‘Mein ne bohot bol lia ab in ki sunain’, which roughly translates to ‘I have spoken a lot, now listen to them’, said one of the placards at this year’s women’s march in Pakistan. It was heartening to note that a man held this placard.
When women’s march was held last year, a lot of people were offended at a particular placard that read ‘Khana khud garam kar lo’, which means ‘Heat your own food’. This was a message aimed at men and drew the ire of many people. Interestingly, the critics were both men and women, that too, from both the Left and the Right. What was not so surprising was the fact that neither did these people participate in organising any event for International Women’s Day nor did they uphold the cause for feminism. That’s quite an interesting dynamic in the Pakistani Left, where some people think that feminism is in contradiction with socialism. These torchbearers of patriarchy within the Left are often found jumping to the defence of issues ranging from the protection of our culture and values to the protection of the male “right” to harass. Clearly, they have little understanding of how division of labour in the reproductive phase of life is a social reality that has consequences on a woman’s individual and collective reality. Nevertheless, their attempts at discouraging women from pursuing the struggle for their rights have achieved little. Women remain undeterred and the photos of the women’s march in Pakistan would show you that. The struggle for women’s liberation is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. The most visible and vocal forms of resistance were put up by women in the most draconian regimes, such as the one of former military dictator General Ziaul Haq. Be it art forms such as music or taking to the streets to burn their scarves, Pakistani women seized every opportunity in sight to fight back against tyranny, which was always entwined with patriarchy. They were beaten up and imprisoned, yet their resilience never wavered. We see that resilience in today’s Pakistani woman as well when despite threats of sexual abuse and acid attacks, she continues to march in the face of patriarchy. Moreover, this resilience reflects a consciousness in women – they are aware of their being and how their gender shapes their social reality. This brings me to my central argument: socialists in Pakistan must capitalise on this consciousness of women and build a collective struggle for the emancipation of both the working class and the women.
In the wake of the social media movement termed #MeToo, a number of feminists in Pakistan, particularly from those of the older generation, said that it is thanks to the bourgeois feminist network in the country that legal reforms were made achievable in favour of women. I want to say that as socialists, we must support all democratic demands that can be made of a state within the capitalist structure. However, as socialist revolutionaries, we do not stop there. We do not seek reformist legal concessions in isolation, neither do we live under the illusion that we will one day find ourselves in socialism by accident due to some slow reformist progress. We will try to acquire all the gains that we can in the here and now, but our fight is guided by our understanding of revolutionary politics. We fight for not only what is possible but also for what is necessary. Women cannot be liberated until the gender-based division of labour in the reproductive phase of life is eliminated. Under capitalism, reproductive work is privatised in the form of the family onto the woman. This is a specific form of division of labour that was taken over by capitalism and into the bourgeois nuclear family. Capitalism has grown organically on the basis of patriarchy and it has no interest in abolishing patriarchy. Instead, it continues to benefit from it. The division of labour in the reproductive sphere is not the natural order. Instead, it is the material conditions of capitalism that shape the reproductive sphere in such a manner that it becomes oppressive towards women on the basis of their gender. It is socialism that would overcome this division of production and reproduction as production would cease to revolve around commodities and all work would be aimed at the creation and recreation of humanity. This is why we need to do the revolution.
To give an example, legal reforms may win a greater share in parliamentary seats for women in a given country. But the fact that bourgeois women have a higher chance of making it to such a parliament is a consequence of capitalism. There would be greater representation of women, which we would support. But we wouldn’t stop there as this representation is not representative of the majority of women who happen to be working class. The majority will only be represented when the workers seize the means of production and production relations are changed in favour of a majority not the few.
As comrades, we must constantly remind ourselves of the key question that whether it is possible to achieve women’s liberation in capitalism or not. Patriarchy today operates in a nexus with capitalism and the death of the latter will lead to the eventual, though not immediate, death of the former. The translation into oppression of the division of labour between men and women in the reproductive phase is not a concomitant feature of life. The said oppression is made possible under the social conditions created by capitalism. This is not to say that patriarchy will naturally and suddenly be eliminated when we do the revolution. It will only be the first step towards our full emancipation. I say this because the elimination of the concept of private property is the only way forward with regards to the full emancipation of women’s question. This elimination will also lead to the undoing of the norms inculcated by a patriarchal, capitalist society. This is not to say that we must abandon the struggle for reparative reforms with regards to the women’s question. Socialists must always support the struggle against war and for reproductive and environmental justice among other issues. At the same time, we must do so while being cognisant of the fact that real emancipation of all women of all classes will only come with the revolution. And the first step towards that is to recognise the need to build a socialist organisation that works towards our collective goal of socialism and emancipation of women.