On the occasion of the 101st commemoration of International Women’s Day, JSAPMDD stands in solidarity with all women struggling against various forms of oppression, deprivation and discrimination. Annually, we commemorate this day throughout the world to sharply and resoundingly call attention to the millions of women, especially in the grassroots who, despite the many human right instruments that recognize their social, economic and cultural rights, live in conditions of grinding poverty and deprivation.
Today, almost half of the population of the world and the Asia Pacific region in particular remain deep in conditions of impoverishment and want, marginalized and excluded by prejudice and gender-based violence. Yet they contribute tremendously to families, communities and societies with their labor in formal production work, with their creativity and many talents and skills, and through the efforts they render in long hours of unpaid, invisible care work or social reproduction work. The gender division of labor and the non-valuation of their work serve to keep them in subordinate positions in the distribution, access to and control of resources from their homes to the economy and society at large -- a fact not lost especially to ever-profit hungry big business and the governments that live off them.
Women have won significant gains in realizing their basic right to work, as their increasing presence in the labor force shows. However, wage gaps persistently remain, indicating that women are also exploited deeper and more insidiously than before. Capitalists in search of the lowest wages and the greatest profit have found ways to take advantage of women’s marginal, even excluded positions in society.
We see these in the set direction towards labor contractualization, in the proliferation of home-based piecework and other forms of semi-formal “flexible” labor arrangements that keep workers separate and make organizing more difficult. Work increasingly becomes more informal, exploiting women’s seemingly infinite labor time for paid and unpaid labors. The majority of women in the informal sector where there are no social benefits or security of work highlights how poor women live daily in utter precariousness.
We also see this exploitation in governments’ promotion of women’s labor migration, neither in support of the right to work or the right to mobility, but to feed them to dangerous and demeaning work in global care chains and bolster cash-strapped economies with hard currencies. In the region are the top labor sending countries in the world – Indonesia and the Philippines – whose overseas workers are comprised of many women going into domestic work in the rich countries of the North.
Budgets for essential social services that could ease women’s burdens continue to be sacrificed to debt service, and are among the first to be cutback when economies contract. Through privatization, poor people’s needs are instead subjected to the whims of private sector investors, who are likely to put money only into sectors where costs can be fully recovered or not into poor communities without the capacity to pay. The privatization of water and electricity services in many countries in the region is a clear case in point. Experience shows that when governments withdraw from subsidized social service provision, women take up what they can through more labor-time spent on care-giving activities. They pay a price grievous on many counts – the loss of prospects for education and training, the decline of their health and overall wellbeing, the narrowing of opportunities for social interaction, for example.
As multiple crises grip poor populations in the region and the world, we are faced with another crisis brought on by global warming from the unhampered use of fossil fuels by the capitalist industrialized nations of the North. Several studies point to the disproportionate impacts of climate change on poor women, not only in terms of the greater burdens they have to bear to be able to adapt but in terms of actual lives lost in the catastrophic aftermaths of climate crisis-induced disasters.
The climate crisis is a global justice issue because the developing countries of the South stand to lose more from the North’s appropriation and abuse of the atmosphere. It is a social justice issue because sharply inequitable power relations and access to resources have pushed poor people into far more vulnerable positions and further severely narrowed their chances for survival. And it is also a gender justice issue because women who already bear layer upon layer of subordination and discrimination are and will be bearing more heavily the demands of adaptation in households and communities, to somehow weather a crisis they did not cause.
Today is a time for remembering the activism and resolve of the thousands of working women at the turn of the 20th century who inspired countries to take up socialist leader Clara Zetkin’s recommendation to devote one day a year to women. More than ever, the times seek a resurgence of such courage and determination. We, toiling women everywhere, bound in various forms of oppressions and discriminations that marginalize and exclude us in our homes, communities and societies, must rise in concerted resistance against the patriarchal capitalist system that compounds our exploitation and subjugation. Many victories in carving and opening up spaces for women have made our voices impossible to ignore; these voices must ring stronger still to shake the very system at its roots and bring our dream of women’s genuine emancipation and empowerment to full fruition.