March 8 2020 Women's Day Protest in Mexico

Gender Violence Is a Class Question

Over the past century, women have won legal concessions from the state in many countries that grant equal status to men—on paper. However, this does not translate into actual gender equality. While this inequality is manifested in countless indirect ways, direct physical and emotional violence is still rampant. Along with the coronavirus, there is a pandemic of gender violence worldwide, a clear indictment of the “progress” offered by capitalist society. Violence against women has always been an integral part of class society, and capitalism is no exception. A closer look at the numbers reveals a direct connection between the relations of class exploitation engendered by capitalism and women’s oppression.

Violence against women is defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty … in public or private life.” According to the United Nations and the World Health Organization, “1 in 3 women worldwide experience physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetimes.” In some countries, this number can be as high as 70%. It should be noted that these statistics only reflect figures from official reports and surveys—the real numbers are doubtlessly higher.

One specific form of violence that vividly showcases the barbarism of gender relations under capitalism is femicide, or the intentional killing of women or girls simply because they are female. In 2017, an estimated 87,000 women worldwide were intentionally killed because of their gender, over half of them by intimate partners or family members. This means that 137 women per day were killed by their relatives that year. The WHO lists El Salvador as the country with the highest rate of femicides, and 14 out of 25 countries with the highest rates are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2017, an estimated 87,000 women worldwide were intentionally killed because of their gender, over half of them by intimate partners or family members. / Image: Free Public Domain

The highest incidence of femicides occurs in countries where imperialism—most often US imperialism—has ravaged natural resources and economies, deposed governments, and caused acute levels of poverty and social degradation. However, this does not mean that other parts of the world are exempt. Despite a general lack of collected data, the surveys show that countries like Russia and South Africa have “very high” rates of femicide. Even in the United States, the wealthiest imperialist power in the world, nearly 2,000 women were killed by men in 2017, and the number has only risen every year since.

Another form of violence that predominantly affects women is human trafficking. While men and boys are not exempt from this horror, women and girls make up 72% of all globally detected human trafficking victims. Some traffickers profit from their victims by selling them as slave labor, mail-order brides, harvesting their organs, etc. However, the vast majority of human trafficking involves sexual exploitation: nearly 80% of all women and girls who fall victims to trafficking are subject to sex slavery. The victims are not always captured through direct coercion but are often tricked by scam employment agencies with promises of jobs, education, and opportunity. In capitalist society, the deep-rooted prejudices against women manifest in the form of legal or illegal markets, driven by the profit motive on the one hand, and by the desperation and poverty of the victims on the other.

Many other striking statistics highlight the manifold violent expressions of sexism and misogyny. To cite just a few:

  • 650 million women and girls are married before the age of 18.
  • At least 200 million women and girls aged 15–49 have undergone female genital mutilation.
  • About 15 million adolescent girls have experienced forced sex.
  • In the Middle East and North Africa, between 40% and 60% of women experience street-based sexual harassment.

The list could go on. Additionally, most statistics do not clearly state how they define a woman. They often exclude trans women, who are disproportionately affected by all forms of discrimination and violence.

Many women also have to live with long-term health consequences that result from the violence they suffer. Among others, the WHO lists:

  • unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections;
  • depression, post-traumatic stress, and other anxiety disorders;
  • sleep difficulties, eating disorders, and suicide attempts;
  • headaches, back pain, abdominal pain, limited mobility, and poor overall health.
Depression and mental health
Many women suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress, and other anxiety disorders as a consequence from the violence they suffer. / Image: Irais Esparza via Wikimedia

Victims of gender violence are also 1.5 times more likely to contract HIV, syphilis, chlamydia, or gonorrhea; twice as likely to have an abortion and experience depression and problem drinking; 41% more likely to have preterm delivery; and 16% more likely to suffer from miscarriages. Additionally, according to the WHO, transgender women are around 49 times more likely to suffer from HIV than other adults of reproductive age. It stands to reason that transgender women who experience violence have an even higher risk of HIV and other STIs.

Despite this, the statistics show that only 1% of affected women globally seek professional help. Out of those who do, only 10% seek help from state institutions and authorities. In many instances, this is because help is cost-prohibitive, surrounded by stigma, or does not exist. Transgender people have even lower rates of access to health services due to increased discrimination and legal barriers.

To be sure, rich and bourgeois women can afford to pay any doctor or travel to any country for the care they require. But even if a working woman is fortunate enough to have insurance—or access to decent medical care in the first place—the costs can be exorbitant. The same can be said for access to mental health services, proper housing, and food.

In these circumstances, a poverty loop often emerges. The WHO points out that the physical and emotional repercussions of gender violence often result in “isolation, inability to work, loss of wages, lack of participation in regular activities, and limited ability to care for themselves and their children.” Many women have very few options as a way out. If they lose their wages, are unable to work, and are thereby unable to take care of themselves and their children, they can be trapped in relationships of necessity. While some countries offer shelters and other programs to assist women in need, they are often underfunded, overstretched, and therefore totally insufficient to improve conditions for millions of women—let alone fundamentally transform their conditions of subjugation.

Spain Feminist Strike
Many mass movements emerged across the world that reveal a growing mood to fight back against gender oppression. / Image: Free Public Domain

So while gender oppression affects all women to different degrees, a vast gulf separates the experience of wealthy women and poor working-class women. Even an institution like the WHO points to many “socioeconomic factors” that increase women’s risk of experiencing gender violence. Some of these include lower levels of education; a history of exposure to child maltreatment; witnessing family violence; harmful use of alcohol; community norms that ascribe higher status to men and lower status to women; and low levels of women’s access to paid employment.

A pattern of poverty emerges from this data. Well-off households in wealthier countries have better access to quality education, lower dropout rates, etc. In contrast, poorer countries and neighborhoods have increased exposure to all of the conditions listed above, and millions of women are condemned to a precarious existence. This is why the fight to end women’s oppression is inextricably connected to the fight for better economic conditions and, ultimately, the fight for socialism.

Millions of women are unwilling to be passive victims or to see their loved ones demeaned and brutalized. Many mass movements emerged across the world that reveal a growing mood to fight back. A prominent example is the #NiUnaMenos movement, a campaign against femicides that originated in Argentina and spread throughout Latin America. In Spain, Women’s Strikes have been taking place on March 8 in recent years. Poland saw massive protests against abortion bans, and in Ireland and Argentina, pressure from mass mobilizations forced their respective governments to repeal anti-abortion legislation.

This is not merely an ideological battle. Changing individuals’ minds may have an individual impact, but what we really need is a fundamental transformation of society at its roots. In a world of wealth and plenty, the extreme exploitation, poverty, degradation, and alienation suffered by most of the population gives rise to distorted human relations that relegate women to a second- or third-class status. Revolutionary socialists fight to provide the material resources that will genuinely liberate women from subjugation in the home and the workplace. Once workers control the means of production, the world’s wealth and productive potential can be allocated to provide the entire population with quality food, housing, education, healthcare, and much more. Working women and men will finally have the quality of life that every member of the human species deserves, laying the material basis to achieve genuine “equality of life” for all.

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