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International Women's Day Austerity is harming women and leading to a rise in the racist far right

SABBY DHALU issues a clarion call for unity amid uncertain and dangerous times

WE are experiencing a worsening impact of both austerity and racism. International Women’s Day is an important opportunity to remind us that women are disproportionately impacted by both. 

As UN rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Philip Alston, reporting on austerity in Britain, so aptly put it: “If you put a group of misogynists in a room and said: ‘How can we make this system work for men and not for women?’ they would not have come up with too many ideas that are not already in place.”

Estimates from the House of Commons Library show that between the start of austerity in 2010 and 2017, 86 per cent of the reduction in government spending was on spending on women. 

Cuts to the pubic sector have affected women more than men because around two-thirds of the public-sector workforce is female. 

According to the Women’s Budget Group, 73 per cent of those affected by the public-sector pay freeze are women. 

Austerity has also led to a rise in racism and has disproportionately affected African, Caribbean and Asian households. 

Figures from Amnesty International reveal that from 2010-20 Asian households are likely to have a 20.1 per cent fall in income and African and Caribbean households a 19.2 per cent fall. Single mothers are likely to see a drop in income of 18 per cent. 

Analysis by Jonathan Portes and Howard Reed show that the poorest fifth of households are projected to have incomes reduced by 10 per cent to 2022. 

Austerity has also led to the biggest rise in racism since the second world war, as the government has shamefully, deliberately and wrongly blamed immigrants for the fall in living standards. It has also used racism and Islamophobia to distract from its failing economic policies. 

The revoking of Shamima Begum’s citizenship one month before Britain is scheduled to leave the EU is a case in point. 

With only three weeks till Article 50 is due to come into effect, there is still no sign of a deal that will be accepted by Parliament. 

Numerous car manufacturers are either cancelling or postponing investment due to the uncertainty of Brexit. 

The government is in one of the biggest crises in post-war history, has no credible solution and therefore is stirring up Islamophobia to distract from its dismal failure. And it is the fall in living standards created by austerity that led to people voting leave in the first place. 

Islamophobia is leaving women disproportionately affected by rising racist attacks. Hate crimes recorded by the police increased by 17 per cent in the 12 months up to March 2018. 

There was a 40 per cent rise in religious hate crime, with over half directed at Muslims. Figures from Tell Mama on anti-Muslim hate crime show a 26 per cent rise in 2017, with 60 per cent on women by young men.  

Austerity, the attacks on the working class, women, racism and the rise in support for the far right is an international problem. 

Donald Trump’s presidency of the US has emboldened every fascist and racist across the globe. His election in 2016 was followed by record high votes for the far right across Europe, including Marine Le Pen in France’s 2017 presidential elections, Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany in the 2017 federal elections and the election of the Matteo Salvini-led Lega and Five Star coalition in Italy last year. 

The growth in support for the far right took place within the context of rising austerity and racism and has led to a further rise in racism. 

This has included a toxic, Islamophobic campaign against Muslim women’s right to choose what they wear, with bans on niqabs (face veils) and “burkinis.” 

We are also seeing a rise in anti-semitism. Shockingly, last Sunday a carnival in Belgium paraded giant puppets caricaturing Jews with rats and money bags. In France Jewish graves have been vandalised with swastikas graffitied on them. 

Britain has not be immune to the rise of the far right, with numerous far-right demonstrations. These mobilisations have led to violent attacks on trade unionists, Muslims, Jews, mosques, gurdwaras (Sikh temples), pro EU and anti-austerity campaigners, anti-racists and others. 

The murder of Jo Cox, the violent attack on Jeremy Corbyn and the vandalism of Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate are also linked to rising support for the far right.

The chosen targets of fascism and racism hold important lessons for how to defeat them. The lesson of history is that we must be united against racism and fascism. 

Trade unions, social democrats, socialists, liberals, communists, greens, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, African, Caribbean, Asian, LGBT communities, students, young and old, must be united against this threat. 

This means we must put aside differences on Brexit, the Middle East and other issues, and work together to oppose growing racism and fascism. We must also challenge and not concede to racist, Islamophobic and anti-semitic arguments put forward by the far right. 

It is precisely this strategy that led to the defeat of recent mobilisations led by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, and the so-called “Democratic” Football Lads Alliance. 

At a rally mid last year fascists outnumbered anti-racists by around 15,000 to 300. But towards the end of last year, 40,000 anti-fascists mobilised for the unity demonstration in November and anti-fascists outnumbered the far right 15,000 to 5,000 in December. 

However there is no room for complacency. Whatever the outcome of Brexit, the far right will be attempting to build support. 

The current Conservative government is also likely to be heading in more of a “Trumpian” direction. After the second world war the whole world said “never again.” 

We must put these words into action by uniting against fascism and racism.

Sabby Dhalu is Stand up to Racism co-convener.  SUTR is holding a national demonstration marking UN Anti-Racism Day on Saturday March 16.

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