Across the world, women are preparing to celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th March. World-wide, women are increasingly opposing their oppression and discrimination. Women are expressing their unequivocal opposition to the inhuman capital-centred direction of the economy. More clearly than even before they are asserting their rights, as women and as human beings. From Japan through Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Africa, Europe, Britain and North America, women are demanding that the economies of their countries must fulfill their demands for jobs and security, that wars should be ended and the increasing militarisation must be halted. They are against selling off of their national resources by those collaborating with imperialist predators.
Women are out on the streets protesting the rampant privatisation of health, education, transportation and other social services. They are against the anti-social offensive which is destroying the social assets hitherto created and handing over whole sectors for private profit by a minority of monopoly capitalists. They are demanding that the state cannot wash its hands off the responsibility of ensuring universal access to health care, sanitation, drinking water, housing, transport, education and all other requisites for a dignified human existence.
Women are in the forefront of the movement for people’s empowerment. Shoulder to shoulder with men, they are demanding that people must have a say in determining the course of society, that democracy must mean more than merely casting their vote.
The struggle of women for a better society in which they can live dignified human lives took an organized form in 1908, when 15000 women workers of New York textile industry came out on the streets for the working class demand of an 8-hour day and for political rights. It was a repeat of a women garment workers’ march on the same day in 1857. They demanded safe working conditions and a limit to the working day. They were able to wrest some concessions from the capitalist exploiters. This was the beginning of the organized struggle by women all over Europe and US. These fighting women came together to make a bold call for an International Women’s Day to mark the struggle for an end to this exploitative capitalist order and for socialism.
That such a society, based on socialism, is possible was proved by the Great October Revolution in 1917. The women of Russia played an active role in turning the tide in favour of the people. They responded to the call of the Bolshevik Party to overthrow the Tsar. The women came out against the imperialist war and for bread in February-March 1917. They were able to mobilise the soldiers to train their guns on the Tzar and his army, instead of shooting their working class brothers across the trenches. They fought for the revolutionary transformation of Russian society to socialism. With the construction of socialism, the vast majority of women was drawn into social production and came to comprise one-half of the workforce. Soviet society ensured the full participation of women in political life, equally with working men. The October Revolution and the construction of socialism in Russia inspired millions of struggling workers and peasants and anti-colonial struggles across the world.
In India, women played a significant role in the anti-colonial struggle. Thousands of Indian women fought till death, shoulder to shoulder with their brothers against the colonial rule and for India’s independence aspiring for an India free from the brutal colonial yoke. They aspired for a modern India where women and men would live and work with dignity and participate equally in shaping the future of society.
In the decades that followed the end of British colonial rule, the Indian people experienced the shattering of the illusion that the transfer of power in 1947 would open the path for their liberation. Thousands of women became active in the struggle against the injustices and oppression that the masses of people faced. They realized that the country was being ruled in the name of the people but actually in the interests of a minority of exploiters. Women continued to suffer every kind of discrimination from the womb till their death. Lakhs of women continued to die during childbirth every year. Patriarchal relations kept them tied down to a subordinate role at home and in society. The rulers of India fully collaborated with all the backward feudal and obscurantist forces that kept women subjugated and subordinated. Women fought for their right to education and health care, to livelihood and access to professional jobs.
Women came out in thousands when the ruling class adopted the program of globalization through liberalization and privatisation. The fighting women demanded a halt to this program which was launched to further the greedy interests of the biggest monopoly capitalists, Indian and foreign. They condemned the state for abdicating its responsibility of providing the basic needs of people. They protested in defence of the rights of workers, peasants and all the working people.
Women were in the forefront of the struggle against the state organized communal attacks and state terrorism in the northeast, Kashmir and other parts of the country. Our mothers stood naked in front of the army headquarters in Imphal, Manipur to protest the brutal rape and killing of women by the armed forces of the state. They came out on the streets to protest the targeting of people on the basis of their religious beliefs. Women defended the solidarity of the people by organising across religion and caste. They organised conferences and discussions on the source of this organised violence against people and how to combat it.
Since the last two decades Indian women have been increasingly coming out on the streets in defence of their rights as women, as workers, as peasants and as human beings who have a right to their security and their dignity. Women working in every sphere of the economy - as factory workers and home-based workers, as IT professionals and in finance and banking, as peasants, teachers, nurses, anganwadi workers have been out on the streets, time and again, fighting for security of livelihood, against their wage exploitation, against oppressive working conditions, discrimination and against sexual harassment at the workplace. They have been in the lead in the struggle for basic amenities. Their struggle to live and work with dignity has only intensified as the attacks on them increase.
The reason why women are being denied their rights as women and as human beings is that the economy is oriented to fulfil the greed of the monopoly capitalists and the state is under their control. All organs of the state - the government, the courts, and the law enforcing agencies are all in the service of the capitalist class, headed by the monopoly houses. The monopoly capitalist ruling class sets the direction of the economy and the agenda for the society. The people are completely marginalized from the decision making process. Political power is extremely concentrated in the hands of a small coterie – the cabinet – of the ruling party. This concentration of power allows suspension of all democratic rights whenever they threaten the rule of the monopoly capitalist class.
For any Republic to be considered modern in this day and age, it must recognize human rights as universal and inviolable, and have the mechanisms in its fundamental law to enforce their implementation. The present Constitution does not make the fundamental rights of people justiciable and enforceable. The Directive Principles are supposed to guide the Republic, but they are not enforceable in any court. Women today are faced with the challenge of taking up the struggle for a modern Indian Republic where their rights to a dignified and secure life are guaranteed. Women, shoulder to shoulder with men, have to take forward the struggle with the perspective of ushering in a new society, where the fundamental law of the land will guarantee the rights of the working people, of women and all human beings.
This is the outlook with which we must prepare to organize for International Women’s Day. Let us mobilise women in large numbers to come together to fight with this aim that will lead us to genuine emancipation.