August 2014        

Time for women to get back to activism

Speaking at a seminar of communist and workers’ parties on the role of communists in the struggle for the parity and emancipation of women in Brussels in March 2010, Lynda Walker, national chairperson of the Communist Party of Ireland, said: “In the struggle for parity, for women’s emancipation and for socialism we understand the reactionary role that the European Union is playing and the role of British imperialism.
     “The European Union is the driving force behind the anti-people and anti-worker policies now being imposed to secure the interests of monopoly capitalism. In an era when control of the world’s natural resources and threats to the environment are becoming more vital, we as communists have to look at how women’s lives are affected and the contribution women can make to helping to change the world.”
     The EU has failed to live up to the equality agenda, and its attitude towards women is steeped in the Victorian era. In early July this year the EU Commission decided in its wisdom that the Maternity Leave Directive, which was adopted by the EU Parliament in 2010, should be shelved as part of its “REFIT” agenda. The directive has been withdrawn entirely by the Commission, in a decision taken behind closed doors on 15 July in Brussels. The Commission has effectually buried the proposal under the guise of its REFIT agenda for slimming down legislation.
     Over the past four years certain member-states consistently blocked the directive, which aimed to guarantee working women throughout the EU paid maternity leave for twenty weeks, as well as to make sure women are protected after they return to work.
     The idea that maternity leave is being sacrificed to the REFIT agenda because it is not efficient is an affront to the rights of women everywhere. Maternity rights are part of the equality agenda. The reconciliation of work and family life is still a concern for many working people, and this directive provided part of the support that families need. Strengthening maternity rights is just one way to combat the ageing societies that we are now faced with all over Europe.
     When presenting a paper titled “Women and the European Union” to the Desmond Greaves Summer School in 2009, Deirdre Uí Bhrógáin of the National Executive Committee of the CPI said:
It is frequently stated that women were ‘given’ equal rights by the European Union—with some credit going to the women’s movement of the 1970s. But attaining equal rights is only the first part of the struggle for women’s actual rights, because for women to have fulfilled lives they have to fight, together with men, for decent wages, housing, education, and health services. We must not fall into the trap of assessing EU policies for women solely on the basis of equality, on which it has placed so much emphasis.
     The struggle for women’s rights has a long history. In the first part of the twentieth century the women’s movement displayed extraordinary will, encompassing not only the struggle for women’s rights but also the fight against fascism in Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece and, in other countries, defence against fascist invasion. So important was women’s contribution that the post-war constitutions of the former fascist countries, with the exception of West Germany, contained measures for equality for women from the beginning, though many were later removed by conservative governments.
      Later in what was and still is a fascinating paper, which gives an insight all too typical of women in the communist movement, she said:
The European Union is an aggressive, militarised imperialist bloc, the largest exporter of armaments in the world, which serves the interests of transnational corporations and monopolies. It obtains its wealth from workers’ increased productivity while impoverishing women. Women, who have traditionally opposed war, must rally to oppose the increasing militarisation of the European Union and also to organise to prevent it grabbing the land, water and mineral resources of other countries.
     We must think beyond the narrow claims of gains in one area and recognise that they are indirectly removed in another. We need universal, collective political action against the transnational monopolies that are directing EU policies and that are responsible for the disaster now overtaking the planet.
     Amy Elman, writing in 2002 about women and the European Union, says:
State and EU action is taken to increase legitimacy much as corporate sponsorship is an investment in future profit.
     Such acts are not movement actions determined to liberate women: they are marketing tools. The extent to which the public perceives that sexual equality has progressed and credits Europe with this success, the acts are wise investments—whether or not the product is compassion without the effort taken so that it is not needed.     Women continue to earn 16 per cent on average less than men, and it is often at the moment of childbirth that the gender pay gap kicks in, with lifelong, often irreversible consequences, including the fact that women receive on average 40 per cent less pension than men.
     Despite existing laws that protect pregnant workers, we know that more and more women today are experiencing discrimination in the work-place as a direct result of pregnancy or birth.
     This is why it is urgent to strengthen the rights and protection of women during pregnancy and on return to work. As Johanna Maycock of the European Women’s Lobby stated, “it is unacceptable that measures to protect women’s rights are part of a trade-off to cut red tape: women’s rights are not red tape.”
     It is time now for the women of Ireland and the EU—helped by their men comrades—to get back into the mode of head-on activism and to ensure that they don’t become the gatekeepers of certain NGOs and other groups within the EU that are not promoting equal rights but merely keeping women back!

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