Socialist feminism, abortion rights & the fight against capitalism

By Emma Quinn

The fight for abortion rights in Ireland is fast approaching its pivotal moment and the mood amongst sections of women, LGBTQ and young people is one of unapologetic determination in the struggle for “Repeal”.

Much more than the essential fight for basic healthcare, rights and bodily autonomy for women and pregnant people, for many, especially young people, the Repeal movement is about striking a blow to the backward state, still tied to the Catholic Church and about breaking with a vile history of misogyny and sexual repression. The movement for abortion rights in Ireland parallels an emerging fightback against sexism, sexual harassment and inequality globally.

Church and state

The model of the patriarchal, hetero normative family that has been pushed vehemently by the Catholic Church and the Irish state since its foundation is deeply ingrained in capitalist society, and central to it is the control of women’s bodies and their sexual freedom – the 8th amendment and abortion ban being a stark example of that. This ideology is used to promote the idea that the key role of women in society is to be the free care taker of children, the elderly and sick, the home etc.

Although this has been undermined hugely, today women still bear the brunt of childcare, housework and emotional labour. Simultaneously to this we have the prevalence of sexism worldwide, the objectification of women’s bodies and sexuality perpetuated by the beauty, fashion and sex industry making billions in profits annually by pushing old fashioned and dangerous gender roles.

Social justice

The Repeal movement, although simmering under the surface for years, was boosted massively by the gains of the Marriage Equality referendum in 2015 – the impact of the inspiring movement of mainly young people has helped create a social justice outlook, and a desire to fight for rights and equality has manifested in the struggles for Gender Recognition and Traveller rights that quickly followed.

These significant developments are occurring at a time of instability for the political establishment in Ireland and internationally, a precedent for winning rights at this vulnerable time for the 1% is a dangerous situation, potentially triggering struggle of other oppressed groups and workers. The reality is the establishment want to attack rights not accede to them and that has in fact been the trend internationally including abortion rights.

Anti-capitalist ideas

But in this politicised environment these attacks on rights will not go unchallenged. We have seen the emergence of defiant and vibrant movements like the inspiring marches of mainly women in January 2017 against the election of Trump and the threat he poses to the rights of women, LGBTQ, immigrants and people of colour were attended by millions in the US and across the world.

#NiUnaMenos [Not one less] is Latin America and #MeToo which was shared over 4 million times on social media give an indication of how widespread this politicisation has been and the potential it has to grow and develop. The radicalisation on issues of oppression and inequality is happening in the context of an increasingly polarised situation where the basic needs and aspirations of ordinary people cannot be met by capitalism, this is a hot bed for a growing interest in socialist and anti-capitalist ideas.

It is a fact that across the world if you are a woman you are more likely to live in poverty, be a victim of abuse and be in low paid or precarious work. The feminism of Oprah Winfrey and Hilary Clinton and their ilk who represent the interests of the super wealthy does not have answers for the vast majority of women who are struggling daily. These people defend the capitalist status quo.

Socialist change

In the last period the political lines of argument and actions of ROSA have shown how socialist feminists can concretely strengthen the movement for abortion rights and how an anti- capitalist and socialist pole in the women’s movement is essential. Members of ROSA and the Socialist Party fight not only for bodily autonomy, against sexism and oppression but for the building of an international, active and organised struggle of women, the young, the working class and poor that can overhaul society.

A powerful movement of that kind would make possible the democratic and socialist transformation of society; a break with the capitalist system that allows five men own the same wealth as the poorest 50% of humanity; where unnecessary and needless suffering is the norm to a society that is based on equality, solidarity and need.

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