International Women’s Day: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back During COVID

by Claire Bayler

This article was originally published in Socialism Today, the paper of the Independent Socialist Group. Subscribe to the paper to receive each issue in print and read the articles before they’re published online!

This International Women’s Day – March 8, 2022 – Trump is out, Biden is in, but conditions for women have plummeted in the last two years. 3.5 million women were forced out of their jobs because they were caring for children or sick family members. Childcare is so expensive that women and families struggle to find jobs that pay enough to cover the cost. The gender pay gap means that the lower-paid parent often leaves their job to take care of children, at the cost of the wages they would earn today as well as interrupting careers and losing out on future wage increases. Intimate partner violence is up 25 – 33% globally. Politicians in multiple states are imposing brutal abortion bans in order to bring new challenges against Roe V. Wade to the Supreme Court.

As the primary caregivers for children, elderly, and the disabled, women must scramble to fill the gaps caused by reductions in food aid, disability aid, social security payments, and other welfare programs. They lose jobs when public services are attacked. They’re forced to pick up the slack when jobs involved with caring for people are understaffed. 

Insecurity at work can make people feel they have to ‘put up’ with harassment and violence, whether from colleagues, customers, or at home. Survivors are usually mistreated and disbelieved when they gather the courage to seek justice. Only a tiny portion of attackers are ever convicted and often receive light sentences – meanwhile, working women who defend themselves from abuse and trafficking like Chrystul Kizer are jailed.  

Women have been disproportionately impacted by COVID. Women make up the majority of nurses, educators, and service workers who are experiencing record levels of burnout and workplace violence, leading to mass resignations. COVID job losses in various female-dominated sectors were enormous. Workplace conditions have deteriorated due to the lack of proper protective equipment (PPE), non-enforcement of safety measures, increased workload, and in some cases heightened abuse from bosses and patrons.

Unions in essential fields like healthcare, education, and the service industry face serious workplace struggles during COVID over work conditions. State and federal authorities have reopened schools despite unsafe conditions in order to get parents back to work. Some unions have taken important action, such as the 300-day nurses strike over understaffing at St. Vincent Hospital in Massachusetts or the five-day walkout over insufficient school safety measures by the Chicago Teachers Union. However, most unions have not brought their full potential to bear. The needs of workers and their desire to fight have pushed the union leadership some, but rank-and-file members have been unsatisfied with many of the inadequate agreements that have ended bitter disputes. 

How Marxists Fight Oppression

While the working class as a whole is exploited by the capitalist class, women face a double burden. They traditionally do the labor within individual families to ensure that workers are clothed, fed, sheltered, and otherwise able to function at work the following day. Women literally bear the burden of producing the next generation of workers, and disproportionately care for the elderly once they are no longer useful to the bosses for work. Women are further divided and exploited on the basis of race, sexual orientation, and nationality.  

Socialists have always fought for a communal approach to unpaid work in the home, which is mostly done by women under capitalism. A socialist society could organize community-based places to prepare and have food, free schools and childcare, and quality public assisted-living for those who cannot care for themselves, either due to age or disability. Free universal healthcare would ensure working-class women could access healthcare for physical, mental, and emotional needs for themselves and their families without concern for the cost. A massive expansion in high-quality public housing could guarantee shelter for everyone, regardless of employment or family situation. 

When the capitalists no longer control the economy there will be no gain in generating or reinforcing sexist ideas that objectify women for profit. Everyone will be able to redefine themselves and their relationships – including sex and gender identity – without fear of economic or social repercussions.

What Next?

The Democrats consistently fail to implement election promises that might help women, or to offer real opposition to Republican administrations. Building the women’s movement means involving broad layers of the working class in the struggle – including men and people who don’t identify as women. To accomplish this, explosive single issues like the legal right to abortion must be linked to the larger social issues including affordable housing and childcare, living wages, and universal healthcare. Those struggles would need effective programs to channel mass anger into a sustained movement with demands, tactics, and democratic leadership structures. With such tools, mass protests like the January 2017 Women’s March which mobilized millions of working class people can win lasting gains. Our co-thinkers in the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) have helped build powerful campaigns around the world (see for more) including Ireland’s 2018 abortion ban repeal and the Campaign Against Domestic Violence (CADV) in the trade unions in England & Wales in the ’90s. 

By uniting the women’s movement with the power of labor unions willing to fight and an independent political party for working people, working-class women can win real gains today while building the strength to overthrow the whole rotten capitalist system. 

ISG Calls for: 

  • Unions to take up the struggle for equal pay at a livable wage.
  • Guaranteed minimum income of $750/week for the unemployed, disabled, elderly, students, stay-at-home parents, and others unable to work. 
  • Increased pay and shortened hours to allow working people time to rest, raise families, share work in the home, and pursue interests. Make flexible schedules and work-from-home options available to workers with no loss of pay or benefits. Paid sick and family leave for all. 
  • Transparent investigation of sexual harassment and violence cases, if a survivor wishes to pursue action. For democratic committees of workers, students, and unions in workplaces and schools to oversee safety measures and complaint cases. Free accessible support services for survivors. 
  • Defend the right to choose whether and when to have children. Legalize and provide free reproductive services, including all forms of birth control and safe, accessible abortions. Teach comprehensive and inclusive sex education in schools. Remove institutional religion from education and healthcare. Guarantee at least 12 weeks of paid family leave for all. For universal high-quality child and eldercare.
  • Take the healthcare and pharmaceutical  corporations into public ownership, and implement publicly funded, comprehensive universal healthcare. Publically fund research into women’s health to close the gender gap in medical knowledge.
  • Fully fund and expand social programs including domestic abuse shelters, public housing, and unionized jobs programs. Pay for social programs by taxing the rich and large corporations.

Image credit: Peter Cedric Rock Smith via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0