We live in a chaotic, turbulent, exploitative, gender-based capitalist system. The more resources one has, the more they dominate the economy, politics, and culture.
Women’s freedom and subordination must be understood as tied to economic exploitation. The only way for women to truly free themselves from oppression is for a revolution in social and productive relations.
Until we can overthrow this oppressive capitalist system, we demand women to have equal employment, equal salaries, and equal social, economic, political and cultural freedoms.
These are the slogans working-class men and women in a fight must bring into their daily struggles until we can defeat those hoarding and controlling the distribution of resources and wealth.
Double Ethos of Capitalism
Every year, governments around the world celebrate the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, attending seminars and photo sessions are held in big hotels, all of which is supported by imperialist countries.
These performances are nothing more than a front to make the oppressed and exploited people think their problems can be resolved under the current system. As the social problems increase rapidly, the capitalist states seem to cling more tightly to their utterly bankrupt support for the rights of women, children and minorities.
These theatrical events try to convince women that their freedom lies in their own ability to fight against gendered oppression, offering individual solutions. But the real economic, political and social reasons of the problems faced by women are kept hidden. Many times the oppression of women is understood through the lens of whether a country is “underdeveloped” or “developed,” the former needing the liberating forces of the latter.
However, wherever we encounter the oppression of women, we also witness women struggling against it.
For example, the women of the International Ladies Garments Union in New York City, who in 1908 shut down factories to demand better work, better pay and equality. It is the struggle of these women who inspire us and whose legacy we follow every year on March 8th.
After 1908, women across the world began to embrace the shared realities the term of “working women” provides. Women’s problems are due to material conditions that will not be changed without mass struggle. That’s why our historical comrades raised the slogan that “Gender unites us and society divides us.”
Obstacles for Pakistani Women’s Rights
As a supposedly “developing country,” Pakistan suffers under capitalism as a semi-colonial country, one where basic democratic rights are unknown to a large number of working-class men and women. We face the difficulty of not knowing how to use the so-called laws which exist on paper and in the constitution.
The custodians of law and legislators manipulate the legal system to the benefit of the rich and to the detriment of the poor. Many in the working class can’t use legal means for justice because the costs are prohibitive. Working-class women are either completely unfamiliar with the national, regional and international laws or they are disgusted with how they are written.
Pakistan is currently involved in all regional and international conventions on women’s rights and freedoms, but ranks 134 out of 135 countries in terms of discrimination against women. According to the Global Gender Gap Index Report in 2022, Pakistan ranks 145/156 for economic participation and opportunity, 135/156 for educational attainment, 143/156 for health and survival, and 95/156 for political empowerment. Furthermore, Pakistan ranks 130/139 countries on the Rule of Law Index of the World Justice Project.
According to the 2020-2022 statistics of Amnesty International and Pakistan Women Foundation, there were 9,849 cases of sexual violence, honor killings, forced marriages of young girls, burning for not bringing dowry and throwing acid on the face. Of this total, 3,650 women were killed.
But these accounts are insufficient. There are some areas in Pakistan absent national and international laws, where feudal lords and tribal chiefs rule. Consideration of these areas are often absent in the discourse of constitutional bills on women’s rights.
And those who are more liberal involve their wives, daughters or other capitalist women in politics. In this way, capitalist women achieve representation in the country’s parliament. And even more, they pretend to hold seminars and photo sessions in big hotels on March 8, deceiving working-class women.
Women’s Rights Movements in Pakistan’s History
Pakistan has a remarkable history of women’s resistance. Under the ultraconservative military dictator of General Zia, even with the Islamization of laws, the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) was founded in 1981 by 15 women. Although the forum was created by upper class women and NGO’s, it was the first platform to raise the question of women’s right under a Pakistani Islamic religious state.
The WAF was formed to respond to the implementation of the Hudood Ordinance penal code and to strengthen women’s position in society more generally. To provide legitimacy to his rule, Zia resorted to the transformation of Pakistan into a truly Islamic state. As part of these policies, Zia imposed the Hudood Ordinances in 1979. The Offence of Zina (Enforcement of Hudood) Ordinance of 1979 is a highly disputed piece of legislation because of its conceptual inaccuracies, textual errors, religious and gender discrimination, and of course, abuse in application of law.
This law made it so that women would be convicted of adultery/fornication if they reported a case of rape and were unable to produce a ‘pious, male witnesses’. The Women’s Action Forum (WAF) assembled many protests against this awful law. It was the first time that any women-based group challenged the religious leaders of the state.
Since then, other small protest groups have emerged, and these small groups, splitting from their predecessors finally coalesced in the “Aurat March.”
Over the past few years, the “Aurat Azadi March” is held in different cities of Pakistan to fight against oppressive forms of social, economic and political structures (imperialism, patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism) that oppress and exploit women. Aurat March is held with a purpose to fight the harassment, violence, and lack of rights, and for economic, environmental and reproductive justice for the oppressed classes.
Different NGO’s, liberal fronts, feminist groups and some progressive organizations are now part of this annual Women’s March. While this march has taken place over the past five years, it is not moving in the right direction.
Violence Against Women in Pakistan
In Pakistan, physical and mental violence against women has risen to staggering levels. Women’s low social status and a long-established pattern of the suppression of women’s rights by successive governments has contributed to the escalation in violence. No government has acknowledged the scale and severity of the problem, much less taken action to end the violence against women.
A gender-based violence crisis in Pakistan is depriving millions of women of legal protection and leaving them fearful for their rights and livelihood. According to the Women, Peace and Security Index, Pakistan is ranked 167th out of 170 countries in terms of women’s health and wellbeing. In recent years, women in Pakistan have been engaging in protests to speak out against inequality and violence and demanding action be taken by the government to improve women’s rights.
But Pakistan is a reflection of a semi-feudal tribal and reactionary society. In such a society, women are judged within the prevailing framework of patriarchal system where a mix of customs, traditions and religion have created the norms for how women should live. These standards are then tied to the role of women in the name of social oppression and honor of the family.
In terms of their economic role today, women work in agriculture, brick kilns, factories, mills, schools, hospitals and all production and service sectors. But more than that, we find women engaged in housework, raising children, cleaning, washing clothes and other household affairs. However, women of different social classes of course play different roles in society: the wife of the landlord is a landlord, the wife of a capitalist is a capitalist, and the wife of a bureaucrat is a bureaucrat. She plays the same role in upholding the exploitation of workers and reinforcing the gender norms of the capitalist class.
Benazir Bhutto, Maryam Nawaz and the women of the ruling class do not face the same levels of exploitation and oppression as working-class women. So when we talk about women, we must differentiate between different classes. Today, in this capitalist era, women are subjected to double oppression, on the one hand, it refers to exploitation under capitalism, which includes domestic work, inflation, unemployment and work. On the other hand, there is gendered oppression.
This oppression includes sexual harassment at work, forced early marriage, and high childbearing. At the top of the list is domestic violence. In Pakistan, the participation of women in politics is negligible due to the patriarchal traditions and oppression of the society which does not give her the right to vote for herself, even to get a job and gain economic independence and self-sufficiency. Complications of family life, economic problems, deprivation of inheritance rights and inferiority in social traditions, leave Pakistani women in a difficult position.
In such a society, a woman suffering from personal and economic insecurity is necessarily forced to live a life dependent on someone else. And this insecurity forces her to become a prostitute in this barbaric system. She is forced to live on Zakat. And for the very little money, she is forced to wash the dirty dishes and clothes of madams in the houses. Similarly, in private sector hospitals, shopping malls, finance companies, and schools, women are given work on very limited salary.
Women Across The Globe
Globally, an estimated 153 women are killed every day by their partners/husbands or family members. Half of the world’s women do not have the power to make decisions about contraceptive use. In the current situation, violence against women is a manifestation of the decadence and brutality of the capitalist system and has failed to guarantee equality, rights and the end of oppression and violence against women.
The pandemic only exacerbated an already desperate situation. We have no choice but to fight, and unified, against the system that oppresses and exploits us. Capitalism and its governments have always been accomplices in violence against women and the working class. The policies implemented by some governments for working women (para-medical staff, teachers, industrial workers) amid the pandemic have been woefully inadequate, even in cases where support programs and basic services were mandated by the health system.
The international institutions of bourgeois imperialism do not comment on this. Neither in the policy tracker of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), nor in the World Bank, nor in the Social Security and Labor Rights of the International Labor Organization. There are no clear and workable policies for women.
Currently, more than half of the world’s female population is unemployed. Less than a third of women in South Asia, North Africa and West Asia are employed. In the current economic and financial crises in Pakistan, women have been forced out of jobs and pushed into more dangerous conditions, including even lower-paid and more labor-intensive work, widening the wage gap between men and women.
Due to high inflation rates, hunger and lack of food, women are forced to work for lower wages. The social and economic catastrophe has starkly exposed capitalist inequality and oppression. A large section of the laboring, marginalized and oppressed population dies prematurely due to this exploitative system. As hunger, violence, and desperation increase, so does the profit margin for capitalists. In such a situation, women are more exposed to this exploitative system on which heavy double work shifts are imposed on a large scale.
The capitalist class has stopped thinking about basic human needs like health, food, education and shelter for many decades. Rather, these points are only capital-earning sectors for them, which they are privatizing on a large scale so that they can continue to earn an unlimited rate of profit on these basic human needs. While the working class is affected in large numbers by the process of privatization, the most impoverished and oppressed sectors of the society, i.e. women, are most affected by this process.
It is no longer possible to run a household as it used to be due to the rapidly increasing rate of inflation in Pakistan, which is growing day by day. Women in Pakistan are now unable to enroll in colleges and universities due to a marked drop in income.
Spectacle of Gender Division
Performances held on March 8, including rousing speeches, women’s marches, or demands made cannot in any way reduce the exploitation of women under the current system. Majority of the protesters, who join these programs or marches, do not themselves have deep ideological thoughts on the root causes of women’s oppression and exploitation. Liberal feminists only incite women against the patriarchal system. But they cannot hide the reality of capitalism.
Protests, movements and strikes against gender exploitation around the world, including in Pakistan, have highlighted the fact that freedom from this double treatment of women is not possible simply by protesting or going against the patriarchal system. In order to end the oppression of women, we need to defeat capitalism. And that struggle requires the participation of working-class men. The end of economic misery, and oppression and exploitation of working men and women will only be possible with the foundation of a new and prosperous, free and independent society built from the ashes of capitalism.
But for now, through such movements, the outrage against the oppression of women, inflation, unemployment, privatization, forced layoffs, etc., links the working-class across gender divisions.
We must fight together with all our might to end the gender exploitation and oppression of women, the system that exploits the working class, both women and men. In the fight against oppression, we want the support of working men because the system that is responsible for oppression and the humiliation of women also works to divide and weaken the working class and increase exploitation.
Class Unity to Fight Against Oppression and Exploitation
In the fight against the exploitation and oppression of women, the entire working class must be united. Because the system that oppresses and exploits women is the same that divides and weakens the working class. There is no way to end oppression without ending this cruel system.
And let our organizations fight this scourge on the basis of equality within our ranks so that our cause may advance in common struggle. Women should be encouraged to raise their voices for equal pay and access to other worker rights. Women must understand that without changing the society and without changing the system, they will continue to be exploited. Representation and participation in local bodies, labor unions, student unions will have to be taken.
- Let’s resolve together that instead of retreating, we will push forward with strength and continue the ongoing fight for our rights by strongly condemning the gender divide this system has created. We won’t stop until this system is torn out by the roots.
- Struggle for equal employment, equal salaries and equal leadership!
- Gender balance is not solely a women’s issue, but also an economic issue!
- Opposition to all forms of male chauvinism!
- Provision of equal educational facilities!
- The start of an emergency plan to fight sexual violence!
- We demand better employment, equal pay and income and secure work for women around the world!
- Improved safety measures for health workers and paramedical staff! Six months maternity leave and free medical treatment for women workers!