Women on the Front Lines of COVID-19 and Economic Crisis
Written by: Alice M. on 30 April
As the Covid-19 epidemic ravages the world, women, as always, are in the front lines carrying the main burden of the economic and health crises.
The global health epidemic and the worsening economic crisis of capitalism have exposed and deepened the inequality, the double exploitation, and violence against women under capitalism.
The vast majority of frontline workers in hospitals, in aged care and disability facilities, in homes and in communities are women. They are nurses, cleaners, carers of the elderly, the disabled, the sick, the children and the families.
Globally, 75 per cent of frontline workers in the healthcare system are women. In Australia, 80 per cent of workers in health and community services are women.
Many in the lowest paid and insecure jobs. They are also the main organisers at home and in the community, shouldering the responsibility of caring for the people and keeping society functioning.
In overwhelming numbers women are also concentrated in the low paid industries hardest hit by the pandemic lockdown in retail, community services, hospitality and travel. Many are casuals in precarious jobs and excluded from government allowances and subsidies, facing long term unemployment and poverty.
Women do most of the unpaid care and domestic work at home. The epidemic is locking down most schools, shifting society’s educational responsibilities on to individual families, especially women. The lack of resources and support for working class children and families is widening educational inequalities even more.
Violence against women at home and in society are endemic under capitalism. The added pressures of the pandemic lockdowns, loss of income, future job insecurity, isolation and the threat of homelessness amplify domestic violence against women.
Antonio Gutteres, UN Secretary General declared, “Across every sphere, from health to the economy, security to social protection, the impacts of Covid-19 are exacerbated for women simply by their inferior position. The Covid-19 pandemic is causing untold human suffering and is likely to heighten gender-based inequalities around the world. As economic activity comes to a halt, women who face disadvantage in access to decent work will suffer most.” He warns against rolling back the rights of women.
The UN Secretary General’s warnings to protect women’s rights achieved in the past 40 years are commendable. But reality shows that capitalism cannot deliver and guarantee the protection of women’s rights, even during the economic boom periods of capitalism. The enormous profits made from the exploitation of workers are squirreled away by big business, and the people are made to carry the burden of health and economic crises through high unemployment, austerity, intensified exploitation, cuts to social services and impoverishment.
Capitalism is the cause of the inequality, exploitation, violence and the subordination of women. The patriarchy of capitalism casts women as inferior and submissive, to empower the double exploitation at work, home and the wider community. The exploitation, commodification, abuse and violence against women will not cease under capitalism, a class system that creates and depends on the exploitation of people and the environment.
Capitalism commodifies women as domestic and sexual objects for market profiteering. The patriarchal culture and ideology permeate capitalist society at all levels.
Formal, but not real equality and liberation
In Australia in the past 100 years, the struggles of working women forced the ruling class of big business and their governments to make a few concessions to women’s demands.
However, the few legislative gains made by working women have proven to be tenuous and temporary, eroded or disappeared in the past 40 years due to capital’s demands to intensify the exploitation of workers, extract more value from labour, and remove limitations and obstructions to maximise profit making.
Legislation on equal pay, equal opportunity, sex discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying, parental leave and child care entitlements, and other rights fought for long and hard, are unenforceable formalities on scraps of paper.
Women make up the overwhelming majority of sole parents living on or below the poverty line, and are now hit with the double whammy of the health and economic crises.
Concessions wrung out of the ruling class are minimised so they do not interfere with the profit making by the capitalist class.
Women’s struggles for political equality have won us the right to vote and stand in parliamentary elections. But parliament is an instrument of big business whose power and interests it protects. The double exploitation of working women at work and at home is sacrosanct and continues untouched.
Relentless abuses and brutal violence against women continue. Every week a woman is killed in domestic violence, and there are many other acts of abuse, sexual harassment and denigration of women.
The miniscule government funding for services to women and children escaping domestic violence is severely cut back because profit can’t be extracted from working class women fleeing domestic violence. At the same time, governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars strengthening the state’s armed forces and equipping police to use violence against dissent and people’s protests.
Socialism lays the foundations for the rights of working women
In its early historical period capitalism freed women from the enslaved conditions of feudalism. But the class exploitation and patriarchal suppression continue under capitalism.
Inequality, discrimination, abuse and violence against women cannot be ended under capitalism. Only overthrowing this exploitative class system and replacing it with socialism can do that. Only a society free from exploitation can guarantee and protect women’s rights and security. The economic and social system where the means of production (our resources, industries, services), presently owned by a handful of monopolies for private profit, are placed in the hands of the working class and run collectively to serve the needs of people and the environment.
Only then will working women, as equals, have the power to move society to the establishment of real equality between women and men in all fields, where exploitation is ended and the liberation of both women and men from the oppression of capitalism and patriarchy are guaranteed.
The fight for women’s rights, equality and liberation is inseparably linked to struggles against capitalism and imperialism. It must continue today and draw women into the revolutionary struggle for an independent socialist Australia.
It is a struggle for socialism, and ultimately the classless society of communism.
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