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Contribution of Workers Party of Ireland

Feb 26, 2024

Every year, around the world, International Women's Day is celebrated. The bourgeois media and corporate interests provide a narrative which seeks to reduce the event to a marketing opportunity based on hypocritical and phoney claims of supporting and empowering women, many coming from corporations with gender pay gaps, precarious employment and poor working conditions. This is far from the real origins of International Working Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day arose from conditions of struggle – from the women textile workers’ strike in New York in 1857; from the anniversary of the Paris Commune in March 1911 when women marched and demonstrated all across Europe; from February 1913 when Russian Bolshevik women marched to protest poor living conditions, high rents and food prices, and widespread layoffs; from February 1917 when Bolshevik women again took to the streets when the tsarist army was ordered to shoot strikers, from the efforts of Clara Zetkin and V.I. Lenin to establish International Women’s Day as a holiday.

This is the International Women’s Day which we celebrate – International Working Women’s Day; a day to reflect and analyse the conditions and issues facing working class women.

The economic structure of capitalist society is central to an understanding of the oppression of women and the struggle for women’s emancipation. The enduring exploitation and oppression of women continue to flow from a system of property relations based on the private accumulation of wealth and the appropriation of labour.

In The German Ideology Marx and Engels explored the concept of the family as a social form corresponding to a particular mode of production. Engels, who had examined the issue of the impact of capitalism on women and work in The Condition of the Working Class of England, examined the development of the forces and relations of production and the resulting sexual division of labour in The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. The economic basis of society influences the form of social relations. The oppression of women is a dimension of class power.

Zetkin linked the oppression of women to the emergence of private property, emphasising the class-based nature of the women’s struggle for emancipation and the necessity for the overthrow of capitalism.

The Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917 established important rights  for women, equality under the law, the right to divorce, and the right to free and legal abortion. These gave women the right to control their bodies, their wages and property, maintain a claim to their children in the event of divorce, and to decide where they wanted to live, go to school, and to work.

The Soviet Code on Marriage, the Family and Guardianship abolished centuries of laws and male privilege and established equal rights for women under the law. The new workers’ state freed tens of millions of working women and enabled them to participate in productive work and social and political life.

In early twentieth century Ireland, a number of women were prominent in the struggle for the rights of women and labour, for example, Constance Markievicz, Hanna Sheehy Skeffington, Winifred Carney, Delia Larkin and Kathleen Lynn. As a result of the work of James Connolly, and the many women activists in the Irish Citizen Army, fundamental social and economic issues affecting working class women were raised and placed in the context of the prevailing economic system, capitalism. They recognised the necessity for working class men and women to work collectively in the struggle against capitalist exploitation and for the emancipation of women.

Gender inequality remains rooted in class inequality. Under capitalism women are paid less than men, concentrated in low-paid sectors such as cleaning and retail and are precariously or casually employed. Women are also most likely to be the main carers for children and the elderly and perform the majority of domestic work in the home.

Violence, sexual abuse, murder, trafficking, exploitation, misogyny, social barriers, precarious employment, reduced job security, child care support, funding for women’s services, ensuring maternity rights, bodily autonomy, abortion services and health are just some of the realities defining women’s lives in the current social order which are exacerbated by the capitalist crisis.

The European Union, through “market liberalisation”, deregulation and privatisation serves the interests of big capital and penalises workers, seriously impacting on women. This liberalisation agenda is driven by the European Commission and reinforced through the Court. Industrial sectors, such as telecommunications and energy, have already undergone fundamental transformations, and the liberalisation and privatization agenda is actively pursued in the areas of transport, the provision of social services and healthcare, which will adversely impact the working class, particularly women. Employment protections are targeted. The EU’s “one in, one out” policy accelerates this approach.

The European Union is a capitalist union which supports the unfettered rule of the monopolies and promotes positions which reduce the real value of wages, deregulate working hours and raise the retirement age. EU rules on state intervention restrict public investment, undermine the funding of public services and destroy social functions such as healthcare, education, social security, childcare and housing.

Childcare, for example, is a clear class issue. It impacts directly on working class women and their right to work. Affordable, accessible childcare is essential if women are to have equal access to paid work. The provision of childcare is a deciding factor regarding whether or not many women can return to work or education when they have children.


Imperialism, with its sanctions, interventions and war, as witnessed by the current genocidal Israeli attacks on Gaza and the inter-imperialist war in Ukraine have enormous humanitarian implications for women, including the risk of death, injury, impoverishment, loss of livelihood, increased responsibility for family members, displacement, human trafficking and dangerous forced migration in search of safety to be met by the stonewall of “fortress Europe”.

Marxism-Leninism provides the theoretical, ideological and political framework for an analysis of women’s oppression and exploitation. Theories which do not address the fundamental issues of class in women’s oppression, or more critically those designed to replace a class analysis, are unable to accomplish the liberation of women.

It is not biology but private property and the social institutions and social constructs of capitalist society which has led to the domination and oppression of women. Women do not stand apart from the class struggle.

The elimination of class exploitation is an indispensable prerequisite for the liberation of women.

It is the role of the revolutionary party to connect with women, to involve them, to assist them in building their capacity for struggle. It is only through the overthrow of the capitalist system which creates and perpetuates their oppression and the construction of a socialist society where the working class is in power, that true equality, human emancipation and the full liberation of women will be attained.

Equality, rights and recognition have had to be fought for. Progress is won, not conceded. That struggle continues, not just on International Women’s Day but on every day and across the world.