1. Between 2015 and 2020, with marked inequalities country to country and region to region, a new global wave of feminist struggle developed: the fourth wave in contemporary history. It had international scope with epicenters in the US, Latin America and Europe. Its main demands were against gender violence, for the right to abortion and equal pay, among others. To a lesser extent, there also was a rise of the LGBT movement for equal rights.
The fourth wave was a progressive process of organization and mobilization, with a multiclass composition, in defense of gender rights, for their effective fulfillment and expansion. It produced a radicalized youth vanguard that is open to anti-capitalist and revolutionary ideas, quickly exhasuts its experience with bourgeois institutions and is a quarry of militant recruitment. Since 2017, this wave has established the International Women’s and LGBT Strike of March 8 with a methodology that is specific to the working class and today involves marches and actions in about 80 countries.
Currently, although, as a result of this fourth wave, there is a greater awareness of gender issues among the masses, the movement is not maintaining its momentum, but experiencing an ebb due to a combination of three reasons: a) some specific victories, as a result of the struggles, b) the coronavirus pandemic, and to a lesser extent, c) the reactionary political and religious anti-rights counteroffensive. Nevertheless, in several countries, there are also processes of women’s and LGBT struggles, but, for now, they do not reach the extension, magnitude and radicalization of the previous period.
2. When feminism is commonly referred to, it implies a broad and diverse movement for women’s rights and against sexist oppression, a movement that is multiclass in nature. That is why it is of great political importance for our current to define and present itself not only in terms of gender as feminist but in a differentiated and integral way, that is to say as socialist feminists or revolutionary feminists. This is so because we conceive the struggle for these rights as an inseparable part of the general political struggle against the capitalist system and class exploitation, which at the same time sustains and benefits from patriarchal oppression.
Not to do so would imply failing to distinguish ourselves from or adapting to the various bourgeois, reformist or so-called identity politics currents that, with greater or lesser relative influence, act in each country. All of them are defenders of capitalism and class conciliation and therefore enemies of the socialist revolution. We will return to these aspects in points 8 and 9 of this text.
3. Regarding gender related advances, for example, abortion rights were achieved in Ireland (2018), Iceland (2019), Argentina, New Zealand (2020), Australia, South Korea, Thailand (2021) and Colombia (2022). Laws against street sexual harassment were voted in Peru (2015), France (2018) and Chile (2019); against so-called honor crimes in Pakistan (2016), against gender-based violence in Ecuador (2017), and against digital harassment in Mexico (2017), against female genital mutilation in Sudan (2020). Equal marriage was achieved in Ireland (2015), Colombia (2016), Finland, Germany, Australia (2017), Austria, Taiwan, Ecuador (2019), Great Britain, Costa Rica (2020), Chile, Switzerland, Cuba and Mexico (2021), and the trans law in the Spanish State (2023).
As for the pandemic, it intensified all the structural inequalities of the capitalist system. That is why the levels of poverty and unemployment -which affect women the most- domestic care tasks and sexist violence, including its worst expression, femicide, increased. Throughout the world, women are facing a generalized process of feminization of poverty and greater job and general life precariousness. The pandemic also brought health workers to the forefront, who have a high female composition and led strong struggles in many countries.
As for the anti-rights counter-offensive, it is one of the expressions of the more general social and political polarization. In 2021, the Taliban government in Afghanistan tightened all discriminatory rules against women in education, work and other areas; and in the west of the country there are families in poverty that even sell their daughters to survive. New Delhi continues to be know as the rape capital of the world. In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, thus enabling anti-choice laws in several states. Right-wing governments in Poland, Hungary, Russia and other Eastern European countries made advances against abortion rights and the LGBT community. In their discourse, political-religious fundamentalism and the extreme right include direct attacks against what they call gender ideologies.
4. The current highest point of feminist struggle internationally is the mobilization of women in Iran against the compulsory use of the Islamic veil, the hijab, with young women at the forefront. It began in September 2022 in the face of the murder of the young Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini by the religious police. This feminist and democratic demand received strong social support and at the same time acted as catalyst for the deep accumulated popular discontent, originating a rebellion against the dictatorial, capitalist and theocratic regime of the mullahs, although now it has been placated by repression. The recent gas poisoning of 600 girls in secondary schools that fought at the forefront of the anti-veil struggle, generated several student protests, social repudiation and had an international impact.
At the same time, in imperialist countries where the wearing of the veil is banned as a component of anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic policy, as in France, we defend the right of women to decide: “my body, my choice.”
In other regions of the world, there is a greater lag in gender rights. In sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, for example, arranged marriages, i.e. forced and early marriages for women, are still common. In Central Africa, the practice of female genital mutilation as well. In several countries of the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent, there are so-called honor crimes, actually femicides. In most, there is prejudice, discrimination and persecution of homosexuality.
5. Latin America remains a core of feminist and LGBT struggle with Argentina as a reference point. For example, the National Women’s Conference that every year gathers more than 50,000 women from all social and political spaces, even from capitalist parties, calls among its points to “build anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-clerical feminism.” Nonetheless, on 8M there were divided marches: one organized by Peronism and another by the left. And during the rally for the last Pride March, organized by some 60, mostly Peronist, groups, the Peronist national minister for gender was booed for her inaction.
In Brazil, feminist groups supported Lula’s campaign, but his anti-abortion turn in recent weeks under pressure from religious sectors opened contradictions. In Colombia, some disappointment similarly began with the government of Petro and Francia Marquez. In Chile, the 2019 rebellion imposed gender parity in the Constituent Assambly, but the 8M Coordination became bureaucratized and ended up supporting Boric’s institutional pact with the right, which favored the latter. The Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, as part of its general repression, banned 40 feminist organizations; in addition, it is women who lead the struggle for human rights there.
In the U.S., since the ruling, the struggle for abortion rights is on the agenda again. In 2022, the main gender groups, such as Women’s March and Planned Parenthood, who are close to the Democratic Party, channeled everything towards the legislative elections. That is partly why the DP retained control of the Senate and avoided a resounding defeat in the lower house. In Texas and Florida, Republicans are on a conservative crusade with anti-rights bills, such as banning school materials on LGBT rights. This generated some protests, but localized and insufficient to stop the offensive.
6. As for the Old Continent, polarization is notorious. For example, a Christian right-wing network, Agenda Europe, is active in 30 countries, they propose “restoring the natural order” and carry out anti-rights campaigns.
In France there is the feminist movement Nous Toutes, which is anti-sexist violence and reformist and organizas marches of 50,000 people, and the more radical groups Feminist Strike 8M and Pink Bloc. In view of the US ruling, the French parliament voted to include in their Constitution “the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancies.” On March 7, there was a general strike against the pension reform, which coincided on March 8 with the feminist strike that correctly raises the same demand (called by feminist groups and unions), on March 9 there was a youth march, and on March 11 another national day of mobilization, perhaps this will continue.
In Great Britain, which has been shaken for months by a historic wave of strikes, women stand out in union struggles -especially nurses and other health workers- and in the neighborhoods struggles against the increase in utility rates.
In the Spanish State, the same thing is happening in the public health struggle. Moreover, the reform of the anti-violence law divides the ruling PSOE-Podemos alliance. Its ambiguities could have been avoided if feminist organizations had been consulted beforehand. The recent trans law and a bill on prostitution generate debate due to pressure from the radfem sector, which is strongly anti-trans and abolitionist.
In Ukraine, in the midst of the total disruption of daily life caused by the war, women are an active part of the resistance against the Russian imperialist invasion.
7. In China, in order to contain the demographic advance, from 1980 to 2015 the restorationist bureaucracy imposed the “one child” -preferably male- policy. This led to the aging of the population. That is why, since 2016, the government switched to a “two-child” line, launched campaigns for the “socialist family,” passed a new anti-domestic violence law and the communist youth league even launched an online dating platform. At the same time, in several provinces, the right to abortion was limited and pregnancy leave was extended. Although a strong patriarchal tradition persists, young women in the big cities are seeking greater independence, marrying later and increasingly discarding marriage as a guarantee for social advancement: the number of marriages is falling, while the number of divorces is rising, mainly due to female demand. If the government fails in its pro-birth policy and moves against the right to abortion, it will collide with these new generations of women.
In the working class, with the particularity of having a 54% female composition, women -as everywhere else in the world- suffer lower wages, greater exploitation, precariousness and harassment at work. On March 8, 2018, the government banned the independent website Feminist Voices on the two main social media platforms Weibo and WeChat.
8. For revolutionary socialists, it is key to intervene without sectarianism in the struggles and movements of women and LGBT people with a double objective: to develop mobilization and build our organizations, always in dispute with the reformist leaderships or other competitors. As we have said before, they are multiclass movements, in which currents advocating class conciliation or other mistaken ideologies participate. Among the main competing organizations and ideologies, we can point out:
- Reformism of all kinds (PS, PC, center-left, neo-reformism). Their apparatuses still have a leading influence or still maintain some leading influence and their strategy is to try to slow down and divert the progressive processes of struggle and organization towards institutional paths.
- Radical feminism or radfem, which emerged in the 60s and 70s but regained strength since the postmodernism of the 90s. It places patriarchy and the male population as the main enemy, omitting the framework of social class division and thus being utilitarian to capitalism. They are very anti-party, especially against the revolutionary left.
- Identity politics. By giving political and organizational priority to existing differences (race, gender, sexual orientation, migrants), instead of unity they lead to divisionism and thus weaken struggles. Like the radfems, they are openly anti-revolutionary left sectors.
- The Mandelist conception. It proposes an “autonomous” feminist movement (it is not clear from whom) and in fact considers the working class as simply one more movement, similar in rank to the feminist, LGBT, environmental or anti-racist movements, diluting the leading role of social class.
9. Against these erroneous positions, the ISL and its national sections advocate a militant socialist and revolutionary feminism, in some cases, through specific party fronts. We also avoid sectarian abstentionism in the face of these struggles: with over 40% of workers being women, plus other LGBT people, who suffer greater unemployment, precariousness and lower incomes, gender issues are part of the daily life of the working class itself. Therefore, and knowing that there tends to be greater reception among the youth and middle sectors, we have to take our gender policy and program to working women and the entire working class.
Although it emerged much earlier in history, today there is no patriarchy independent of capitalism. Patriarchal gender oppression is intrinsic to capitalist class exploitation, since unpaid female domestic labor yields revenue to the bourgeoisie through the care of present and future labor. The economic value of such work is between 15 and 25% of GDP, depending on the country. That is why our political battle implies raising a transitional program that, starting from the specific needs of gender rights in each country, seeks to build a bridge between those demands and the revolutionary class struggle against the government, the regime and the capitalist system to open the way to an egalitarian society, without exploitation and oppression: socialism. And to that end, building a revolutionary party is necessary. The struggle for state secularism and against all religious oppression or persecution is also part of our political program linked to gender issues.
Likewise, as part of our political propaganda it is important to spread the example of the Russian Revolution and the first Bolshevik government under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky, with its previously unheard-of gender conquests: equal pay and political rights for women, the right to abortion and divorce, equality of intra- and extra-marital children; the opening of public nurseries, canteens and laundries to alleviate domestic tasks; decriminalization of homosexuality, total separation of the Church and the State.
Cele Fierro and Pablo Vasco (MST Argentina) and Flor Slagueiro (SOL Spanish State).