This is a post to mark International Women’s Day. Join the International Women’s Week and Mothering Sunday Mothers’ March this Sunday:
Today is International Women’s Day. For one hundred years, women and men all over the world,
from Germany to Ghana, from Uganda to the UK, have used the 8th of March to celebrate the
achievements of women past, present, and future. Historically this day has also been a time for
feminists and all those who believe in gender equality to consider the challenges and struggles we still face. This year certainly gives us pause for thought.
The history of the struggle for gender equality in the UK, and the rise of the welfare state are bound together. Just as campaigners for gender equality helped bring about the creation and
expansion of the welfare state, the position of women in our society has improved because of it. The government’s unprecedented and unjustified attacks on the state inevitably therefore have a disproportionate impact on women.
The government insist that ‘we’re all in it together’ and that the distribution of the cuts will be ‘fair’. This is simply not true. They choose to focus the cuts on people who are already the most vulnerable in our society, on those who already face structural and historical disadvantages. The government may have neglected their duty to investigate the impact of legislation on gender inequality, but other people have not, and the results show that women will face a disproportionate burden.
Highlighting the impact of the cuts on women is not divisive and does not disregard the needs of everybody else in society. This was well demonstrated and articulated by the people who organised UK Uncut’s feminist bail-in, and by the protesters who attended, half of whom were men. Feminism, and the struggle for gender equality, are inclusive and can be understood as involving everybody, regardless of gender, in a joint struggle for equality. Drawing attention to the impact on women is a reflection of statistical evidence. It is a fact that women, in general, will be worse affected than men. It is important to know this if we are to understand what the cuts really mean and relate that to the people who will be affected.
Women will, in general, be hit harder than men for a number of reasons. As the Fawcett Society
points out, they make up 65% of the public sector workforce and will therefore be hit hardest by job cuts. They rely more heavily on public services such as the NHS, for reasons such as pregnancy and longer life expectancy. We can also expect cuts to many women specific services such as refuges from domestic violence and support services for rape victims. To rub salt into the wound, women will also be expected to bridge the gap where childcare and services for the elderly are removed, directly affecting their ability to work. They are also due to lose out heavily from changes to the benefit system – single mothers will lose 18.5 per cent of their net income; female single pensioners will lose 11.7 per cent. The repercussions of these cuts can be seen already. By the end of last year the number of unemployed women topped the one million mark. Recent figures show that the number of women aged 25-49 on jobseeker’s allowance is now at its highest since records began in 1997. The evidence goes on and on and on.
Still think we’re all in it together? These cuts are not an economic necessity, they are a political choice. UK Uncut has helped to show that there are many alternatives to the government’s shock and awe austerity programme. Closing the tax loopholes which allow the super-rich to dodge their responsibilities is one alternative. Making the banks pay for the crisis they caused is another.
If we want to stop the government, and if we want a fairer society, we have to stand up for
ourselves. We can draw on a rich history of ordinary people who have organised, struggled and fought for their rights and their ideals. Like the women who did whatever it took to win the right to vote. Like the brave female Ford workers who took industrial action to win the right to equal pay. Like the UK Uncut protesters who transformed a high street bank into a crèche, highlighting cuts to childrens’ services.
This International Women’s Day let us honour and remember all of those women who have fought
and continue to fight for gender equality and let’s promise to protect and build on their victories.
See you on the high streets.