornography is also a common phenomenon in the media; cases of men battering their wives, negligence of responsibilities towards children and wife, the practise of polygamous family still common.
ROOT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
The biologist-functionalist school of thought in anthropology and sociology trace the root of women oppression to a natural cause of the division in the roles played by men and women in society or family. According to this school of thought, this practice is believed to be dated back to the beginning of human existence in the period of hunting and gathering society. To this school of thought, woman role is in the kitchen to take care of children and the family to perform such role (expressive) as socialization of the young and the stabilization of adult personalities. The role (instrumental) of man according to Talcott Parson that personifies this school of thought is that of public life that caused him stress and tension. For these different roles the subordination of woman to man commenced and man has since been perceived as dominant in hierarchical and stratification ranking in society.
This theory form the theoretical basis for the successive feminist’s movement that emerged or erupted in USA, Britain, France and the entire Europe; that later spread to other places in Australia, Asia, Latin America and Africa. The movement that can be categorized as the second wave of women liberation movement in history engaged in debates that cover varied issues such as patriarchy, violence against women, sexuality, etc. It is significant to note that the struggle in this regard commanded huge supports and mass following of millions of people on the streets.
Actions of this kind against women oppression in the 1960’s and early 1970’s were not isolated cases in class struggle. There were also other forms of struggle involving different social groups such as students and civil rights movements against the system and these equally attracted mass support. Such fighting back against the system as these that cannot be traced to the economic crisis were (are) not unusual without being provoked by economic crisis. This is a clear indication that changes may come about at other times not necessarily only when there is in existence economic crisis which is often noticeable when the capitalist class is affected; but also when the poor are at disadvantage in the allocation or distribution of resources.
Marxists on their own part believe that women oppression is just one of the forms of oppression brought about by the system of capitalism. This is along the materialist perspective of understanding society. They equally share the common believe that the second generation of women activists, popularly refer to as feminists was a setback in comparison to the first generation of internationalist women activists in the 19th century up to early 20th century. This category of women activists was also ideological; some of them were leading members of various workers parties. They were in the forefront of the struggle for adult suffrage that championed the right of women to vote without such imposed condition as ownership of properties. They also see their struggle as part of the international working class. This is the very reason the generation played a leading and recognizable role in the struggle to emancipate the working class women and men which successfully culminated into socialist revolution in 1917 in Russia; as Revolution is the self-emancipation of the working class into the arena of social transformation of society. Revolutionary socialists like Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai and Rosa Luxembourg to mention but a few are leading light among women activists of the period.
This made Eleanor Leacock to refute earlier assumptions of the orthodox anthropologists that favour patriarchy without historical analysis of the societies so studied. The bias in their studies are also exposed as they did not study autonomous gatherer–hunters horticulturalists societies but ones that were already contaminated or influenced by relations of capitalism; in which its originality must have been made difficult to still be retained in its real and natural form. In her view therefore there is nothing natural in the origin of the women subordination, the phenomenon, she is able to locate as studies revealed: (in) “some parts of the world millennia ago: (that) was unfolding in other parts of the world at the time of European exploration and conquest; and it has been developing in yet others in the context of Western colonialism and imperialism”.
Engels in his famous thesis (book): “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” laid the materialist position of Marxism on this issue. The book acknowledges the earlier anthropological study and data provided by Morgan that forms the substantial material base of his work. Engels made it known that the plight of women started with the development of productive relations which made it possible to achieve surplus over immediate needs of the family and that this was as a result of evolution in the practice of cultivation of crops (plants) and rearing of animals achieved in agriculture over earlier practice of wandering around by the early human looking for food from natural source. When this practice was stabilized, the question of food needs (plant and meat) became settled and this brought about the question of permanent settlement while the hitherto practice of wandering around became a thing of the past.
It was in the course of this practice that instrument of labour was developed which led to maximizing production. Meanwhile, life became more comfortable for the human living in groups and this was responsible for the tendency to increase the number of child bearing unlike hitherto period when this was made difficult. At a point, there was boom in the production over what the family may required to live on in the immediate period. This literally means that for reason of production not being meant to be totally consumed as certain portions were to be reserved for the purpose of accumulation i.e. re-invested into further production. This brought competition in such formative communities. Such process invariably brought in the practice of division of labour within the family whereby women were restricted to household work and to take care of the children and men turned round to be the breadwinner.
It must be understood that this process was not a straight jacket thing as life does not occur only on a straight line manner but also with its own curves, ups and downs. For instance, it is worth being noted that the economic relations in the community that was geared towards individualism and private property made it possible for some people to have an advantage over others. At a time, war took place for the ruling class to take possession of land and at another period, they wage war for the purpose of the booty – properties and slaves. Typical of this state of sanguinary was the case of India America natives that earlier populated America but exterminated so that the present settlers (whites from Europe) could take possession of the place.
So, while it is reasonable to trace the origin of women oppression to this historical root of oppression in general; the same was also the case in respect to the rest of humans that are exploited and oppressed across the world. This takes the form of men working for other men without commensurate compensation for the full labour input contributed by them. The pathetic situation of the women at this stage of human history is that her labour to take care of the home front was not considered and therefore left unaccounted for. So the man was seen as the head of the family and bread winner and regarded as rendering favour to the wife and other members of the family as they depended on him probably alone. This is the very reason it is not correct to interpret this situation of some privileged men as the rule of men – patriarchy as it is still being described up to the present time by feminist activists because men are also involved in no less magnitude in the chain of the exploitation process as victims being exploited. At best, exploitation at the domestic level could be categorised as a form of exploitation out of many.
The submission here is that oppression of women just like the exploitation of man by man started with the emergence of class system through slavery, feudalism and up to the present capitalist system. While there were avalanche of evidences of egalitarianism in the various pre-class societies studied, the situation in such typical pre-capitalist or pre-class societies were presumed to be largely underdeveloped in comparison with the situation later under a capitalist system. What then is the situation like in a capitalist society that is more developed?
Violence against Women under Capitalism
Capitalism as a system that has revolutionized all areas of human endeavour especially science and technology made possible the players of the system at the global stage to compete favourably at the market place. There is also an assumption of capitalism at the age of imperialism having finance and industrial capitalists fussing together thereby made easier the movement of finance transferable across the globe without hindrance or limitation of any national boundary.
When capitalism came on board, though a system of appropriation of resources by minority class in society but with enormous power at its disposal; it has no other interest in relation to all the institutions it inherited from feudalism than how to make use of these in the best way possible to enhance the achievement of its profit objective. The family inherited from the pre-capitalist mode of production by capitalists was nearly eroded with the advent of industrial revolution that engaged both men and women of the family.
Taking into consideration that at such period, the conditions of workers as depicted in Engels classical work: “The Condition of Working Class in England” was vey terrible, appalling and inhuman. There were serious child abuse and women abuse too. For instance, there was nothing like maternity leave. Some of the working class ladies delivered in the factory floors while some have to abandon work fur this purpose just a day before delivery. And when this happened they were to be fired. Health challenges at the time were also enormous. This is to show that capitalism knows nothing about morality. Whereas the work was very dear to the working class women as men; some would have preferred to retain their job and loose the baby if abortion was permissible at the time.
This inform the reason, as contained in the Communist Manifesto written by Marx and Engels for the International Workingmen Association, the issue of free education for the children of the workers and demand to put an end to child labour formed part of the demands of the organization.
When it suits the capitalists, they changed position and discarded employing women, with false ideological position to justify keeping women within the confine of home to take care of the family – look after the children and the bread winner. Women were able to compare their situation when they worked in the factories and when they were kept at home. The generations in the later circumstance were worse for it. And this possibly informed the blanket condemnation of the whole men folk even when they know full well that the working men are also exploited class in capitalist society. It is believed by them that it is better to get something however small rather than not getting anything at all, that is to say, “half bread is better than none”. For this reason, the working class men are regarded as part of the privileged people in society. Though, it is very difficult to accept this position, but sometimes especially for isolation on the part of the women at home, workers could be so described in such way because at the point of boom, they were partaker of the crumbs coming from such boom whereas the capitalist as foxy as they were get back this during the subsequent economic downturn.
As a matter of fact, from the point of view of workers perspective, keeping women at home is a set back to the movement and the struggle against capitalism because apart from the pecuniary interest, the participation of working class women would have been an added advantage to the struggle and they would have also been exposed to the world of work especially on matter that relates to workers’ politics which is of vital importance on the future agenda of transforming society by no other than the working class.
It is very clear both in theory and practice that the institution of family in society has been structured for the purpose of reproducing generations of workers that will replace the old working class men and women at their places of work so that capitalism can be successively serviced by the working class family. It is therefore an orchestrated plan by the system to make sure that the poor working class family are perpetually made to remain in serving them.
Further evidence to justify such domination is the fact that during the First and Second World Wars, women held the fort at the factories for the men that were on war fronts, but when the war ended, such women were made to abandon such positions occupied by them. From this analysis, the structure of the working class family is seen to be a deliberate policy of the ruling class that refuse to pay for this role that the family is rendering to it and at the same time such institution also serve the purpose of the capitalist because the women do not have time to participate in the struggle of the working class of which they are members.
The struggle to Fight Back Violence Against Women
There are avalanche of data to buttress the fact that a lot have been achieved in the cause of the struggle against women oppression in the country and internationally. Though there are still much to be covered especially when we realize that the female sex accounted for 50 percent or more of the population in many countries of the world. But when compared to where they are coming from, progress has been achieved most importantly in the area of awareness, publicity and education against women oppression. There have also been great shift in the number of working class women today than ever before. Educational opportunities to the female sex has improved geometrically than in the past and this has been responsible for a corresponding achievements being observed in many areas of women development. Hardly there is any profession that there are no women at the top today. Many countries and organisations have also accepted the idea of true representation of women in all institutions; as the Beijing declaration agreed that one-third of elected posts for women in legislative bodies should be reserved for women. As good as this policy is, it is yet to be translated to practical reality. Nevertheless, the ruling class has increased women representation both at the legislative bodies and the executive arms of the government but this is still far cry from expectation. On the other hand many of the policies to fight women oppression like the Anti-Discrimination Act is being hindered by logic of the system itself that is bedevilled with cyclical crisis resulting to huge number of unemployment from time to time.
It is poignant to state that what has been achieved so far is born out of the pressure, awareness and consciousness of women organisations, class fighters and trade unionists in the struggle. There have been debates over the years on how to pursue the struggle against such oppression. In the country as we have many women organisations that are preoccupied with women empowerment, gender equality against gender stereotypes. The irony of this reformist approach by such middle class elite – the feminist group is to get some concessions from the ruling class but experience have shown that the elite group are often the beneficiaries of such reform, either individually or as a group. For instance, beyond psychological self-esteem, the ministry of women affairs and the earlier commission established to cater for the best interest of women are nowhere to be found in catering for the interest of the down trodden women except for that of the elite. The agenda of the elite women feminist is reformism aims to make certain gain instead of looking forward to how the problem of women oppression can be eliminated on a permanent basis. In their view they believe that women should unite despite class division among them i.e. the unity of the privileged few women elite on the one hand with that of the working women and other poor women on the other hand; rather than the unity among the working men and their women counterparts. This position is preposterous and is capable of dividing the class solidarity among the working class (men and women) that becomes necessary to fight against capitalist hegemony.
Women Struggle beyond Reformism
Working class as a group of workers emerged in the industrial enterprises of the capitalists in the 19th century and depend entirely on the wage paid as compensation for the labour services so rendered. Subsequently the class has been able to organize into trade unions, socialist organizations, cooperatives, mutual societies to struggle and challenge capitalist system for better conditions of service and other interest that may be social, political, cultural, economic and psychological.
Since the inception of capitalist rule, there have been cases of class struggle between capitalist on the one hand, as exemplified by the state, employer, ideological institutions – church, mosque, media, schools, culture, courts and the working class on the other hand. This has sometimes reached the peak leading to revolution (Russia in 1917) and war (Spain 1930’s) in some countries.
Trade union is today a recognizable institution worldwide to champion the best interest of the working class. But it must be recognized that trade union comprise of various existing tendencies within labour movement but one thing that is common to all the tendencies is to recognize the working class as the vanguard of the poor people world-wide that is capable of changing and transforming society in order to emancipate the working class and other oppressed people from the shackles of exploitation and oppression so as to put an end to class rule. This is not just the wish of the class, but history in this epoch has put on its lapse such task as it is the only force that is capable of doing this. This is because of the position it occupies in the industrial capitalist structure of society today that cannot function without the workers.
There is no denying the fact that women oppression in terms of male chauvinism, stereotype, discrimination, intimidation, sexual harassment, cultural attitude against women etc are real but these are adjuncts of exploitative system that started in history in forcing women to do domestic work in the family setting; but capitalist system on accepting such family structure, provided ideological justification for this in its own image in order to carry out such oppression in a more intensified manner and justified this ideologically.
The point is: can women fight this cause on their own and put an end to women oppression like violence against women? I will like to answer this question in the negative. Experiences of the women’s movement have confirm that with the struggle, certain tokenism can be achieved in arithmetic progression but this is significantly far from fundamental change needed to resolve the problem fully and permanently. And this can only be achieved by putting an end to capitalism. For this reason, there is that need to work with the working class at the level of united front as platform of the struggle to wage class war against capitalism.
It must be understood that what the struggle against women oppression requires is to put an end to capitalism; which the reformist tendency is not ready to do. So, such idea cannot achieve the desired result for the working class women. For this reason we have to go back to the basics and learn from the approach of the first generation of internationalist women fighters of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Clara Zetkin for instance, as far back as 1896 proposed the annual celebration of the International Women Day and ironically the February 1917 revolution in Russia started with the demonstration by the international working women. With revolution the problems as related to women oppression and that of the working class in general would have been immediately half-solved. The achievement of the revolution in Russia in 1917 in this regard under V.I. Lenin was exemplary and this made Lenin to confirm as much when he says: “In the course of two years, Soviet power in one of the most backward countries of Europe did more to emancipate women and to make their status equal to that of the “strong” sex than all the advanced enlightenment, “democratic” republics of the world did in the course of 130 years”.
The Socialist-Feminists has made the issue of Stalinist usurpation of power in the former Soviet Union that also carried out policies in support of women oppression, as reason for renouncing socialist revolutionary movement as capable of achieving the transformation of society that can end capitalism and violence against women. This claim cannot be justified because Stalinism for genuine socialist is an epigone of history that threw back history but only proclaims socialism while the policy being pursued by it had been state capitalism as far back as 1928 until recently when it further degenerated to join the league of neo-liberal capitalists world-wide.
Also such socialist-feminist tendency is opportunistic for advancing socialist arguments in their campaigns and programmes but refused to accept socialist when it comes to organizational tactics and strategy of the struggle. This can be likened to the case of tendency that wants trade union work to be abandoned on the basis of the opportunists and bureaucrats in the movement. This position is innocuous because the tendency is expected to have been acquainted itself with the history of what transpired in Russia and they ought to also know that Stalinist did not only betray the course of women but that of the working class as a whole. The problem of women oppression can therefore be fought with the support of the international working class for the purpose of ending capitalism and this is a sure guarantee of terminating all forms of exploitation and oppression associated with the system.
Trade Union in Fighting Violence Against Women
Violence against women as identified in this article could be in the work place, at home or the society at large. Violence against women is treated from the perspective of how it concerns the whole oppression against women. What follows herein are suggestions to map out concrete ways to fight this form of oppression in the work place by trade unions:
- First and foremost, the trade unions must recognize as part of its inalienable roles to fight against any form of abuse such as violence against women at work place or anywhere by anybody, organization, employer and/or the state.
- The approach of the struggle must include workers revolutionary traditions of mass strike. It must be understood that it is to the glory of the capitalist to divide workers along sexuality, gender, race and religion but such division can be overcome by such joint activities of the workers to fight against different form of oppression and exploitation together.
- Apart from the effect such mass action will have against the boss, state or the employer that is the focus of attack, such collective activities of the working class will go a long way to encourage and arouse the psychology of other workers locally and internationally.
- Trade Unions should start to embark on such workers traditions of documentation, so that such facts as to the various laws that compromise workers interest can be readily sorted out. In the same way, various employers’ policies along this line should be compiled. Typical of this is the Trade Unions Act that still has in its provisions that prevents workers to be involved in politics. NLC and TUC should have mobilized against this by now.
- Perpetrators of such anti-women behaviour in the work place should be exposed. This should not be approached on individual basis but collectively and it should be well planned.
- To create alliances and close relations with labour-oriented women organizations both nationally and internationally in activities of mutual interest, because they also have a lot to learn by such cooperation.
- We should not hesitate to internationalize such struggle if we find it necessary.
- It is when action of this nature is well publicized that other potential offenders in other places would be able to check themselves before they are exposed.
- To develop trade union skills and training programs on gender equality at the workplace.
- To enhance the protection and expanding the rights of working women so as to effect legal frameworks, policies, activities and campaigns at the national level.
- To strengthen the capacity of trade unions on gender issues to be included in their collective bargaining, dialogue and trade union policies.
- To raise consciousness of working women about their legitimate rights and help them to fight for such rights, including legal assistance when presenting claims on violations of the rights.
- To promote the ratification and implementation of labour standards relevant to gender equality, particularly the No. 100 on equal remuneration, No. 111 on non-discrimination in employment and occupation, No. 156 on workers with family responsibilities, No. 183 on maternity protection, and convention on home based workers and other conventions.
- To promote the occupational health and safety measures for the women workers.
- To struggle for increase of women’s participation in trade unions, and also their elections as trade union leaders.
- The unions to have gender equality as one of the subject in Trade Union education program
- The unions to involve women trade union leaders also in negotiations at various levels.
- This should be extended to women in informal sector that need to be organized.
- To develop campaigns for equal pay, equality of gender in workplace in society.
- To engage in internet networking with working women and union members for further exchange of information, experiences and initiatives.
- To organize working women’s conference, locally and nationally so as to provide avenue for hearing the concerns of members and for trade unions to adopt concrete policies, actions and results on gender equality.
- To increase solidarity actions in strengthening the struggles of various trade unions and groups for women workers’ rights.
- To fight against child labour and work for its elimination.
- To publicize activities of the working women in the official organ of the trade union.
- To fight for full employment, dignified wages, decent work and the right to education and health.
- To end making domestic work the sole responsibilities of women and that man should also be ready to share this with their spouse.
- To work with other working class forces that believe in putting an end to the system of capitalism