In the final few weeks of the presidential election campaign, both candidates frantically appealed to women voters for their support. Both campaigns produced a major last-minute surge in ads and speech time designed to win women’s votes.
Yet beneath the surface of campaign rhetoric, neither big business party offered any meaningful policy proposals to improve women’s lives. Obama and Romney gave lip service to the right to birth control and pay equity, but let’s be real – these are basic rights that stopped being controversial decades ago for most Americans!
Listening to the debates and the campaign coverage, you get no real sense of the crisis that working-class women live in. Over 46 million women rely on food stamps. More than 40% of single mothers live in poverty. The number of women living in “extreme poverty” – earning less than half the poverty line – is the highest ever recorded.
Women’s Lives Over Profit!
With the support of big business, right-wing politicians have dramatically stepped up their assault on women. In 2011 alone, individual states enacted a record-setting 92 new laws restricting access to abortion services, largely through attacking reproductive health care facilities like Planned Parenthood. The facilities that don’t get shut down completely are being starved of the funding they need to provide crucial services for women.
Yet the Democratic Party is complicit in the growing attacks on women. They are also a capitalist party, funded and controlled by big business. Everywhere that the Democrats have been in power at federal, state, and local levels, they are carrying out brutal budget cuts on social programs vital to women and mothers, including health care, child care, housing subsidies, and welfare.
At their top levels, the Democratic Party leaders only support women’s rights to the extent they think it’s necessary to keep themselves in power by getting women’s votes. Rhetoric aside, women’s rights and conditions are being pushed backwards by both corporate-controlled political parties.
Genuine equality for women – like equal pay, maternity rights, affordable family planning – can only be achieved by making big business pay, and neither the Republicans or the Democrats will willingly cut back their own profits.
When mainstream women’s organizations limit their demands to what is acceptable to the Democratic Party, they can only put up a defensive strategy. This has allowed the right wing to define the debate and to steadily roll back women’s rights and social attitudes toward women’s sexual and reproductive health. Rush Limbaugh’s notorious attack on Sandra Fluke is only one example of the right wings’s demonization of women for wanting access to birth control.
Socialist Policies for Genuine Choice
Women may have won the formal “right to choose,” but U.S. capitalism denies most women meaningful access to necessary reproductive health care, forcing millions into poverty, dependence, violence, and lack of control over their lives.
Many women facing these conditions correctly feel that they, in fact, do not have a genuine choice to have a child. The disgusting hypocrisy of right-wing “pro-life” politicians defies all logic when they passionately oppose women’s right to decide if and when to give birth, but also support budget cuts to services necessary to actually raise a healthy, happy child.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Implementing socialist policies for women’s reproductive health care could transform women’s lives and open the pathway for genuine liberation.
Socialists argue for supporters of the women’s movement to break off their unhealthy relationship with big business politicians. This would enable them to take up bold, unapologetic demands for women to really choose when and whether to have a child:
Free, accessible birth control and abortion services. Women’s reproductive health care services are under unprecedented attack. Birth control and abortion services must be affordable and accessible so that women can safely prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Fully funded maternity leave. Real choice requires that mothers receive fully funded maternity leave with the legal right to return to their previous employment with no loss in pay, benefits, or seniority.
Fully subsidized, high-quality child care! For millions of low-wage women workers, child care takes up a majority of their income. This often forces them out of the workforce and into economic dependence. Real choice for women means they are not forced to pick between a career and a child.
Single-payer health care! Millions of women and children still lack adequate health care due to the privatized, for-profit system. Even under Obamacare, many of the poorest will still fall through the cracks. We need to establish a publicly owned, democratically controlled, integrated health care system to provide free, quality service to all.
Make housing a human right. Stable housing and stable communities are vital to the healthy upbringing of children. Yet women are disproportionately impacted by predatory lending, foreclosures, and the housing crisis. Real choice requires that women have guaranteed access to affordable, quality housing.
A guaranteed minimum income to ensure all women are economically independent. Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. A guaranteed minimum income for all would allow women the economic stability to remove themselves and their children from abusive situations.
Socialists support genuine choice for women. Preventing pregnancy should come without shame, and with real access to free birth control and abortion services. Women who make the choice to have a child should do so knowing that they are guaranteed the social services necessary to raise a child.
These policies for genuine choice in reproductive health are just not possible under capitalism, which must gut social services to maintain profits. For this reason, a movement for women’s liberation must be bound up with a movement for the socialist transformation of society.