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Confronting violence against women

Faline Bobier

February 13, 2013

The austerity agenda is sharpening women’s oppression, but a new generation is rising to challenge it—from Toronto, to Dublin, to Delhi.
In January 2011, a Toronto police officer said "women should avoid dressing like sluts” in order to avoid sexual assault. In response, women organized a Slutwalk, which spread around the world, stating, "We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.” While there were debates about an anti-sexist campaign using the term “slut,” the massive outburst around the world showed the desire to fight rampant sexism.
Last October, sexist bullying in BC drove grade 10 student Amanda Todd to suicide, which she explained in a youtube video. On October 19 there were vigils across Canada and around the world to remember Todd and other victims of bullying. In the same month there were a series of sexual assaults of women in the west end of Toronto, sparking neighbourhood vigils.
The same month in Ireland, Savita Halappanavar went to a hospital with a miscarriage, and died a week later after being repeatedly denied an abortion—according to Ireland’s draconian law. Her death sparked mass protests across the country, including 15,000 marching on the Irish Parliament in Dublin. Like Canada, Ireland criminalized abortion in the 1860s, as part of capitalism’s control over women’s bodies in order to enforce the nuclear family. Whereas a mass movement smashed the law in Canada in the 1980s, Ireland only minimally tweaked the law in 1992. Savita’s death 20 years later shows the need to reverse all abortion laws and other barriers, in order to achieve the slogan at her vigils: never again.
In December, the brutal rape and death of a young woman on a bus in India sparked mass protests. As Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association wrote, “Sexual violence is often used as a way of imposing discipline on women. But ‘protection’ from sexual violence most commonly takes the form of restrictions imposed on women—curfews, dress codes, restrictions on mobility. The outrage over the events in Delhi is welcome. The struggle for justice should also include those raped by the police or raped because of their caste or religion. The Delhi police and chief minister, beleaguered by the popular outrage, are taking the familiar route of projecting an “external enemy”—the migrant worker. And others are trying to channel the anger against sexual violence into class hatred for the migrant poor. It is all too easy to forget that rapists in more than 90 percent cases are fathers, brothers, uncles, neighbours. They are people the victim has known, trusted, and been expected to respect and obey.”
The hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women shows that violence against indigenous women is also a strategy of the Canadian state. But in December the Idle No More movement began, led by indigenous women and uniting indigenous and non-indigenous people in a movement for indigenous sovereignty and justice.
The fight for women’s liberation 
That these manifestations of violence against women—slut-shaming, sexist bullying, denial of reproductive choice, rape, and state violence against indigenous women—are abhorrent and that we need to build a fight back against this kind of violence goes without saying. The responses to this violence by both women and men in many countries—Ireland, India, Canada—have been inspiring and hopeful. The reality of violence against women and the continuing oppression of women and girls—that expresses itself in terms of income differentials, job opportunities or lack thereof, body image, freedom to dress as one likes and to express oneself, the right to reproductive freedom, to choose to have or not to have children and the economic conditions that allow these to be real choices—is part and parcel of the system we live under, where even reforms are constantly under threat.
The backlash against feminism (the men’s rights movement, which is an attempt to trivialize and roll back real gains that women have made) must be opposed wherever it rears its ugly head. It has nothing to do with rights, but is about consolidating and deepening the inequality between men and women. It also has nothing to offer the vast majority of men in society.
There is a proud Marxist tradition on the question of the fight for women’s liberation that sees the struggle for socialism and the struggle for women’s liberation as one struggle—which has been a feature of revolutions from Russia 1917 to Egypt 2011.There can be no socialism without women’s liberation and there can be no women’s liberation without socialism.
Why is this? Because the continuing oppression of women is essential to the survival of capitalism. Especially now, in times of economic crisis, it’s more important than ever for the 1% to push all the tasks of caring for the next generation and the older generation onto the private family—and especially onto women within those families. So, whether or not we live in traditional families, our choices as women (and men) are limited by the narrative of the nuclear family and by the real material limits placed on us by the system. Not only must we pay for the economic crisis, but the whole ideology of sexism, which to paraphrase Marx, is trumpeted by all forms of media and the education system, perpetuates women’s oppression and the division of the sexes, and weakens our fightback, both collectively in the workplace and in the movements against exploitation and oppression.
But there are signs of a new generation of women (and men) radicalizing around many issues, including that of gender oppression. February 14 will be One Billion Rising, an event begun by Vagina Monologues author Eve Ensler—which in the context of different fightbacks has spread around the world. In Canada this coincides with the two decade-long campaign for justice for missing and murdered aboriginal women—which has been given added prominence by Idle No More.
On February 14 join the Women’s Memorial March, and on March 9 join International Women’s Day: fires are burning, we are rising!

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