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Sexism - a product of capitalism
A National Union of Students (NUS) 'Hidden Marks' survey showed that one in seven female students had been the victim of serious sexual assault or serious physical violence while at university or college. Other research shows that approximately 80,000 women suffer rape and attempted rape every year in the UK.
Sexual violence affects women (and men) of all backgrounds and ethnicities. It is perpetrated by a minority of men of all backgrounds and identities. It is widespread and embedded in capitalist society. Working class women suffer sexism in addition to the oppression that all working class people face.
Sexuality is distorted by pornography which is more and more accessible, and at younger ages; male and female sexual stereotypes are foisted on us from birth; and women's bodies are objectified and used everywhere to 'entertain' and sell products.
Men who are sexually violent need to take responsibility for the role they play as perpetrators. But we can't, however, get rid of sexual violence just by punishing individuals.
Sexual violence against women is a product of capitalist society where people are conditioned to see women as inferior and to see women's bodies as commodities or objects and separate from their humanity.
Sexism aids the capitalist system. The family provides a base for the reproduction and bringing up of future workers and the servicing and care of current (and unemployed) workers and retired workers.
This work which, in the home, is usually carried out unpaid by women (who may also work outside the home) saves capitalism millions of pounds, increasing the profits of a few.
Women also disproportionately suffer the impact of austerity. As women's unemployment increases, new employment regulations undermine job security, and benefits are reduced, cuts to women's services continue and the support for victims of violence and existing safety measures are at risk.
But, as for example on the public sector strikes of 2011, women will enter the struggle in huge numbers. Mass united struggles of the working class can win victories.
But a genuine and permanent end to women's oppression, including rape, is only possible after fundamental changes in the way society is structured. This requires a conscious movement of the working class, women and men, and drawing in the middle class, to get rid of the current system based on exploitation, class privilege and inequality.
What action programme to combat sexism should we as socialists put forward? Here are some suggestions:
- An independent investigation into the response of the police to sexual violence, with involvement of the trade unions and women's campaigns
- A campaign against sexual violence and sexual exploitation of women, with trade unions at the centre, which raises awareness; encourages reporting; demands confidential reporting centres; monitors cuts; and campaigns on a national level against every cut and reform which increases women's risk of sexual violence
- Investment to ensure the Home Office meets its commitment to provide a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in every police force area as a start to building up the services required
- No cuts to support services on campuses. Invest in lighting and other safety measures. For student unions to campaign to raise awareness and challenge sexism
- For a full programme of sex and relationship education in schools, that debunks myths about rape
- No to all cuts in jobs, services, benefits and pensions. Build a mass struggle in opposition to austerity, with a 24-hour general strike as the next major step after the 20 October TUC demo
The personal is political
The Campaign Against Domestic Violence, initiated by the Socialist Party's precursor, Militant Labour, in 1991, showed how a 'women's issue' was an issue for the labour movement. The campaign, which united trade unions, women's groups, community groups and individuals, aimed to educate about why domestic violence happened and show how it could be taken up as an issue in trade unions and local authorities, for users of services and for employees experiencing domestic violence in the home.
The campaign put forward concrete demands for workers and users of public services, but also raised the political perspective of changing society to end inequality and oppression.
In The Socialist 19 September 2012:
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