Still a Long Struggle Ahead for Women and the Oppressed

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

MANILA - It has been a century since over 100 women from 17 countries representing unions, socialist and communist parties, working women's clubs, and the first women elected to the Finnish parliament gathered in Copenhagen for the second International Conference of Working Women and declared International Women's Day. Next year would mark the 100th year of the first International Women's Day commemoration when more than a million women and men held simultaneous rallies in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland to campaign for women's right to work, vote, be trained, and to hold public office, and for an end to discrimination.

Likewise, it has been 93 years since Russian women went on strike to demand for "bread and peace". Four days into the strike, the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional government granted Russian women the right to vote.

Since the emergence of the working women's movement and the commemoration of International Women's Day, women all over the world have won their right to vote and to hold public office. Women have, since then, been organizing themselves in unions, political parties, mass organizations, and associations. The women's movement, which was started by women workers, has now branched out to other sectors and classes as well such as peasant women, youth and students, professionals, among others. Feminist movements that focus on the oppression of women by men have emerged from among the middle class.

It is no longer a rarity to see women heads of state and those holding key positions in parliaments and governments. Laws and policies to protect women from rape, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and other forms of violence against women have been passed. Likewise, there are already laws and policies aimed at ending discrimination against women.

But why is it that cases of rape and other forms of sexual violence against women are still being committed? Why is it that despite laws and policies addressing discrimination against women, working women are still being paid less than their male counterparts? Why does the work of women from some sectors such as agriculture remain unpaid and unrecognized? Why is it that the problem of multiple burden - juggling between jobs, household chores, and taking care of the children - is still being shouldered by women?

Why are we still witness to women political prisoners being raped and sexually harassed? Why do we still see women migrants being made to work in slave-like conditions, being raped and sent home worse off than when they left to work abroad? Why do we hear of women workers being sexually harassed and attacked?

It is because while the formal rights of women such as the right to vote and hold office as well as the right to equal protection before the law have been institutionalized, the most basic rights of women such as the right to work and a decent living, and freedom from all forms of oppression and exploitation have not yet been realized.

Women suffer most during crisis and in backward, agricultural countries. They are forced to accept the most menial and drudging jobs in factories and are made to replace men to effect a cut in wages. Their labor in farms are considered as part of family labor so as to lessen the share that is supposed to accrue to the peasant family. They are made to perform domestic work for families of landlords for free and for other members of the elite for a pittance. They are being exposed to the most vulnerable jobs and work conditions.

Women are being commodified in capitalist countries and made as slaves in backward, agricultural countries. Women are the ones being pimped by governments of backward, agricultural countries to serve as slaves of more affluent countries.

To perpetuate their subjugation, culture and violence are being used against them. Women are being made to believe that they should submit to the authority of the ruling elite, the family and to their husband. To break their will and fighting spirit, women are subjected to rape and sexual violence by landlords and their private armies, capitalists and their security forces, the state and its agents. All of these are being committed to perpetuate an oppressive and exploitative system that victimizes not only women but all oppressed classes, sectors, peoples, and groups as well.

International Women's Day and the women's movement was begun and underpinned by working women from all over the world. It is also this movement of working women fighting for social emancipation in unity with all oppressed classes, sectors, peoples and groups who would finally bring down the structures and system of oppression and exploitation in the national and international levels. It is still a long, hard, struggle ahead. (