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7 March 2013
Women undergo double oppression under capitalism, first for their gender and second, for the vast majority, for being members of the working class. Grave inequality is the hallmark of women's condition in Nigeria. To win real gender equality, a mass struggle to defend women's rights and overthrow capitalism is necessary.
It is said that the 'face' of poverty is that of a woman. This is very true in Nigeria - a country whose over 70% population live on less than $1 per day. A significant portion of this horribly poor Nigerians are women. Women also occupy a significant proportion of the over 28 million unemployed.
Just for their gender, a woman is already worse off in Nigeria. In terms of access to jobs, education, health care and social opportunities, women are placed at a disadvantage. According to the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) conducted in 2003, the dropout rate for the girl child in secondary school is 44% compared to the male-child of 39.3%. Conversely, boys had a higher Net Attendance Rate (NAR) of 63.7% as against 56% of the female. Gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime and women and girls are often the ones that suffer the most poverty.
Even when they are able to get a job, this does not end the oppression of women, it exacerbates it. In Nigeria women often work more than men. While they go out to work like their male counterparts, they come back to toil additional hours of labour within the home, yet are paid less. Women have the least opportunities to earn an income- the last to be hired and the first to be fired. Employers see them as less productive than their male counterparts because of their reproductive roles. Women's labour is often unrewarded and unrecognized. In cases that it is recognized, it is often undervalued.
Too much is asked and yet too little is given. Women are the caregivers of their families and their communities. If there's limited food or resources, women think of themselves last. A typical scene at a dinner table in a poor family's home is the woman apportioning limited food to the children and husband before herself.
Women's health care and nutritional needs are not given adequate attention. Women still lack equal access to education and support services. Their opportunities to participate in decision-making on matters that affect their lives are also very limited. Many may think that women's rights are only issues in countries where religion is law, such as many Muslim countries. Or even worse, some may think that this is no longer an issue at all.
There is still so much violence against women, domestic violence for example - for every seemingly positive story about advances in women's right, there are many others documenting how far the society still have to go before achieving gender equality. According to gender-based violence statistics, one in three women globally will be physically abused in her lifetime with half of sexual assaults committed against girls under 16. In Nigeria, over 50% of women are routinely abused by their husbands.
In Nigeria, due to cultural and religious differences, the situation is very grave. Most ethnic groups in Nigeria believe that the woman is not equal to man and must submit to his authority. They teach women that no matter the situation, she must submit unequivocally. When the woman dares to speak out, she is blamed for the aggression and for provoking the attack. She is advised that it is part of marriage, and must be endured. Many women are reported dead every year in Nigeria under this circumstance. Many cases go unreported as the woman is ashamed that her marriage is not working and for most women, divorce is not an option at all especially because the legal system is too expensive for poor working class women, so they suffer in silence.
The laws in some parts of the country also work against these women forcing them to continue to live in abusive relationships. Section 55 (d) of the Penal Code which governs Nigeria's Northern states provides that a man can "correct" his wife as long as it does not amount to grievous bodily harm and is in line with the native law and custom to which the couple belongs. When this provision is considered with section 282 (2) of the same code, the options available to an abused woman are limited.
There is also the issue of rape and incest. It seems unbelievable that cases of incest and rape in Nigeria are on the increase. Statistics of rape prevalence in Nigeria are inadequate since rape is a crime that is generally unreported. For instance available statistics from the 2011 National Crime and Safety Survey show that only 28% of rape cases were reported to the police. The root causes of rape lie in the way the society treats women.
Incest is a silent crime that recently has become topical and primarily because of access to information and the act being known by persons outside of the family which is still minimal, owing to the still prevalent rate of ignorance and illiteracy especially among women in the rural areas, which is still minimal. The capitalist society also promotes male supremacy and domination over women that further amplifies the image a man, and an older one for that matter has over women and girls. This patriarchal environment encourages men in the family to believe that they own women and can do with them as they please.
It further demands from women a certain submission to the unilateral control of men in their families especially the fathers. It is therefore very easy for a father with incestuous intentions to sexually abuse his daughter who believes she has neither the power nor will to resist him.
Gender equality furthers the cause of child survival and development for all of society, so the importance of women's rights and gender equality should not be underestimated. Women's rights around the world are an important indicator to understand global well-being. For this reason, March 8 is set aside as the International Women's Day. It should be a day, as it was when originally conceived, to reflect on the condition of women and map out actions to continue to defend gender rights and advance the struggle for the liberation of women.
Women should be proud that the idea of setting aside a day for women has its history in the working class movement of the early 20th century and especially in the October 1917 Russian Socialist Revolution. This was the first successful socialist revolution and women played prominent roles in it. The revolution was led by the Bolshevik party - a Marxist working class political party which is sorely needed to lead the struggle to end capitalism and its manifold oppression of women today.
The signal for the beginning of the revolution was given in February 1917 when working class women marched in St. Petersburg under the slogan of "bread, land and liberty". Between 1917 and 1924, the workers' soviet government recorded huge advances in the condition of women. This included dismantling of the capitalist and feudal laws in Russia which hitherto legalised the oppression of women. It also included real social programs to achieve equality between men and women in real life. Women also played tremendous roles in the war against imperialist aggression against the young workers state and the work of building socialism after the war.
There are several things women in Nigeria can learn from the 1917 Russian revolution in the fight for gender equality today. One is that the struggle for women liberation is not separate but connected with the class struggle of the working masses and poor against neo-liberal attacks on living conditions. Therefore women must be active in students unions, trade unions and mass organisations fighting against anti-poor neo-liberal capitalist policies in the workplaces, campuses and communities. Secondly is that there can be no genuine gender inequality under the exploitative and for-profit system of capitalism. The struggle for liberation of women therefore requires the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by socialism.
Just as in the case of the entire working people, the struggles of women could only win some concessions and temporary gains. Therefore, what is needed is a permanent solution that can never be guaranteed under this exploitative capitalist system. That is not to say that we have to stop the struggle for improvement now. Indeed, we have to continue the agitation for equal opportunities, quality healthcare and education, provision of decent jobs and housing, etc. However whatever temporary gains that could be achieved under capitalism as a result of mass struggles can only be made permanent through the socialist reconstruction of the society which would make the needs of society, as against the greed and profit of the few, the basis of production and governance, and end all forms of exploitation and oppression.
Unlike capitalism, socialism does not seek to put one gender over the other but to ensure equal opportunities for all. Under a socialist system, the resources of the state will be judiciously used to provide free and quality health care; equal opportunities will be guaranteed for all irrespective of gender.