It is fair to say that in spite of years of struggle women have not achieved equality and the world is becoming an increasingly hostile and dangerous place for women and girls. The fight for women’s liberation became derailed from the 1980’s onwards following the elections of Ronald Reagan in the USA and Margaret Thatcher in the UK. Both sets of right wing governments implemented regressive policies that cut the public services women rely on and they drove down wages, terms and conditions. These governments backed the type of traditional conservative ideas that rolled back the women’s movement. Women have never fully recovered from this right wing assault on our rights and freedoms and we are in danger of losing our overall sense of solidarity with one another.
Women are working harder than ever before in the home and in the workplace but the majority of us are relegated to second place in both of these domains. We juggle family, work and organise everyone around us but we have to work twice as hard as a man to get the pay and the recognition that we deserve for any of it. When women carve out the time to involve ourselves in the trade unions and in politics it is a struggle for us to rise in the ranks even though we are just as capable as men of understanding industrial and political issues, planning strategy and running successful campaigns.
Plummeting wages and the slashing and burning of public services impact women and our children the hardest. Women’s wages are no longer ‘pin money’ but often the only income a family will have to live on but we are still paid less than men doing comparable work. Women are more likely to be in the lowest paid caring, hospitality and retail work and research shows we have been hit hardest by the impact of the pandemic. The economic injustice meted out to the WASPI women has forced them to work on beyond retirement out of sheer financial necessity.
Controlling women, what we think, what we do, what we say, what we wear and look like is pervasive throughout society. We are relegated to being the shoppers and the consumers who prop up capitalism. Society reinforces the message that the pinnacle of our aspirations must be to spend our days adorning ourselves and our homes in order to attract the perfect man or display the picture perfect family to the outside world. Popular TV, books and magazines peddle the line that we are nothing if not aesthetically pleasing and that the relationships worth having are the most abusive ones where the male partner is disloyal, dismissive and neglectful of our needs.
Never before have women’s bodies been so scrutinised, abused and discarded when they are no longer an object of desire to men. Young girls in particular fall victim to a culture that has been seeped in the worst and most violent types of pornography which is readily available to all and fast entering into the mainstream. There are no serious attempts to control the pernicious spread of violent porn because the profits of the pornographers would be impacted and amassing profit is more of a priority in a capitalist economy than taking steps to protect women, girls and children.
Older women are under more pressure than ever before to pluck, preen or even surgically change our bodies to look decades younger to avoid being mocked or made invisible but those women who do conform are also humiliated by the application of degrading labels like ‘cougar’ and MILF.
Contempt for women is present in every official institution wielding power. Health and care services that women rely on are being cut and shut as a matter of policy. The defunding and privatisation of domestic abuse services is the reason why women and their children become permanently shackled to dangerous men who rape, assault and kill them. It is important to bear in mind that the sound of the keys in the door as the abuser comes home is terrifying for too many women. The slaying of women reported in the tabloid press is often at the hands of their own husbands and partners following years of domestic abuse.
The selling of the social housing stock ensures that women trying to escape abusive and violent relationships will never achieve the independence, safety and security they and their children need and deserve. Crimes committed against women such as domestic violence, stalking and rape are not treated seriously and all too often the consequences of inaction are fatal for women.
There is no doubt that the police and the courts are failing women who are victims of violence and aggression at the hands of men and this is because of an institutional deep rooted contempt for women. It is a prevailing truth that the vast majority of women have suffered harassment, abuse or discrimination in the home, online, at work and on the street and this is what unites us. Whenever a woman stands up and asserts her rights or speaks to any issue central related to her experiences you can guarantee she will either be confronted with statistics on how men suffer too or she could well find herself verbally and physically abused. Significant efforts are put into silencing women, shutting us down and excluding us from discussions and debates that directly affect us and our children.
The desire to silence women was strikingly apparent at the peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard as the police deliberately used the full force of the law to stop women speaking about our most basic and fundamental need to be safe. Women will not be Silenced was founded as an inclusive organisation that will put women first every single time and it is our intention to tirelessly campaign to speak truth to power and campaign for the type of real material, social and institutional changes that will benefit every woman. Women are 50% of the population and we know that a society that believes it’s ok to dehumanise, humiliate, silence and physically attack women is a broken society that requires root and branch systemic change. We won’t stop until we achieve it!