Socialists and sexual violence claims: An evidence-based approach

SWP

by Ian Anderson

On March 12th 2013, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the UK split, over a crisis triggered when the Central Committee defended a member accused of rape. The Disputes Committee, comprised of colleagues and friends of the accused, had found the case “not proven.” While leading members of the SWP challenged this decision, a Special Conference in March reaffirmed it, leading to around 100 members leaving and forming a new International Socialist Network (http://tinyurl.com/bafj5ya).

This is not an isolated case. In recent years, rape allegations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange have divided progressives. Whenever nominally progressive men are accused of sexual violence, it reveals divisions in the groups and communities they’re a part of.

When men are accused of rape, “where’s the evidence?” is a common refrain – as seen in the SWP Disputes Committee verdict of “not proven.” But what evidence or proof should we look for? Forensic, psychological, case-by-case? What is an evidence-based approach to rape and sexual violence?

Our method: From general to particular
In terms of evidence (as a philosophical or epistemological category rather than a judicial term) Marxists proceed from the general to the particular; from knowledge of how society as a whole operates, to a particular problem. We do not ask each worker to prove they are being exploited, because we know how work is organised under capitalism, how profit is taken from the mass of workers. While we seek information on the specifics of a workplace situation, we do that on the basis of a broader analysis. Similarly, our analysis must proceed from knowledge about how gender oppression works.

In order to approach accusations of sexual violence, we must start from the general. We start from analysis of society, how it produces sexual violence, and crucially where we are located in this process. Rather than starting with each case, we should proceed from a general understanding of sexual violence, to particular cases.

[Read more…]

Happy International Working Women’s Day!

Socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin.

Socialists Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin.

Gender and women’s liberation is essential to socialist revolution, which is why socialists founded International Working Women’s Day in 1910.

Below we link some material we’ve previously published on women’s liberation.

Contemporary struggles
Women, Class and Revolution, Kassie Hartendorp
Don’t Talk to Me About Sewing Machines, Talk to Me About Workers’ Rights! A Call to Action for Socialists from a revolutionary hooker, Greta de Garves
Rethinking ‘Domestic Purposes’: Do we need a new approach?, Byron Clark
The War on Women, NZ edition: Beneficiaries and Contraception, Anne Russell

Sexism on the left
Why have women left the Occupy movement?, Byron Clark
Safer Spaces in Political Organising, Kassie Hartendorp
SWP: Sexism on the Left, Daphne Lawless

Historical
Revisiting socialism and women’s liberation, Kassie Hartendorp

SWP: Sexism on the left

Daphne Lawless

The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is the biggest revolutionary organisation in Britain, and one of the most well-known and influential in the English-speaking world. But it’s currently in the midst of a crisis which brings issues of democracy, bullying, and sexism within the revolutionary movement to the fore.

[Read more…]

Reclaim The Night: Interview with Margarita Windisch

Joel Cosgrove conducted this interview after the recent Reclaim The Night march in Melbourne.

 

THE SPARK: Reclaim the Night seems to have been an important event throughout Australia this year, what is reclaim the night and what has driven people to get involved?

MARGARITA WINDISCH: Reclaim the Night originated in the US, with the first march held in 1973 in San Francisco. Reclaim the Night (RTN) was initially about re-claiming public space for women and protesting sexual violence against women. Over time many organising collectives broadened out the demands to reflect the many forms of violence women experience, of which the majority still occur in the home.

RTN used to be dominated by a more separatist feminist perspective, which essentially blames individual men for women’s oppression. This has changed somewhat to a more inclusive perspective that looks at systemic causes, allowing a broader participation, including men.

RTN mobilisations have always played a critical part in the women’s movement by keeping the issue of gender based violence in the public eye. With the ebb of the second wave of feminism in the 90’s we also saw a drop in RTN attendance as with other feminist activities around the country.

Numbers however started to grow again over the last few years, indicating a renewed interest in feminist ideas and activity.  Feminist speakers have been attracting sell-out crowds at writer’s festivals and feminist collectives are springing up on university campuses.

We also have to give credit to the excellent Equal Pay campaign waged by the Australian Services Union over three years, for bringing gender based wage discrimination into public consciousness. The campaign demonstrated that gender was a key contributing factor for the massive pay gap for the social and community services workers in the non-profit sector.

The global ‘Slutwalk’ phenomena which started in Toronto in 2011 is another example of re-invigorated feminist action and protests rape and victim blaming. In Melbourne these protests attracted around 1000 people in 2011 and 2012.

RTN 2012 was big across Australia, and in Melbourne exceptionally large, with estimates ranging from 5000 – 8000 – making it the biggest ever in Melbourne.

The brutal rape and murder of 29 year old Jill Meagher, who walked home a couple of months ago from a night out in the trendy and hip Melbourne suburb Brunswick, traumatised an entire community and broke the silence and complacency around violence against women. Many women not only identified with Jill and started to publicly discuss their own experiences of threats and harassment and lack of police support around their complaints.  A local resident organised a ‘peace march’ via facebook event after Jill’s body was found and a stunning 30.000 people turned up.

A small group of local women took the initiative and called for a Reclaim the Night (RTN) Rally along busy Sydney Rd, the place Jill M disappeared from. The group had three weeks to organise the protest.

The rally was diverse and included many families.  There were a high percentage of young people and at least one in four people at the rally were men. Men had been invited to participate but were asked to march in the mixed section behind women who led the march. The vibe was fantastic and many of us wondered about ‘where to from here’  [Read more…]

Rethinking ‘Domestic Purposes’: Do we need a new approach?

Byron Clark

As the government ramps up attacks on welfare recipients defensive actions have happened across the country as those on welfare and their supporters advocate for their right to dignity and a living income (not that benefits can really be called that). The status quo we are defending, however, is a much less than ideal situation, what we need is to change the way our society defines and values ‘work’.

The Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB), which is one of several to be merged into a new ‘job seeker benefit’, was  formed through the Social Security Amendment Act in 1973 with the first payments starting in May of 1974. It was originally set at a level that would enable single mothers to care for their children as a full time job without having to enter the work-force. A year before the Social Security Amendment Act, American feminist Selma James launched the wages for house work campaign, arguing that the work done in the home should be financially compensated.

While the DPB only applies to single parents, New Zealand must have looked somewhat progressive in the early 70s. Several decades later however, there is an enormous stigma in being a ‘DPB mum’. Back in 2002, six years before he would become prime minister, John Key described women receiving the DPB as “breeding for a business”. Work done outside of the wage-labour system- and being a parent is a huge amount of work- is not recognised by the likes of Key as having value. Even from a purely economic perspective, the reproduction of the next generation of the workforce is a service capitalism is getting on the cheap.

One nation has taken steps to ensure that this work is valued. In 2006 Venezuela began paying the nation’s poorest housewives 80% of the minimum wage for work done in the home. “The world is beginning to recognise and value women’s hidden contribution to society but Venezuela goes further” wrote James at the time. “This is finally a wage for housework, something we have demanded since 1972!”  [Read more…]

Women, class and revolution

Image

A presentation given by Wellington Branch Member, Kassie Hartendorp on October 9th, 2012.

The general view circulating the Western world is that women have it all. Women’s oppression is a relic of the past; we have independence, freedom and lions (see picture) We forged our way out of the kitchen, paved our path up the career ladder and scaled the ivory tower. There’s no doubt that we’ve made tremendous gains, on the shoulders of our courageous forebears, yet something still doesn’t seem quite right. Maybe it’s that glass ceiling that we find ourselves bumping our heads on in the workplace, it could be the harassment we encounter as we walk through our supposedly reclaimed streets, or the double shift we bear when we come home from work just to start our second unpaid job in the home. Maybe, your life seems pretty swell as an identified, independent woman; free of all of these pesky problems – I can’t speak for each of us individually. But I can point to a wider system of oppression, which continues to exist on a structural level despite our gains, our wins, our slow, but significant triumphs.

What does women’s oppression look like?

So what does the oppression of women look like in 2012? How does it manifest itself? Let me give a bit of background into the larger picture.

While women in the Western world are entering higher education in their droves, education is still an issue for a large number of women worldwide. On a global level, women account for two thirds of the world’s 774 million adult illiterates, with this being unchanged over the past two decades. Women have historically been actively barred from education, with major changes only happening within the past half a century. Even among those in higher education, women are still underrepresented in disciplines that offer the highest paying and highest status jobs.

In terms of work, women now make up a large percentage of the paid labour force in most countries. However, they are notably overrepresented in the lowest paying jobs, with men holding the most wealth, status, power and authority in their occupations. Horizontal and vertical job segregation has contributed to a global gender pay gap, which while is closing in some countries, still remains the same if not worse in others.

While women have increased in their participation in the paid workforce, they are still doing twice the amount of unpaid work as men are in all regions in the United Nations; resulting in a double burden of both paid work and family responsibilities.

According to UN gender reports women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of its food and earn a whopping 10% of its income. And they own just 1 percent of the world’s property.

Women still have little official influence and power when it comes to decision-making. In national parliaments, women make up only 17 percent of the total seats; only 7 of 150 elected Heads of State in the world are women, and 11 of the 192 Heads of Government.

In the private sector, women are beginning to make gains, but still, of the 500 largest corporations in the world, only 13 have a female CEO with many experiencing the glass ceiling that acts as a barrier to women wanting to rise through the ranks.

Statistics also indicate that universally, women are still subjected to violence, on a physical, sexual, psychological, and economic level. Many regions of the world still adhere to customs that beat, mutilate and kill women in ways that are dissimilar to how men are treated. Women are subjected to intimate violence in every single region of the world. In Aotearoa, 1 in 3 women experience physical or sexual violence at the hand of a partner in their lifetime, while the Government continues to provide a lack of funding to offer support to survivors. Rape culture is still a rampant force that acts to blame the victim, rather than the perpetrator, thus refusing to acknowledge the true issue of sexual violence.

According to the UN, “Poor infrastructure and housing conditions as well as natural hazards disproportionately affect women from the less developed regions in terms of unpaid work, health and survival.” More than half of rural households and about a quarter of urban households in sub-Saharan Africa lack easy access to drinking water, with women taking on this burden. In these cases, as Angela Davis says, clean water is literally a feminist issue.

In less developed regions, poverty is often a burden that affects women and girls the hardest, with women having lower proportions of cash income than men. Existing laws still restrict women’s access to land and other types of property in most countries in Africa and about half the countries in Asia.

While Beyonce’s singing that we all run the world, women have next to no control in terms of economic resources. In fact, we don’t even have control over our own bodies most of the time. Access to quality healthcare, abortion and contraception are still a major issue in many regions of the world. The right to abortion on request only exists in 29 percent of the world’s countries, and even among those, there are still rigid requirements for what a woman chooses to do with her body

This is just a snapshot of women’s status in the world today. This probably isn’t news to most of you here, but when we lay it out like this, we can stop thinking of our problems, however ‘first world’ they may seem, as isolated and individual phenomena, but rather underlying threads of a wider structural issue that permeates the far reaches of the globe, albeit in different ways.  [Read more…]

Gender and Video Games

Kassie Hartendorp

Anita Sarkeesian

Feminist media critic Anita Sarkeesian

Earlier this year, feminist media critic, Anita Sarkeesian created a Kickstarter project to raise funds in order to explore tropes of women within popular video games. The project raised a backlash from the male gaming communities who launched a vicious online attack against Sarkeesian. This included abusive emails, blog posts, and social networking comments of a sexist and racist nature. The attacks also involved the creation of hate sites, Wikipedia vandalism (editing her page with crude messages and porn until it was locked) and hacking/DDOSing her website. There was even an online game made called ‘Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian’ which allows the player to ‘beat the b**** up’ until bruises and welts appeared on her face.

Many observed the events in shock and disgust as the attacks rolled in, while others were sadly unsurprised at the outpouring of misogyny towards a seemingly small and harmless venture. To feminist critics, especially those involved in gaming and the internet, this backlash was a manifestation of a wider problem. As background, the gaming industry itself is widely understood to be a male-dominated sector, with only 11 percent of gaming developers being women. There are many contributing factors to this; some argue that technology and gaming have historically been seen as the domain of boys and men. This perception (reinforced by the lack of outreach to females) is argued to have been a barrier to girls playing and enjoying video games, and therefore, creating a lack of motivation to pursue work in the industry. With few women involved in the development process, the cycle tends to continue over and over again. [Read more…]

Protest Report: Slutwalk Dunedin

By Jessica Ward

The first of September was a cold day in Dunedin.  I got dressed in the sluttiest clothes I felt comfortable in; a short red velvet dress with a pair of black woolen tights and a splash of red lipstick. As I walked through the central city towards the dental school where the rally was to begin I saw no signs of fellow “sluts” along the way.  The town seemed almost dead with only a few couples littering the sidewalks.  Arriving at the designated meeting point outside the Dental School I was disheartened to see only a few people, mostly girls wearing fur coats which I imagine were keeping their body temperatures above freezing before the walk began.  But slowly the crowd began to grow.  Signs, badges and lists of chants were handed out. The signs, placards and patches had kindly been hand-painted by the organising committee and distributed to anyone committed to adorning themselves with pro slut propaganda.

 

[Read more…]

Wellington event: Women, Class & Revolution


A facilitated discussion led by Kassie Hartendorp.

6pm October 9th, 19 Tory St.

Occupy Christchurch Womyn’s group

In recent months a new space has opened up for radical women in Christchurch to hold discussions and organise around social issues.

The Occupy Christchurch Womyn’s group first met several months ago when Occupy Christchurch remained active, but general assemblies had become tense and the safer spaces policy overlooked.

Over the course of the movement, Occupy became a difficult space for many activists to work in with its increasing inward focus, disorganised and poorly attended meetings and individuals dominating the discussion with their own agendas, often unsupported by the group.

For women in the movement, the atmosphere of Occupy Christchurch was discouraging and, at times, openly confrontational.

Though these dynamics were not limited to the movement in Christchurch and were noted by womyn around the country (see  Why Have Women Left the Occupy Movement in the April 2012 issue of The Spark or online at http://bit.ly/HZoOCy), Christchurch activists have worked to create a welcoming space alongside the wider Occupy group to discuss issues specifically impacting on womyn in our communities. [Read more…]