A woman's place is in the resistance placard Photo: Public Domain

Ahead of International Women’s Day, Steph Pike looks at some of the key issues for women in the past year

Abortion rights

On 24 June 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade, the 1973 landmark decision that affirmed the constitutional right to abortion. Following the Supreme Court decision, half of US states have restricted access to abortion with fourteen states having virtually no abortion services at all. This was not just a huge blow to women’s rights in the US, but sent a shockwave across the world, reminding women that the abortion rights we have can come under attack at any time, and are often limited. In the UK, abortion is still a criminal offence if it doesn’t meet certain criteria. Last year saw a worrying rise in police investigations into women who have accessed abortions, and two women are currently awaiting trial for having unlawful abortions. If found guilty, these women could face up to life in prison. Until abortion is completely decriminalised and is available free, on demand and with no time limits, women still do not have full control of our bodies and must continue the campaign until we do.

Male violence against women

Barely a day goes by without the papers carrying reports of a woman being murdered by a man. This is so commonplace that when the papers recently reported that Emma Pattison, her daughter and husband had been found dead with gunshot wounds, women knew immediately and with a heavy heart, what had happened; that another man had murdered his wife and daughter before killing himself. Despite the issue of male violence against women being high on the political agenda over the past couple of years, the press reporting of the murder of Emma Pattison and her daughter was still shockingly sexist, presenting the murder as a ‘family tragedy’ and victim-blaming by questioning whether Emma’s success had ‘driven’ her husband to murder.

It is this culture of misogyny, perpetuated by some parts of the press, which allows male violence against women to flourish. In the UK, a woman is killed by a man every three days, domestic violence and rape is endemic, with so few reported rapes resulting in a charge, let alone a conviction, that rape has effectively been decriminalised. Male violence against women remains at endemic proportions, but despite the statements of outrage and promises to make changes from politicians, nothing has been done and nothing has really changed.

The police

Since the murder of Sarah Everard and the outrage that followed the news that police had shared photographs of the bodies of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, the police have been under intense scrutiny about their attitude to women, both in the wider community and within their ranks, and trust in the police, particularly among women and the black community, is at an all-time low. Despite the police initially denying a systemic problem with sexism and misogyny, an IOPC report in February 2022 confirmed what women and the black community have known for decades; that the police are institutionally sexist, racist and homophobic.

Even though women have known this for decades, the extent and level of misogyny within the police that has been exposed in the last few years has been shocking; WhatsApp groups, where serving policemen share violent and extreme misogynistic, racist and homophobic messages; policemen using their power to rape, abuse and manipulate women, and to bully and attack female police officers. In January 2023, the commissioner of the Met, Mark Rowley, said that for the next few months, two to three police officers a week are likely to face criminal charges.

Although the focus has often been on the Met Police, this is a systemic problem in police forces across the country; a problem that requires a systemic solution, not more meaningless platitudes from those in power. Furthermore, a report from November 2022 found that the Fire Brigade in London is institutionally sexist and racist.

We need systemic change not just within those and other organisations but within society itself. The misogyny, racism and homophobia in the police and the fire service reflect the systemic misogyny, racism and homophobia of the system that rules us.

Austerity and the cost-of-living crisis

After a decade of Tory austerity that has decimated our public services, reduced wages and living standards, and forced hundreds of thousands more people into poverty and reliance on food banks, the Tory government continues to steal resources from the ordinary people of this country to enrich a powerful minority. Phase two of this reverse Robin Hood policy is the cost-of-living crisis.

Women are disproportionately affected by austerity; women are among the lowest paid workers and work in part-time jobs more than men do, are paid less than men, take on much more of the burden of caring for children and other family members, and have therefore been disproportionately affected by the crisis in health, social care and childcare provision. The network of care and support that is being systematically and deliberately destroyed by the Tory government has meant that the burden of care has fallen mainly on the shoulders of women, forcing more women into low-paid part-time work, or out of work altogether.

These are just some of the many issues still facing women both nationally and internationally, and though many gains have been made over the last hundred years, there is much we still need to defend and fight for. It would be easy to be pessimistic and feel hopeless, but women are still resisting and fighting for their rights. The murders of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, Sarah Everard and Zara Aleena brought women onto the streets in our thousands to protest against male violence against women and the horrendous misogyny and racism of the police. The wave of current strikes has seen thousands of women at the forefront of grassroots political action on picket lines and protests.

What recent events have shown us is that individual women getting into positions of power is not the solution; Cressida Dick, the first female commissioner of the Met Police, refused to acknowledge the systemic misogyny and racism within the force she led, while Priti Patel and Suella Braverman have been responsible for and supported policies that are racist, and which negatively and disproportionately affect women. That is because their loyalty lies not with other women or other oppressed groups, but to the ruling class of which they are a part. The only way real change will happen is through grassroots, collective action.

Increasingly, International Women’s Day is being appropriated by capitalism to become a ‘send a woman a card and a bunch of flowers’ day. Women don’t want cards and flowers; we want men to stop attacking and killing us, we demand our rights; we fight for liberation. We must return politics to International Women’s Day; a day to take stock and issue a rallying cry for the struggles of the year ahead. We must build a vibrant grassroots women’s movement; we must take action.

Before you go

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Steph Pike

Steph Pike a is a revolutionary socialist, feminist and People's Assembly activist. She is also a  published poet. Her poetry collection 'Petroleuse' is published by Flapjack Press.

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