Every year, on 8 March, people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. In many countries, workers and youth go onto the streets, raising demands around equality and emancipation for women.
This day originates in the revolutionary traditions of the working class. But over time, the class content has been diluted. Instead, the ideas of liberal feminism – which provide no genuine answers – have become dominant in the movement.
Consequently, today, women’s oppression is nowhere near solved. Instead, the position for women worsens with each new crisis of the capitalist system. Currently, the UN predicts that we are 300 years away from global equality for women!
One of the key questions that remains unanswered is that of women’s oppression in the home, with the majority of domestic labour still falling to women.
In the UK, for example, almost 50% of working-age women carry out about 45 hours of care duties per week, on top of paid work. Across the world, women and girls perform over 75% of care responsibilities and housework.
Some feminists argue that women should receive wages for all this unpaid work. But this completely misses the point. Women should be freed from the home and from the burden of domestic labour, not kept inside doing the same arduous tasks but for money.
Thanks to modern technology, there is the potential to automate much housework altogether – a process that has already begun with the development of washing machines, dishwashers, and microwaves.
One recent report has concluded that almost 40% of domestic tasks could be automated “within a decade”, thanks to modern robotics, logistics, and artificial intelligence (AI). This includes grocery shopping, cleaning, cooking, and the washing of clothes and dishes.
Ekaterina Hertog, associate professor in AI and Society at Oxford University, correctly argues that advances in technology have the potential to improve gender equality, by reducing the overall amount of domestic labour that is required – work that disproportionately falls to women currently.
To lessen this load would be a great step forward. Under capitalism, however, there are clear limitations.
As Hertog goes on to highlight, not everyone will be able to afford the latest time-saving technologies. What we will see, therefore, she says, is “a rise of inequality in free time”, with only richer households benefiting from this automation inside the home.
Furthermore, the report found that the time required to care for children or the elderly – one of the main tasks that fall to women – can only be reduced by an estimated 28% through automation.
This reinforces a trend that we already see under capitalism. The question of domestic labour is ultimately a class question. The wealthy are able to buy the expensive gadgets to help around the home – alongside hiring nannies, carers, and cleaners to take care of any remaining tasks.
Working-class women, meanwhile, are lumbered with all these chores and caring responsibilities, on top of their waged labour.
Inequality, in short, is baked into capitalism. A system based on profit and private ownership cannot utilise technology for the benefit of the whole of society. Instead, access to advances in automation will be restricted to those with the biggest wallets – not those with the greatest needs.
At the same time, the capitalists also gain from the oppression of women. Sexism, misogyny, and discrimination are fomented by the ruling class in order to divide and exploit the working class, and to drive down wages for both women and men.
This, in turn, helps the bosses to maintain a cheap workforce and boost their profits. And with wages held low, there is no incentive for the capitalists to invest in automation.
Instead of reducing labour, the bosses extend working hours, force staff to put in unpaid overtime, eat into their leisure time, and work their employees to the bone.
Capitalism cannot provide a way forward. Instead, the working class is being made to pay for capitalism’s crises. And it is women and other oppressed layers who are hit the hardest.
At the same time, it is working-class women who are often found at the forefront of the struggle. This can be seen from the outbreak of the Russian Revolution, which began on International Women’s Day in 1917; to Iran today, where women have bravely led the mass movement against the repressive regime.
To achieve genuine emancipation for women, these struggles cannot limit themselves to tinkering with capitalism. Instead, we need a revolution. It is only by transforming society along socialist lines that the whole working class can be liberated from exploitation and oppression.
On the basis of a socialist economic plan, with production for need not profit, working hours could immediately be slashed, providing the whole of society with more leisure time.
Everyone would have access to the latest time-saving technology. And investment in automation could rapidly reduce the hours required for necessary labour – in the workplace and in the home – for all.
In turn, any remaining tasks would be socialised, taking the burden of housework off of the shoulders of working-class families. This means providing the resources required to set up public nurseries, communal canteens and laundries, and fully-funded social care services.
The resources and technology exist to achieve all this and more, bringing about equality between women and men in the space of a generation, not centuries. Under capitalism, however, this potential will never be realised.
Only through united class struggle can we bring down this whole rotten, oppressive system. The fight for women’s liberation must be a fight for revolution – to build a socialist society, based upon genuine equality and real freedom.