Capitalism breeds the oppression of women
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Dr Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi
August affords an opportunity to reflect on the emancipation of women as a crucial aspect of national liberation.
It is important to note that male chauvinism and all the myriad forms of women’s oppression do not suddenly disappear on the morning of the revolution.
The oppression of women is older than virtually every form of exploitation and bondage, it has existed throughout man’s entire recorded history.
It permeates every single aspect of human life and is so ingrained in every human being that the average person is largely unconscious of its pernicious effects.
Patriarchy or male domination emerges as an historical development, not a natural fact, and it can only develop historically when men have the power and resources to control the lives of women.
The oppression of women is rooted in class society and the emancipation of women requires a non-capitalist developmental path.
The poverty of the vast majority of women - and men - under capitalism is not a mere aberration. It is a structural feature of a social system which puts the profits of a few before the human needs of the many.
Poverty is simply the symptom; exploitation is at its roots. The solutions needed are not merely technical but political. While the forms of sexual hierarchy change over the course of capitalist expansion, the subordination of women remains a systemic feature of capitalism the world over. The representation of women is complex and it does not follow that female representatives automatically and necessarily represent the interests of women in general.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published a report on 15 May 2020 titled –“Gendered impacts of Covid-19 and equitable policy responses in agriculture, food security and nutrition”.
According to the report the Covid-19 pandemic and the measures to contain it are already having a negative and gender-differentiated impact on all dimensions of food security and nutrition, through reduced food production and distribution capacities, decreased purchasing power and diminished access to nutritious food.
Previous epidemics such as the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), Ebola and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) have had a greater impact on marginalized and vulnerable women, children, the elderly and the poor than on men.
Unequal access to resources and services, limited decision-making power, lower educational status and restricted mobility, all affect the capacity of rural women to meet the nutritional needs of their families, access health services and earn an income during this pandemic.
The report further observes that the economic impacts of COVID 19 are likely to be felt especially by rural women and girls with disabilities, who generally earn less, save less and are more likely to live close to poverty than able-bodied women and men.
The liberals tend to separate class oppression from sexual oppression, and capitalism from patriarchy, but in reality they are inextricably interlinked. Patriarchy almost everywhere is shaped by its relationship to the capitalist world system; capitalism almost everywhere is shaped by its relationship to the patriarchal system.
Patriarchy and capitalism are dialectical relations, and their dissolution requires a dialectical analysis. Marxist perspective helps us to understand sexual oppression historically as it interacts with class oppression and imperialism. It shows that women’s oppression is not simply reducible to male ignorance or to the male ego. Women’s liberation needs a radical change in our values, material interests and social arrangements at the national and international levels. The struggle against class exploitation, racial discrimination, and gender subordination must be integrated in theory and practice in order for any one element to be realized
The historical materialist approach teaches us that as with racism, male chauvinism and the oppression of women have very deep histories that are nurtured and sustained by the capitalist system. The abolition of capitalism is a precondition for the total emancipation of women. This does not suggest that the total liberation of women should be postponed, but this realization does determine the essence of the struggle for total liberation of women.
Frederick Engels cogently argued that the roots of female subordination lie in private property, class hierarchy and the production of exchange value, inextricably tied in with class oppression at both the national and international levels. Accordingly, the liberation of most women is not possible within the prevailing capitalist world system. Integration into social production within a socialist economy is a precondition for women’s emancipation from the constraints of gender roles.
This point was buttressed by Thomas Sankara when he said that the future demands that women be freed, and the future, everywhere, brings revolutions. If we lose the fight to liberate women we will have lost all right to hope for a positive transformation of our society into something superior. Our revolution will then have no meaning. It is to wage this noble struggle that all of us, men and women, are summoned. No revolution can triumph without first liberating women. Our struggle, our revolution will be incomplete as long as we understand liberation to mean essentially that of men. After the liberation of the proletariat, the liberation of women still remains to be won.
Mahlatsi is the SACP Free State PEC Member. He writes in his personal capacity.