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SACP statement on the occasion of 2017 International Women's Day

7 March 2017

Tomorrow, 8 March 2017 is International Women's Day. The working class and poor, unite, to ensure that working class women are not marginalised by elitist conceptions of broader social, including gender, transformation! ‎This is the SACP's call on the occasion of 2017 International Women's Day.

South African women have benefited directly from our April 1994 historic democratic breakthrough. Notwithstanding this milestone, the lives of working class women are plagued by poverty, unemployment, the burden of unpaid care work in the home and in the community, inequality, and violence. Working class women must ensure that the second radical phase of our country's democratic transition does not focus on programmes merely aimed at the socio-economic empowerment of the elite, women linked to the trajectory of the narrow Black Economic Empowerment that has dominated the officialdom of policy thinking post-1994. The second radical phase of our democratic transition and, central to it, radical economic transformation, must deliver and continuously expand access to our national resources and wealth for working class women. It must ensure that black women are not marginalised by elitist conceptions of transformation which can only benefit a few at the expanse of all women.

In addition, merely including women into wage labour in a capitalist economy will not provide the freedom envisaged in radical economic transformation. While working class women continue to bear the brunt of the lack of effective household services, the high prices and food insecurity, the burden of caring for babies, children, the sick and the elderly, they carry the double burden of wage labour as well. The distress of the working class family and hence of the working class woman must be a prime focus of the labour movement and the vanguard party's organising strategy at this time. This must find profound expression in government policy.

The SACP calls on communities to organise and advance community education to find solutions to our problems. 12 percent of our population is HIV positive and alarming rate of new infections is hitting girls and young women in the 15-24 age group. There are fringe elements of young men who are raping elderly women, with Limpopo Province the worst, in the belief that this will cure them of AIDS. There are fathers and step-fathers who are committing incest with their daughters, "justified" by the absence of their wives who have found work in the towns. The killing of women by their intimate partners is also a serious problem facing our society. Some sections of our youth, frustrated by unemployment, have resorted to alcohol and drugs, and with that the desperation of finding the next bottle or the next injection or pipe turn to crime and violence to feed their habits. The SACP is calling for thoroughgoing social mobilisation against all these and other problems facing our communities and women. The Party pledges to deepen its role in this regard, and calls on relevant authorities to play their part effectively and efficiently without fear, favour or prejudice.

National Minimum Wage

The gains of the National Minimum Wage will have a particular impact for working class women in South Africa, many of whom are in those sectors where the wages are currently lower than the R3500. In preparation for National Minimum Wage implementation and in particular the monitoring of its implementation in those sectors that are most vulnerable – the domestic workers and the women and men working on the farms – the SACP calls on women workers to join unions and strengthen COSATU to consolidate and advance the gains for the National Minimum Wage and to mobilise for a Comprehensive Social Security Policy. This must be seen as part and parcel of the struggle towards a living wage.

Let us deepen working class solidarity

As we celebrate International Working Women's Day, lets us give meaning to a new revolution, a revolution of the mind and lifestyle, a revolution that reasserts the spirit of Ubuntu-Botho of co-operation, of solidarity and support, and of collective solution finding.  Black working class women have long found innovative ways to organise their few resources for the benefit of each other through stokvels, co-operatives, through church and religious groups. 2017, one hundred years after the women workers in Petersburg took their stand against the price of bread and took to the streets, let South African women re-organise ourselves through the unions and labour federations, into the SACP, and into mass progressive women's organisations to reap the benefits of government extended public works programmes, of job creation in the economy, of building co-operatives and social enterprises to improve the quality of working class lives. Let women in their community, labour and political organisations join the community policing forums to ensure that all women and children in their community are safe and protected from any violence, and can become a voice for peace and development of their community.

The International Women's Day is the brainchild of working class struggles, of working class women: Let us reclaim it.

In this 100th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution that occurred in Russia in 1917, the working class movement must reclaim the essence of International Women's Day, which has its roots in the mass action of the labour movements and the socialist parties of the early 20th Century. Since the 1970s when the United Nations started to focus on international women's events, the socialist and working women content of International Working Women's Day has tended to be eroded. In this anniversary year, the SACP and COSATU and other progressive forces must reassert the working class and mass action content of the celebration of this day.

International Women's Day (IWD), originally called International Working Women's Day, is celebrated on March 8 every year. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect, appreciation and love towards women for their economic, political and social achievements. It is a day when women are recognised for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.

International Women's Day emerged from the activities of labour movements and socialist parties at the turn of the 20th century in North America and across Europe, and was established through a resolution of the Second International Women's Conference of 1910, a conference of women from socialist parties and labour movements.

The 1910 International Women's Day resolution is stated by Zetkin as follows:  

“In agreement with the class-conscious, political and trade union organisations of the proletariat of their respective countries, the Socialist women of all countries will hold each year a Women's Day, whose foremost purpose it must be to aid the attainment of women's suffrage. This demand must be handled in conjunction with the entire women's question according to Socialist precepts. The Women's Day must have an international character and is to be prepared carefully.” (Clara Zetkin, August 27, 1910, from a proposal to the Second International Women's Conference at Copenhagen, August 27, 1910). 

The proposal was greeted with unanimous approval by the conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, which included the first three women elected to the Finnish Parliament. No fixed date was selected for the observance at this time.

As a result of the Copenhagen initiative, International Women's Day was marked for the first time (19 March 1911) in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, where more than one million women and men attended rallies. In addition to the right to vote and to hold public office, they demanded women's rights to work, to vocational training and to an end to discrimination on the job.

In 1913-1914, International Women's Day also became a mechanism for protesting against World War I. As part of the peace movement, Russian women observed their first International Women's Day on the last Sunday in February (which fell on 8 March on the Gregorian calendar). Elsewhere in Europe, on or around 8 March of the following year, women held rallies either to protest the war or to express solidarity with other activists.

Against the backdrop of the war, women in Russia again chose to protest and strike for "Bread and Peace" on the last Sunday in February 1917 (8 March on the Gregorian calendar). The women in Petrograd, led by Alexandra Kollontai, chose to protest against widespread food shortages. A massive demonstration took place.  It was a protest against deteriorating living conditions, lack of basic food supplies and the shortage of goods. Mainly women took part in this demonstration, but men also were involved. Women played a key role in the Russian February Revolution and helped to define the agenda and the strategies of revolt. Four days later, the Czar abdicated and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.

In commemoration of this demonstration, the Soviet Union has celebrated International Woman's Day on February 23 (March 8) since 1922 when Lenin made the celebration official.

Officially adopted by the socialist countries and by China in 1949, International Women's Day was celebrated primarily in socialist countries until the mid-1970s. Sometime in the post-1945 period the name switched from the singular "woman's" day to plural "women's" day.

After the celebration of International Women's Year in 1975, the United Nations (UN) began celebrating International Women's Day on March 8. Two years later, in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a "United Nations Day for Women's Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions."