Seminar about the Women

Seminar about the Women’s Question

“On the role of communists in the struggle for the parity and emancipation of women”

Written Contribution by ANTONIO E. PARIS, General Secretary, PARTIDO KOMUNISTA NG PILIPINAS, (PKP-1930, the Philippine Communist Party)

Brussels, March 26, 2010

The Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP-1930, the Philippine Communist Party) salutes the Workers’ Party of Belgium and the Communist Party of Greece for their initiative in calling this important seminar to be held at the premises of the European Parliament, to mark the 100th anniversary of the first International Women’s Conference that established the commemoration of International Women’s Day.

Significantly, that trail-blazing conference held in Copenhagen in August 1910 was the first international conference of socialist women workers, during which the great communist leader Clara Zetkin proposed the holding of an International Day of Struggle for Women’s Rights every March 8. Notably too, March 8 was chosen to commemorate the March 8, 1908 demonstration for women’s rights held in New York City, USA, which demonstration condemned the earlier death of many women workers who were locked in by the capitalist bosses in a garments factory which caught fire in that city.

The Communist International (COMINTERN) decided in 1921 to set March 8 as the International Day of Working Women, and for many decades, this was an annual socialist commemoration. In 1975, upon the sponsorship of the socialist community, the United Nations declared March 8 as International Women’s Day. As we commemorate this day every year, we are always reminded of Clara Zetkin’s precept that the struggle for the liberation of women workers is not a struggle against their class brothers, and that the aim of the women’s struggle is to bring political power into the hands of the working class.

Our Party therefore views the women’s question as an integral part of the class struggle. In a neo-colonial county like the Philippines, this question is closely linked with the people’s struggle for national independence, peace, democracy and social progress. Our Party remains firmly convinced that the liberation of women from all forms of exploitation and domination can only be realized under socialism.

From the History of the Women’s Movement in the Philippines

Women’s quest for equality and progress, and for special rights and privileges as women, wives and mothers, naturally occur in all countries and cultures. In our country, the quest for women’s liberation was intertwined with the struggle for national liberation. Up to the 1890s, when the Philippines was a direct colony of the Spanish empire and an indirect colony of the Vatican, women were considered inferior to men, and had to take on positions of “natural servitude” to men. Women’s participation in social life was limited to praying in church, taking care of the children, and being busy in the kitchen. This stereotype was challenged by the revolutionary movement for national liberation --- the KATIPUNAN, founded in 1892, and which led the anti-colonial revolution of 1896. It was the KATIPUNAN which was the first to put forward the concept of women’s equality in the context of national freedom and social justice.

Our Party, as a patriotic and proletarian internationalist party, drew inspiration from the KATIPUNAN’s national liberation revolution of 1896. Immediately upon the organization of our Party in 1930, it launched activities to demand women’s rights, which bore a first fruit with the winning of the women’s right to suffrage in 1937. And our Party, primarily through its women leaders, continued to lobby for the passage of laws to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. Unfortunately, there are always religious considerations for the setting of exceptions to laws against discrimination against women. For example, under Muslim personal laws which are applied in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, discrimination against women remains in place. Our Party therefore continues to struggle against any exception, even on religious grounds, to the laws hewing to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

So far, another law in line with CEDAW was approved in the Philippines last year --- the Magna Carta of Women. However, up to now, the Implementing Rules and Regulations of this Magna Carta remain unfinished, due to the stiff opposition of the Catholic church and other religious denominations to the concept of women’s reproductive rights. In this connection, our Party and its mass organizations continue to struggle for the full approval of the Magna Carta of Women which should include the concept of women’s reproductive rights.  

Women’s Struggle for Equality and Emancipation

The struggle for equality for women, and the struggle against all forms of discrimination  against women, is in line with the international struggle for the elimination of all forms of discrimination based on skin color, on the grounds of any religion or the professing of no religion at all, and on social class backgrounds. We Communists firmly believe in the class struggle, in the concept of patriotic struggle against imperialist occupation and control, in the concept of the working class struggle against capitalist exploitation. We don’t believe in the concept of a “battle of the sexes”, even if this concept is embellished with catchy terms such as “revolutionary feminism”.

The real revolution is in the winning of national freedom from imperialism, in the transfer of state power into the hands of the working classes --- and not a mere change in “gender rule” over society. The basic struggle in society is between social classes, and not between the sexes.

Despite the passage of almost a century since the 1910 Copenhagen conference of socialist working women, it is sad to note that women generally have not yet achieved real equality and emancipation. There remain many gender biases against women. In many capitalist industries, women are still consigned to menial and monotonous jobs. And at home, there remain cases of domestic violence and abuse against women and children. In countries ruled by theocracies, women remain shackled under systematic exploitation, violence and poverty.

The ideals of women’s equality and development are now being restricted under the conditions of the international crisis of capitalism, where one-half of humanity lives below the poverty line. This crisis is general and widespread, and is characterized by imperialist invasions and wars, by shortages in food production, and the despoiling of the environment. Poverty has graver effects on women and children. In advanced capitalist countries, budget cuts on health and other social services, even while prices and taxes are being raised, have gravely impacted upon the unemployed, the low-salaried and the retired women.

The Socio-Economic Roots of Exploitation

Under the present capitalist (and even some pre-capitalist) social structures prevailing in our country, women in general suffer from an added burden --- the added disadvantage associated with the position of subordination to men. But the main burden remains that of the exploitative and oppressive socio-economic system which grinds both men and women belonging to the same toiling classes.

In the socio-economic sense, there is nothing in common between the overwhelming majority of women belonging to the working masses, and the women representing the bourgeoisie. Top women caretakers of the US neo-colonial system in the Philippines, like Cory Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, can lord it over the daily lives of the working masses --- men and women alike. The aristocratic women senators who voted for the Visiting Forces Agreement (allowing the presence or extended “visits” of US troops in our country), can never feel the desperation of the destitute women and children who have become captives of the prostitution rings catering to transient US warriors. And surely, the women hacienderas (big landlords) in the Philippine Congress (parliament) have nothing in common with the peasant women whose aspirations for meaningful agrarian reform remain downtrodden. Filipina working women therefore share the common burden of neo-colonial exploitation and class oppression with their menfolk.

Even in western countries, women share the burden of capitalist exploitation with their menfolk. The true liberation of women can therefore be won only in the context of the general struggle of the masses to change the socio-economic and political system which perpetuates exploitative relations between nations, between classes and between the sexes.

As in the western world, women workers in the Philippines suffer from the exploitative practices of capitalism. Still considered as a reserve labor force for certain sectors of industry and agriculture, women workers are the last to be hired and the first to be fired in capitalist enterprises. They are victims of discrimination not only in the process of hiring, but also in the matter of promotion. Oftentimes, they get less pay for equal work. They are generally assigned to non-challenging types of work in sweatshops and conveyor lines --- i.e., the most monotonous and tedious types of work which are extensions of household drudgery.

However, compared to women in the western world, women in the Philippines suffer from more grinding conditions. First of all, the neo-colonial system provides far less job opportunities and worse working conditions. The minimum wage and maternity benefit laws are openly violated in many enterprises. The dismissal of women workers upon their marriage is common, particularly where workers are provided to companies by labor contractors masquerading as training agencies. Day-care services for children of working mothers are generally non-existent. And depressed incomes cannot afford labor-saving appliances and devices which can save women from the drudgery of household work.

Presently, the most glamorous work opportunity for young women in our country is with the so-called “call centers” (also dubbed as “business process outsourcing” companies). These US companies train their employees --- who are predominantly women --- either to pester telephone owners to buy products or acquire credit cards, or to heartlessly badger overdue creditors to cough up payments for ever-increasing interest payments.    

Under capitalism, prostitution is an organized “business”, and this has particularly horrendous proportions in a neo-colonial country such as ours. Women and children in the quagmire of poverty and illiteracy become helpless victims of while-slavery gangs which are usually protected by police and military officers, and which often masquerade as “talent promotion” and labor export agencies, “escort service” and “tourist guidance” companies, and “health and recreation studios”. Even the export of women “entertainers” to Japan ; of domestic helpers to Hong Kong, Singapore, the Middle East and Europe ; and of “mail-order” brides to South Korea and other parts of the world, is directly a product of the neo-colonial system in our country. This is a system which extracts superprofits from our country by constricting the government’s educational, health and social services for the masses ; by restricting independent industrialization that can create widespread job opportunities ; by depressing wages ; by inflating prices ; by spreading vices ; and in general by perpetuating our miserable living standards.

Cultural Aspects of Discrimination

Religious stereotypes about the “submissive nature” of women, plus the “macho” mentality being propagated among men by the Hollywood culture, serve to perpetuate and even reinforce discrimination against women. People are taught that all gods are male, that nuns do not deserve to become popes or even priests, and that women are generally considered as domestic helpers consigned to undertake household chores. Even the western-implanted laws for general observance in our country (such as those on proprietary rights, marital infidelity, vagrancy, etc.) set separate standards for men and women. The situation is even worse for women in the Autonomous Region of Moslem Mindanao where Shari’a rules allow polygamy and child brides for the rich, where the abaya (veil) is enforced, and where long-standing ridos (clan wars) can lead to the “honor killing” of women.

Under an atmosphere of cultural discrimination against women, families who cannot afford to send all their children to school tend to send sons to higher years, as compared to daughters. (Sons are considered as “future breadwinners”, while daughters are considered as “future brides”.)

Under US imperialist cultural influence, concepts about female virtues are perverted in our country. A “leisure” image detached from social labor is glamorized on film and TV shows, with “sexiness” in body and clothings being  the main standard. Women are taught to become avid buyers of non-essential fads, and beauty contests have become standard publicity gimmicks for capitalist enterprises, primarily the cosmetics industry. This has gone to the point where Filipina women are now being made to accept the daily barrage of racist insinuations that equate beauty with whiteness of skin, and the subtle insult that our naturally brown complexion is ugly. The ideal woman is presented as submissive to man, fashionable but intellectually inferior, and with a bleached complexion and a made-up figure in order to become a pleasant decoration for the office and the home.

These are precisely the perversions that socialism sweeps away. The continuing example of the remaining socialist countries, and even the past examples of the former socialist community, point to the fact that patriarchal ideas and sexist culture that treat women as commodities can be uprooted, and that women can enter all fields of human endeavour (even those traditionally “reserved” for men).

Women’s Emancipation Can Be Realized Only Under Socialism

Real equality and emancipation for women --- in law as well as in fact --- can be realized only under socialism with its principles of full employment ; equal work opportunities for all ; equal pay for equal work ; eradication of the social roots of prostitution ; removal of any stigma on unwed mothers ; subsidies for labor-lightening home appliances ; transformation of private housekeeping into a social industry ; and  better social security and benefits for women (lengthier maternity leave with pay, extensive day-care services for children, low cost housing, free education and health care, etc.). Unfortunately, in our country, the social backwardness is evident with the continued pervasive influence of religious institutions --- particularly of the colonial Catholic church --- in blocking any attempt at allowing divorce, de-criminalizing abortion and institutionalizing the concept of women’s reproductive rights.  

In socialist societies, women realized equality in leadership roles in professions, in organizations and state agencies, and in all fields of endeavour. Socialist societies blazed the trail in the number of women members of parliament, in the number of women judges, and in the number of high government officials. Unfortunately for countries which suffered reversals in their socialist systems, women’s status also suffered reversals, as may be gleaned from the general decline in the number of women members of parliament from 40% (under the socialist system) to around 10% only (with the return to capitalism). As a great example, in Cuba where socialism is staunchly defended, almost 44% of the members of parliament are women ; almost one out of every 3 ministers and vice-ministers are women ; and around 70% of professionals in the health service are women.

In human history, only the socialist system was able to lay a stable social basis for all, such that love and mutual respect, understanding and mutual support, have replaced material and social dependency as the foundation of the family. For this example, the socialist system pioneered by the Great October Socialist Revolution will always remain as the beacon for real women’s emancipation. Despite the reversals in the former socialist countries in Europe, their women’s hard-won advances under the socialist system will remain as an important stake and a reference point in the struggle for the triumph of an even better form of socialism in those countries.

Socialism remains the only future for mankind, if mankind is to be spared from a return to barbarism. Positive indications for a socialist future for mankind may be seen with the advances of the Bolivarian Alliance in Latin America and the Caribbean (ALBA), and with similar advances in Asia and Southern Africa. The rebuilding of a new and better socialist community --- which would be the product of the anti-imperialist struggles of progressive men and women --- would be the basis for the realization of full equality and emancipation for women.

For unity in the struggle

For its part, our Party will continue to rally the Filipino women in the struggle against national exploitation and class oppression. This is a struggle of all the working masses of our people, and it is in the course of this struggle that Filipino women can realize their own liberation. In this national struggle against the imperialist-imposed neo-colonial system, women workers in industry, agriculture and the services sector will be fighting not only as women, but as members of the toiling masses of our people.

All over the world where capitalist socio-economic structures  are dominant, working women suffer from essentially the same forms of exploitation and oppression as their class sisters and brothers.  Our Party therefore highly values the forging of closer solidarity among the women’s movements of all countries, in the general context of proletarian internationalism.