WOMEN and black people constitute the majority of humanity yet are some of the most oppressed people in the world. The struggle for women’s liberation goes hand in hand with the struggle against racism. The unity of our struggles is the key to our liberation.
In Europe and the US, women and black people are facing the most harsh consequences of austerity, economic growth stagnation and the fall in living standards that follows.
Research by the Women’s Budget Group in 2017 has shown the disproportionate impact of tax credit cuts to the poorest 33 per cent and its impact on women and black people in particular. For white men, tax credit cuts have reduced their annual income by just over 8 per cent, for African/Caribbean men this figure increases to 9 per cent and 10 per cent for Asian men.
But the impact on women, particularly African, Caribbean and Asian women, is more severe. For the poorest 33 per cent of white women, cuts to tax credits have reduced their annual income by over 11 per cent. This increases to 14 per cent for African and Caribbean women and, staggeringly, over 19 per cent for Asian women.
Right-wing populism is currently on the rise. It advanced in Sunday's Italian general election alongside the rise of the far right in Austria, France and Germany. Similarly, there is Donald Trump’s election as US president. The continuing economic crisis is the underlying cause of the biggest rise in racism since fascism’s rise to power.
Racism is the cutting edge of far-right populism, but it also brings with it sexism, misogyny and reactionary policy on women’s rights.
Trump is implementing a Muslim ban, wants to build a racist wall and his administration has emboldened racists, resulting in scenes in Charlottesville last year not seen since the civil rights movement. His attitude towards women is notoriously abhorrent and his administration is more anti-abortion than even the George W Bush and Reagan administrations. A similar approach is being taken in European countries.
While deliberately pursuing policies that make people worse off, government attacks on women, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, black people are used to distract people from falling standards of living. These groups are also scapegoated for austerity while suffering disproportionately from it.
However, amid this darkness, there is light. The Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party is a beacon of hope for the left in Europe. As outlined in his recent speech, Corbyn is prioritising jobs, growth and improving living standards. He has also consistently stood up to racism and for women’s rights. Corbyn stands for making every one better off. Only this type of approach can defeat the far right, as illustrated by the growth in support for Labour and collapse in support for Ukip at the 2017 general election.
Blairism — the turn to neoliberalism by social democrats — has failed. It is why the centre left has performed badly in recent elections in Europe, but this lesson has not been understood by the majority of social democratic parties, as indicated recently by the weak SPD polling in Germany. In the face of a growth in support for Alternative for Deutschland, the SPD has agreed to form a coalition government with Angela Merkel’s CDU, which will undoubtedly prove disastrous. To defeat the far right, the left must learn these lessons.
Second, in the US and Europe there is a growing movement against racism and sexism as reflected in the huge women’s marches against Trump and thousands marching for refugees and against racism in Europe.
This year’s March Against Racism on Saturday March 17 marking UN Anti-Racism Day, an international day of action against racism, could not come at a more timely moment.
The #MeToo movement has inspired women across the globe to stand up and speak out against sexual assault, violence, misogyny, sexism and discrimination in Hollywood, government, politics, mass media — no sphere is immune to this.
This movement must also embrace anti-racism and understand the disproportionality of sexism, violence and misogyny directed at black and Muslim women, politically, socially and economically.
The abuse directed at shadow home secretary Diane Abbott MP is a case in point. Ms Abbott was the first black woman MP elected to Parliament and the most prominent black woman in British politics. Research by Amnesty International showed Abbott received 45 per cent of all abusive tweets sent to women MPs in the six weeks before the 2017 general election. Many of them were death and rape threats.
Worse still is the level of violence Muslim women wearing hijab are subjected to. Political attacks on Muslim women’s clothing such as the niqab (face veil) and hijab (headscarf) are perhaps the most startling illustration of how campaigns by the media and politicians have led to violence on the streets.
After the terrorist attacks in 2017, many Muslim women around the country were reporting physical and verbal abuse. In Leicester, a white man ran over a Muslim woman leaving her hospitalised for three months with severe fractures to her pelvis and spine and a broken leg. The same man then attacked a 12-year-old Muslim girl, attempting to hit her with his car. Incidents of anti-Muslim abuse and attacks in public areas rose by 326 per cent in 2015, with women disproportionately targeted by white male perpetrators.
It is often assumed and reported that Muslim women wearing the hijab do so because they are forced to by men. This may be the case for a minority, but for the majority of these women the hijab is simply a way of expressing their faith and culture – something they will hold onto more strongly during rising Islamophobia as a way of fighting back. For these women, the sharpest oppression they face is the racism, Islamophobia and misogyny, mostly from white men. Defending a Muslim woman’s right to choose what she wears is the duty of every feminist and anti-racist.
On International Women’s Day we must celebrate the contribution of, and campaign for, all women in society. We must also fight for better living standards, confront head-on the racist far right and pledge to #MarchAgainstRacism on March 17 and mark UN Anti-Racism Day. A better world is possible and we must fight for it.
Sabby Dhalu is co-convener for Stand Up To Racism.
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