The Hungry Eyes

111Every day, every hour, every second women are being harassed by men in this society. There are many types of Harassment but the most common and irritating one is STARING. This shameful act is being normalized by our society in the form of patriarchal freedom. It is clear enough to understand the root cause of this rising issue, which is Patriarchal society. This male dominant society has introduced a culture of Gender based discrimination. Moreover, women are considered as subordinates of men and the power only belongs to men. This discriminated culture has distributed the rights of freedom inequitably.


Thus, men are enjoying extra freedom than women. Unfortunately, the misuse of the freedom is considered as an honor of a brave man. If a man stares women, he is considered as a daring man. If a boy is flirting a girl, he is considered to be very smart and it is an honor for him. If a man is enjoying multiple relationships, he is considered very cleaver. These all boost up the confidence of man to cross the limits. Being a girl, I am experiencing this harassment on daily basis. It is really difficult for me and other women to even cross a street alone or with anyone. These hungry eyes are ready to stop our way, to catch and to crush our dignity, our respect, our confidence, and our privacy.

Is this a social issue or psychological disorder/ perversion?

How this harassment can be minimized?

I am doing a survey on this harassment. Let’s be the part of this issue and sort it out together.

Both males and females can fill this survey form and add your contribution to eliminate one of the social issues.

To fill the Survey form please clicks here:


First Step Towards “Students Against Sexual Violence”

imagesThe Harmony Theater starts the first step of

its campaign “Students Against Rap” with a

bilingual speech contest on the topics

related to sexual violence. the last date for

registrations is 11th September, 2015.

It has been observed that many young students showed interest in this contest,

therefore the management of Harmony Theater decided to organize auditions for

the selection of participants on 13th of September, 2015. Top 6 participants (3 for

English speech, 3 for Urdu speech) will be selected for the final contest which will

held on 20th September, 2015. Furthermore, winners of both English and Urdu

speech will receive cash prizes, shields and certificates.

Note: All participants of auditions will also receive participation certificate on the

last day of contest. 

Harmony Theater to present a campaign


“Harmony Theater Group” to present a campaign  “Students Against Rape”. The Theater group is going to arrange Series of seminars, documentaries, plays etc for awareness regarding sexual & gender-based violence issues in  the society.

So, the first part of the series will be a Speech Contest on “Preponderance of Sexual Abuse”.

Be the part of Awareness!

Unfinished Domestic Violence in Pakistan

Evidence shows most men make excuses, calling temporary anger and verbal abuse normal while shrugging off the seriousness of financial control as punishment

In the shadows behind the curtains,in the murky depths of despair and in the black of night, domestic violence continues to ruin lives in Pakistan.Inside the disturbed minds of those who commit these crimes they are not desperate to escape. Those who have the power to prevent and/or punish this violence through religion, law or custom openly or tacitly approve it. For every high-profile case, more victims die shrouded in silence and countless others endure the daily torture of not knowing when it will happen again. In the emptiness of abuse all alone, frozen in fear, victims stand in the cold dark alleys of torture and violence for the sake of their lives and children. The question is: when will they feel safe?
Far too often we as spectators fail to see it. Even worse, we turn a blind eye. It is time to shine a light on domestic violence.This remains a national tragedy for a country that purports to be civilised, tolerant and safe, or at least what politicians and leaders of the country claim to be the case.By placing domestic violence atop the national agenda they can expose and erase the dark underside of home life while helping victims find the warmth and optimism they deserve. But change will require recognition of the extent of the damage by those who behave as though it is still the dark ages.

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Gender-based violence has recently been emerging as a pervasive national issue. Existing statistics suggests that profound physical and psychological sequelae are endemic following intimate partner violence. The presentation of domestic violence in our country is culture specific. A new lexicon, prompted by the expansion of psychological analysis, describes particular threats to women, including dowry deaths, honour murder and disproportional exposure to HIV/AIDS as well as globally generic perils including abuse, battering, marital rape and murder.
The relevant statistics are truly alarming. According to the statistics of violence against women contained in a report to parliament by the ministry of law, justice and human rights, there were 860 ‘honour’ killings (mostly women), 481 incidents of domestic violence, 90 cases of acid burning, 344 cases of rape/gang rape and 268 incidents of sexual assault/harassment. That is just the official toll. Less than half of abuse is reported.
These are mothers, daughters, sisters and wives; these are the people who live next to you. These are real people and they are horrifying numbers. Behind the veneer of social respectability across all demographics, women are suffering from physical, psychological, manipulative and controlling behaviour by dangerous, sick men. It emanates from a mind-set that blames the victim and tolerates disrespect for those who are of another gender, background, lifestyle or are simply powerless. It does not stop there; children are even being assaulted, traumatised and used as weapons in the middle of this social pathology. Change will require challenging the culture of saying nothing. Change will mean recasting many of the myths about what a significant minority of men regard as being mard (macho): rugged,powerful, dominant and the breadwinner, able to apply double standards to being faithful, fearless and allowed to embrace loss of control and physical violence as a birth right.

When interviewed, most women who had been abused felt it was a private matter or feared retribution. Most live in fear of being tracked down by their abuser. True, more women today are economically independent and most know there are services out there to help if partners become abusive but only few take the risk of speaking out and refuse to be demeaned. But fewer still make the flight to safety or use the support of courts and the police to remain in their own homes. There must be more protection of whistle-blowers who lift the veil of secrecy. For how long will the fear of social ostracism or economic desolation dissuade women in particular not to report their dire situations?
While still fragmentary, data reveals strengthening associations between domestic violence and mental health. Depression, stress-related syndromes, anxiety, drug dependency and suicide are consequences observed in theshort-term context of violence in women’s lives. Sadly, though, many women develop long-term mental illnesses, often driven by a husband’s jealousy linked to low self-esteem. They try to destroy the confidence of a victim to the point where she feels like a prisoner dependent on the captor.In these cases, early signs of abuse are even harder to identify. The process can be so insidious that sometimes women are murdered without having endured a single act of physical violence up to that point.Change will require the courage of society to stop allowing men to make excuses along the lines of“it will not happen again; they were stressed and now they are sorry”. No, they are committing criminal acts and they should be punished.
Evidence shows most men make excuses, calling temporary anger and verbal abuse normal while shrugging off the seriousness of financial control as punishment. Women in our society, particularly from poor families, are prone to regard domestic violence and abusive behaviour by husbands as the norm too. Many men have grown up in families that functioned peacefully yet many remain deeply affected.The spread of cyber bullying and trolling on social media only makes the task harder when it comes to showing young boys, who soon grow into men, that disagreements can be settled peacefully and personality clashes need not become abusive. This intergenerational problem remains, despite some changed attitudes on the role of aggression in marital conflicts. The fact is that the children of families that endured domestic violence are more likely to offend as adults.Society needs to tackle these long grained infected cultural legacies and domestic abuse because there is a common link: disrespectful attitudes towards women.
There are some glimmers of hope.Emerging social, legal, medical and educational strategies, often culture specific, can offer novel local models to promote social change, beginning with raising the status of women. The ubiquity, gravity and variability of domestic violence across the culture compel that additional efforts should be made by parliamentarians and leaders of the country to promote the recognition, intervention and prevention of domestic violence that are both locally specific and nationally instructive.
There is a long way to go before the abuse and the killing are wiped out. That is why it is critical that advocates such as civil society champions and local governments work even harder with mental health professionals to find better domestic violence strategies.Can we count on our policy makers to do just that?

Dr Fawad Kaiser

March 09, 2015

Activist Sabeen Mahmud Killed for Highlighting Baluchistan


A leading Pakistani human rights activist has been killed in a drive-by shooting in Karachi after hosting a talk on allegations of torture in the province of Balochistan.

Sabeen Mehmud was shot dead as she drove home with her mother, who was also attacked. Ms Mehmud had been the subject of death threats before.

Ms Mehmud was a director of the charity The Second Floor, also known as T2F.

T2F regularly holds seminars on human rights issues. It houses a cafe and book shop where Karachi’s liberal activists and students can meet.

The seminar on torture in Balochistan was held at T2F, having been cancelled by university authorities in Lahore, where it had been due to take place in the last few weeks.

Taliban militants, Baloch separatists and other groups fight in Balochistan, which borders Iran.

Shortly after leaving the event, Ms Mehmud and her mother were shot. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that Ms Mehmud died on her way to hospital, and that she had been shot five times.

Marx on Gender and the Family; A Critical Study

images (3)Heather Brown’s new book Marx on Gender and the Family: A Critical Study is an important contribution to a renewed discussion about gender, class, and women’s oppression. Debates about feminism and its relationship to Marxism are nothing new, but Brown seeks to overcome the old dichotomy by developing what she calls a unified theory of Marxist feminism.

Brown explores some of Marx’s well-known works, as well as more obscure ones, on the topics of gender, sexism, and women’s rights, tracing the development of his ideas over time. She places special emphasis on his time as a crusading journalist, explores theoretical and methodological differences between him and his closest collaborator, Friedrich Engels, and breaks new ground by exploring never-before-published fragments of Marx’s work and correspondence that sheds new light on certain questions. 

Brown’s introduction places Marx squarely in the political context of today’s wholesale neoliberal crisis and worldwide fightback, from Egypt to Occupy. She writes, “In recent years, especially since the anti-globalization movement exemplified in the protests in Seattle in 1999, scholars and activists have begun to return to Marx’s critique of capitalism.” Brown contends that this return to Marx ought to include insights into his work, which points toward the necessity of women’s liberation as a central plank in any genuine platform of anticapitalism.

The combined task of exploring women’s lives under capitalism while theorizing women’s oppression itself as an important category of capital’s domination is the driving force of the book. Brown argues that Marx’s writing demonstrates an understanding that socialists must understand and confront the real conditions of women under capitalism. She also argues that Marx’s methodology equips us today to theorize women’s oppression further, even in areas that he did not explore theoretically. 

Or, as she puts it,

I argue that Marx’s discussion of gender extended far beyond merely including women as factory-workers. Although Marx did not write a great deal on gender and the family, it was for him an essential category for understanding the division of labor, production, and society in general. Moreover, there are potential openings within Marx’s overall theory of society that may be amenable to a feminist interpretation.

In other words, Brown believes that Marx developed an understanding of humanity’s relationship both to the natural world and to social development that puts human liberation at the center of his system. This perspective implies the centrality of overcoming the conditions that give rise to—and perpetuate—women’s oppression as a precondition for any potential liberatory socialism. She aims to show this by reading Marx’s work with an eye toward explicit references to gender, as well as examining those works that explicate his understanding of the two issues noted above: nature and social development. 

In her chapters on Marx’s early writings, she examines the 1844 Manuscripts, The Holy Family, and The German Ideology, as well as a journalistic article for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung Politisch-Ökonomische Revue, the magazine Marx edited in exile following the defeat of the 1848 German Revolution. While none of these texts take gender and the family as their main points or arguments, Brown makes a convincing case that important examples of Marx’s understanding of women’s oppression are woven through them. She explores themes of morality, the oppressiveness of religion, and alienation and argues that in these early writings, “Marx points out the necessity of women’s full liberation and equality with men as a prerequisite to a truly socialist society.”

But, Brown argues, Marx does not just situate women’s oppression within the working class. He observes that the oppression of women occurs not just in the workplace but also in the family, proletarian as well as bourgeois, pointing to the French Revolution as an example of a political revolution that did not alter the oppressive dynamics within the family. To illustrate the negative consequences of this oppressive and alienating dynamic of the family, he discusses the example of female suicide in bourgeois families in remarks based on an essay by contemporary French writer Jacques Peuchet, seeing it as symptomatic of the powerlessness of even bourgeois women within the home but also as a significant (if desperate) act of resistance against their oppression. This discussion shows that, for Marx, analyzing the oppression of women inside the family is central to understanding women’s oppression as a whole. Brown uses this example to push back against the critique that Marx focuses only on productive labor. 

Brown argues throughout the book, quite convincingly, that, while Marx’s writings did not cover all aspects of women’s oppression, his overall framework and methodology provide us with the tools to fill out his analysis of capitalism with an analysis of gender. In the chapter “Political Economy, Gender and the Family,” Brown applies this method in a discussion of social reproduction theory. This theory was developed in the 1980s, most notably by Lise Vogel, in an effort to develop a political economy of domestic labor while developing a unified theory of women’s oppression under capitalism. 

Brown shows how Vogel challenges a dualistic view of productive and reproductive labor as two separate, autonomous spheres, a view which, Brown argues, Marx rejected in favor of a dialectical analysis that considered all social relations under capitalism as one part of an overall totality. While this dualism has marked many feminist trends (e.g., patriarchy produces sexism; capitalism produces exploitation), Brown notes that Vogel traces it back to none other than Marx’s closest collaborator, Engels. 

Brown acknowledges that the bulk of Marx’s political economy is focused on production (that is, how exploitation takes place at work), but she makes a strong case that the framework he set forth in Capital also provides us with the tools to understand domestic labor and the reproduction of labor in the home. This is one of the strongest and most relevant arguments in the book. Brown acknowledges the limitations of the Marxist analysis insofar as it prioritizes production (see the decades of effort Marx put into unlocking the keys to exploitation), but then uses Marx’s own method to elevate reproduction to an equivalent significance for understanding the totality of the workings of capitalism. 

She explains:

He argues that the private sphere could only be understood with a reference to production. Moreover, if the two spheres really do interact to a significant extent, then the same would also be true of production itself: production could only be truly understood once the specific relations involved in human reproduction were understood. . . . The relations of production may have analytical priority over other relations; however these relations must be understood as dialectically related to the whole in order to understand the capitalist or any other mode of production. Marx’s lack of interest in human reproduction should not deter us from exploring these issues within his own framework.

This is an important observation that makes real the possibility of developing a theory of women’s liberation that can be fully woven into Marx’s framework.

In the final two chapters, Brown develops what may be the more controversial of her arguments. She focuses on notes that Marx scribbled while studying different anthropological works on pre-class societies, as well as during his research on revolutionary dynamics in developing societies. Here is where she posits the great divide between Marx and Engels. 

Engels’s famous work The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State is often regarded as a central socialist text with respect to women’s oppression under class society, yet, Brown argues, the text is flawed by an economic determinism that is not present in Marx’s exploration of the same topic, even though Marx’s (informal) commentaries take much of the same anthropological evidence as their starting point. Arguing that the rise of class society and private property were concurrent with the institutionalization of the monogamous, patriarchal family, Engels links women’s oppression and the relegation of women’s work to the private domestic sphere to the rise of class society. In making this case, he relies heavily on nineteenth-century anthropologist Henry Morgan’s work. Engels asserts that the institutions of monogamy and patrilineage constitute the “over-throw of mother-right” and usher in the era of women’s oppression and institutionalized sexism that persists today. 

Brown challenges this framework, arguing that Engels’s analysis “was marred by an overly deterministic framework and by an inadequate focus on the social elements of change.” Engels’s book traces historical eras with corresponding family forms that Brown finds linear; she critiques him for not considering cases of women’s oppression in early pre-class societies. 

Pointing to what she calls a “deterministic assessment” of women’s oppression, she finds fault with the following passage from Engels:

The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male. Monogamous marriage was a great historical step forward; nevertheless, together with slavery and private wealth, it opens the period that has lasted until today in which every step forward is also relatively a step backward, in which prosperity and development for some is won through the misery and frustration of others. It is this cellular form of civilized society in which the nature of the oppositions and contradictions fully active in that society can be already studied.

There is some truth to Brown’s claims that Marx explored gender and the development of the family differently than Engels did, but she goes far beyond pointing out a difference in emphasis between their two analyses. Brown implies that Engels’s method is so deeply flawed that it corrupts the entire work. 

It is worth noting that she is far more forgiving in her critique of Marx. For example, she chastises Engels for not acknowledging agency and the role of a political struggle for women’s liberation separate from the struggle for socialism, or at least the need to link the two together explicitly. She argues, “More problematic, however, is Engels’ close association of gender- and class-oppression. Since he views them as developing simultaneously and from the same causes, he automatically assumes that, with the end of private property, gender oppression will end as well.” This automaticity is inferred in Brown’s reading of the text but, arguably, is not clearly based on Engels’s actual argument.  

Likewise, she points to a mistake that Engels does certainly make but which could just as easily be attributed to Marx: that is, their joint assumption that the movement of women into paid labor in the public sphere would serve as a means to equalize relationships between men and women.  This mistake was, in fact, premised on two theoretical missteps.  First, neither Marx nor Engels theorized the “double burden” that women endure as workers in both the domestic and the public spheres.  Second, Marx and Engels paid relatively little attention to theorizing the particularities of women’s oppression and work at this time because they both believed that revolutionary change was imminent—that is, they tended to underestimate capitalism’s adaptability, especially its ability to remake the working-class family unit.  

Engel’s work is not without flaws, as acknowledged above, yet it provides a useful and clear framework for understanding the concept that women’s oppression is a social (and historical) phenomenon, constructed and perpetuated by an economic system which benefits from both free labor in the home and exploited labor in the workplace.  Additionally, while Engels makes some assumptions about sexuality (specifically, adhering to a heterosexual framework and assuming that a higher form of monogamy, rather than alternatives to monogamy, will become the norm for human sexual relationships), his entire book is a testament to the idea that human relationships are shaped by society in an oppressive but also potentially liberatory way.  

In a notable quote from Origin, Engels argues:

What we can now conjecture about the way in which sexual relations will be ordered after the impending overthrow of capitalist production is mainly of a negative character, limited for the most part to what will disappear. But what will there be new? That will be answered when a new generation has grown up: a generation of men who never in their lives have known what it is to buy a woman’s surrender with money or any other social instrument of power; a generation of women who have never known what it is to give themselves to a man from any other considerations than real love, or to refuse to give themselves to their lover from fear of the economic consequences.

It is possible to read economic determinism into this statement, but it is also possible to read it as a condemnation of the way capitalism limits and distorts human sexuality for its own ends, with a hopeful rejoinder—albeit not a program—that human relations without the weight of capitalism will be able to develop in forms yet unknown.

Brown’s decision to counterpose Marx to Engels is unnecessary. Here, perhaps, her readily acknowledged roots in the Marxist humanist political tradition overgrow their usefulness. As pioneered by Raya Dunayevskaya, this trend fruitfully emphasizes Marx’s insistence on dialectical processes, working-class agency, and the concept of alienation as central to his philosophy, but it also proposes (less helpfully) a theoretical gulf between Marx’s and Engels’s points of view. 

As Brown convincingly argues, much of Marx’s writing itself leaves us wanting when it comes to women’s oppression, yet as a whole it is valuable, if not vital, to building a women’s liberation movement. This same could be said of Engels; given that, in life, Marx and Engels were friends and collaborators, the posthumous attempt to uncouple them does not seem to be a necessary exercise. Both make valuable political and methodological contributions to theorizing the struggle for women’s oppression and are useful in our toolbox as we rebuild a women’s movement built on radical, class politics. 

This critique, however, is not meant to take away from the insights that this book makes in advancing our understanding of women’s oppression, both theoretically and politically. Brown has made an invaluable contribution in bringing Marx’s previously ignored writings on women’s oppression to light and demonstrating that his method enables a new generation of Marxists to develop theory to help guide the fight for women’s liberation as an inseparable part of the fight for socialism. 

Women’s Oppression and Capitalism

The Origins of Women’s Oppression
The division of labour between men and women is not in itself an unequal or oppressive arrangement and only seems inevitable due to the difference in biology. However, we should question at what point and why this division became a relationship of dominance – and oppression. Why brave women, with their superior bodies which enable them to bear and to feed babies, become the underdog? It is important that we should define carefully what it is that women are “naturally” or biologically built for giving birth to and suckling young.

We must reject other attributes said to be naturally feminine, like the ability to care for babies, change their nappies, nurse them when they are sick, oversee their development and education etc. These things, men are just as capable or performing. However, many women are physically unwell and unable to labour during some of pregnancy, lactation and during times of other menstrual problems. This vulnerability must have played a part in their subjection.

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Maria Mies, in her book, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, has collected much information from women-centred research in anthropology on this question. This evidence leads her to put forward the thesis that it was men’s role as hunter which led to his expertise in simple weapons of aggression and capture. In addition, within nomadic pastoral tribes, men’s work involved breeding the animals with a lessening role of gatherer for women and an increasing pressure on women to breed and be controlled along with the animals by men. Man the hunter was then able to hunt and capture women and young men, both of other agricultural tribes and nomads, when they came into his territory. He was thus able to take the first steps in accumulation of property, surplus and power.

Maria Mies stresses that evidence suggests that it was women who were the early agriculturists, not only, making vessels for gathering surplus food but also cultivating crops by means of early tools, such as digging sticks and hoes. At this stage, hunting for meat was a peripheral activity, which only men could afford to experiment in, women being involved in the day-to-day feeding of herself, her milk- producing capacities and her young children. But, of course, societies developed differently in different parts of the globe, depending on vegetation, climate, and animal species. Grasslands were more suited to nomadic life, fertile plains and river valleys to settled agriculture.

imagesThe accumulation of surplus and private property, by pillage and force, not only made one section richer and more powerful than another, but was notable in that this powerful section was almost entirely men.

It would seem that men did not become more rich and powerful because of their superior strength, but because they were not tied by the hour-to-hour work of providing for the foetus and young children, and were indeed supported by women. This freed them for other things.

This analysis places the beginnings of oppression of women by men, and the oppression of one group of men (slaves), by another, in the same historical epoch. The predatory mode of appropriation transforms autonomous human producers into conditions, of production for others. However, this analysis does not see women’s oppression arising because of class oppression, and therefore can encompass examples which separate the two. For example, from descriptions of aboriginal societies in Australia, it would appear that these societies are not based on class oppression, but are, nevertheless, societies in which women have no democratic rights and are treated more like animals than humans, (Robert Hughes The Fatal Shore). Thus although in many places the two processes went together they were, in fact, independent.

The analysis of Engels, on the other hand, in–The Origin of the, Family, Private Property and the State,–did not see the oppression of women as a separate form of oppression with its own history and causes. His analysis, based on anthropological evidence now largely discredited, situates women’s oppression only as class oppression which arose because of the accumulation of surplus and private property.

It would seem that Engels was blinkered by the Eurocentric and male dominated view which was inevitable at the time.

The societies which built on man the hunter, conquest and war, for example, the Jews, the Aryans, the Arabs and the Chinese, by their very nature expanded and overran other styles of society and pushed forward what Maria Mies calls the patriarchal system. For example, Europe was not invaded by Africans, but Africa was invaded by predatory Europeans.

These early forms of human organisation, however, must have left women with much power, especially within the domestic sphere. There are many examples from early history of powerful women, African Queens, warriors, female gods.

Women’s Oppression Through History

In following through the development of societies from this very early time, we in the West have continually to beware of Eurocentrism. Inevitably, it is easier for us to find out about our own history in Europe and much can be learned from that. However, we must accept that lessons learnt from that will not have universal relevance and will need re-thinking as we learn more of other societies. To view history through eyes wide enough to see both women and to see, globally is an immense task that we are only just beginning.

downloadThe work the women’s movement has done in discovering some of their own history is important in trying to understand why this early oppressive division of labour became more and more all-embracing, rather than being a temporary phase of history. Feminists such as Sheila Rowbotham, Elizabeth Fisher, Barbara Ehrenreich, Marilyn French and many more have traced women’s history and found it rich and full of struggle. They have documented the fight back of women in all aspects of their lives against oppression by men, and by the state.

A single example of this is the sustained and brutal attack on the sexual and productive autonomy of European women under early capitalism, by means of witch hunts; hundreds of thousands of women were tortured and killed, including any woman peasant or artisan showing independence of spirit, and especially women healers and midwives. The modern state required, absolute sovereignty, especially over reproduction of the future labour force, and the confiscation of property fed the early processes of capital accumulation.

Of much more importance in primitive accumulation of capital was, of course, the conquest and plunder of the colonies in the Sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Here too women got special treatment, but quite the other side of the coin. Many studies have shown that while white women in the “motherland” were being forced to breed within strict family structures, women in the colonies were used as labour, not breeding stock, and their family structures and children were destroyed.

A study by Rhoda Reddock of Caribbean slave women describes how, in the early slave period, they were forbidden to marry or have children, as it was cheaper for the planters to import more slaves than lose women’s labour during pregnancy and suckling. Later, however, Africa was being exploited differently and slaves more difficult to trade, Caribbean women were then encouraged to breed again. The women showed their resistance to slavery by a long birth strike causing severe labour problems.

Underlying all the various examples there are of how women are bludgeoned and coerced in different ways by early capitalism, is the fact that the oppression of women of the exploited classes is shaped not only by their participation in wage labour but also by relation to their reproduction of the labour force.

Material Basis of Women’s Oppression and the Reproduction of Labour Power

The basis of women’s oppression lies in her vulnerability during pregnancy and childbirth. During some of this period she is unable to work, except for the work of childbearing itself, and during much of it, she is able to work at partial strength only and feels both mentally and physically weaker. This varies from woman to woman, and pregnancy to pregnancy, but is nevertheless universal to some degree. In a class society, this creates a major contradiction between classes. The capitalist class requires the next generation of workers and therefore needs women to perform this reproductive role, the so-called reproduction of labour power. However, at the same time, the very existence of the capitalist class depends on being able to extract profit out of working class men and women as workers. In the case of working class women, these two needs are incompatible, at times giving rise to a major contradiction. This vulnerability and this contradiction is resolved by different societies in different ways. Under capitalism, it is a contradiction on which the whole variety of women’s oppression has been built, with the connivance of working class men at some stages, and with the establishment of male dominance and male benefit.

In her book–Marxism and the Oppression of Women–Lise Vogel explores these concepts in more detail. She is careful to point out that in a class society, it is necessary to analyse women’s specific oppression in each class separately before being able to see the whole. For working class women, it is the differential role in the reproduction of labour power that lies at the root of their oppression, Women in the ruling class are also subordinated to the men of their class because of their role in childbirth, or breeding, and this is involved with property and heirs. In addition, and very importantly, all women are oppressed by their lack of democratic rights and this is especially acute for black women.

Lise Vogel bases her analysis on the Marxist concepts of labour power, reproduction of labour power, and necessary and surplus labour, all of which she explains very clearly. She summarises as follows:

Human beings have the capacity to produce more use-values than they need for their own immediate subsistence. In a class society, this potential is organised to the benefit of a ruling class, which appropriates the surplus labour of a subordinate class according to some determinate set of social relations. For this class society to survive, an exploitable labour force must always be available “to perform surplus labour. Workers, however do not live forever; they suffer ’wear and tear’ and death and must be continually replaced by, at the very least, an equal amount of fresh labour power. Where replacement is through generational reproduction, the fact that human beings fall into two distinct biological groups, women and men, comes into play. Women’s somewhat diminished capacity to work during the childbearing period potentially creates a contradiction for the ruling class. Out of the class struggle over resolving this contradiction, a wide variety of forms of reproduction of labour power has developed in the course of history. In virtually all cases, they entail men’s greater responsibility for provision of material means of subsistence, women’s greater responsibility for the ongoing tasks of necessary labour, and institutionalised forms of male domination over women.

The contradiction which women’s childbearing role ’produces is between the ruling classes’ immediate need to appropriate surplus labour from women and its long term requirements for the reproduction of the workforce; while women are bearing and rearing children they are not fully available as labourers. Reproduction of labour power does not always entail generational replacement. The workforce may be kept up by immigration, migrant labour, or by employing other members of society such as children or the old. Families are not the only places where workers renew themselves on a day- to-day basis. There are also barracks, workers’ hostels, etc; however, different arrangements bring their own problems.

During the industrial revolution in England, women and children were drawn into long hours of labour in the factories. This resulted in the breakdown of family and society so that children were dying before old enough to work, and workers were unhealthy and weak. The ruling class therefore had to accept some of the demands for reforms which, for a variety of other reasons based on male chauvinist ideas, led to the concept of the family wage and the woman being partially returned to the home. Another example can be found in countries such as the Philippines, where young women in Free Trade Zones are housed in hostels far from home and paid so little that the wage does not reach the rest of the family. Here, women have found strength and political rebellion in being housed together. These are just small examples of how the attempted resolution of the contradiction in anyone society gives rise to class struggle.

In Europe, and many other parts of the world, the reproduction of labour power and the differential female and male role in this, takes place in the variety of social structure, known as the family. And within the family, it is the provision by men of means of subsistence to women during the childbearing period that forms the material basis for women’s subordination in class society. Division of labour does not necessarily constitute a source of oppression. But in class society, women’s childbearing capacity creates contradictions, from the point of view of the dominant classes’ need to appropriate surplus labour. Although women in different classes have, in many respects, a shared experience of oppression, the difference lies in the lack of this contradiction for ruling class women. Their men are not after their wage labour, however, those women are still exploited by men of their class because of their role in childbirth, more acutely because of the issue of property and family wealth. As we shall see later, they meet oppression in every aspect of their lives, due to a lack of democratic rights.

Domestic Labour

Women trying to understand the basis of their oppression usually know, from their own experience, that domestic labour plays a central role, especially within a family with children. In much of the Third World, women toil ceaselessly on domestic and subsistence work, such as carrying water, growing food, preparing food, making clothes. Although, in this country, domestic labour is much less gruelling and time-consuming than this it is still an area of drudgery from which most men are almost entirely free.

In order to make some sense of domestic labour, it is necessary to re-examine Marx’s concept of labour, of necessary and surplus labour. Within any class society, when a waged worker puts in a day’s work, some of that labour must pay for the maintenance and reproduction, i.e. necessary labour, and the rest of the day’s work is making profit for the boss i.e. surplus labour. In class societies based on agriculture, feudalism for example, a serf would work some of the day for his lord, and some on his own land for survival. Under capitalism however, these two parts of labour are hidden by the concept of a daily wage. In addition, there is an artificial separation of the necessary labour component into work and home.

Necessary labour is made up of several components. Firstly, it contains the means of subsistence of the worker, and other non-working family members such as the old, the sick, or a non-working wife. These are the commodities bought with the wage. But in order to turn these commodities into actual maintenance, some supplementary labour is required: meals cooked, washing done, etc’. In order to not only maintain, but also reproduce, the labour force, some necessary labour is involved in bearing and rearing children. All this is necessary labour, and is paid for by the wage(s). However, much of this labour takes place outside the wage situation, in families for example, and this is called domestic labour.

Socialist Feminists have done much work and study on the question of domestic labour which is of such importance to women, especially European and North American women today. Lise Vogel describes it in detail in ’Marxism and the Oppression of Women’:

In capitalist societies, the burden of the domestic component of necessary labour rests disproportionately on women, while the provision of commodities tends to be disproportionately the responsibility of men, fulfillable through participation in wage labour. This differential positioning of women and men with respect to surplus labour and the two components of necessary labour, which is generally accompanied by a system of male supremacy, originates as a historical legacy from oppressive divisions of labour in earlier class societies. It is then strengthened by the particular separation between domestic and wage labour generated by the capitalist mode of production. Domestic labour increasingly takes place in specialised social units, whose isolation in time and space from wage labour is further emphasised by male supremacy. These conditions stamp domestic labour with its specific character.

Experientially, the particular nature of domestic labour in industrial capitalist society gives rise, for both women and men, to intense feelings of opposition between one’s private life and some public sphere. The highly institutionalised demarcation of domestic labour from wage labour in a context of male supremacy forms the basis for a series of powerful ideological structures which develop a forceful life of their own.

Of extreme importance with regard to domestic labour is the reality that most women take part, in wage labour as well. Many women would see the balance of work between women and men as much more one-sided than is expressed in, the above quote, and even when men are not in waged work they often do little domestic. Certainly in the Third World, women commonly bear a heavy burden of work, compared to men.

Welfare State

Also of importance in this country is the role of the welfare state. Through the payment of taxes, some of the necessary labour is taken off individual women. This is an advantage to the working class as a whole, and something it fought for, although there is much evidence that the welfare state was built on the exploitation of women; especially black women. It is also in the interests of capital, in that it frees working class women to be more involved in wage labour and therefore the production of surplus value. At different times, such services will be increased, for example, during war when workers were needed, or cutback as in the early 80’s when high unemployment made women workers redundant. The provisions of the welfare state are closely connected to necessary labour and the real value of a wage. Cutting back the welfare state results in an increase in necessary labour (tasks such as nursing the sick and elderly at home), and when not associated with a wage rise is an increase in exploitation, especially of women.

Democratic Rights

The other fundamental aspect of women’s oppression in capitalist society and one that has roots in earlier systems, is the lack of democratic rights. This affects women of all classes. In social systems, such as slavery arid feudalism, the mass of people had no democratic rights and were in fact owned to a great extent by other humans. Early capitalism extended an inspiring pledge of freedom from all feudal restrictions, this equality of persons having material roots in capitalist relations of production. All persons must be free and equal to sell their labour power and the ruling class to buy it. Wage labourers must be free in a double sense. Not only are they free owners of their labour power, not serfs or slaves, but also free of any other way to put their labour power to use for their own account, for example, as they do not own land. In reality, however, capitalism is compatible with a stratified labour market and an undemocratic political system. The separate article on reproductive rights gives some indication of how women have been specifically oppressed in this way. The American Declaration of Independence offered equal rights to all but the Constitution excluded slaves, women and the property less from equal citizenship.

Given the contradictory character of equality in capitalist society, struggles for democratic rights potentially have serious revolutionary import. The more democratic rights are extended, the more the oppressive economic and social character of capitalism is revealed. Lack of equality as a group constitutes the basis for the women’s movement that unites women from different classes. Most women involved in such a movement develop insight into the difference between bourgeois equality’ and real, socialist equality which gives rise to a women’s movement orientated towards socialism.

Women’s special position in capitalist society therefore has two defining aspects. Firstly, women and men are different in respect to the material aspects of social reproduction. This affects women of different classes differently. Secondly, women, like other groups, lack full democratic rights, and this affects women of all classes. So long as capitalism survives, domestic labour will be required for reproduction of the workforce, disproportionately performed by women and most likely accompanied by a system of male supremacy.

Women and Socialism

In a socialist society, where a small class will not be extracting profit from the majority, there will not be an antagonistic contradiction between the labour of women, which contributes to the reproduction of labour power and the labour of women in producing goods. However, although the material basis may be removed, the whole structure of male domination and privilege will not crumble without an earthquake! Domestic labour must be transformed into an integral component of social production in a communist society and, must be shared between men and women. This process will give rise to momentous changes in the way society is organised. The issue of domestic labour is likely to be the main obstacle in affording women true equality and is something that legislation and the- changed economic basis alone will not greatly alter. However these, together with the planned socialisation of some domestic tasks, will lay a foundation on which women can continue the demands and struggles with men to share domestic and childcare tasks.

Although it would appear that socialist systems in the world so far have made little inroad into the inequality of domestic labour, the world also provides examples of revolutionary struggles where women are winning equality during rather than after the establishment of socialism. In the Eritrean liberation movement, it appears that women have not only transformed their previously extremely exploited position in society, but are now taking the leadership of the national struggle. This orientation of women within a revolutionary movement needing to deal with their own specific oppression alongside national oppression in order to then join in the leadership of the general struggle will establish a socialist society of quite a different type than seen in China, for example.

In trying to take an overall view of women’s oppression, this article has been sketchy but has drawn on many writings by socialist feminists which can be studied in greater depth. History is of importance only in as much as it helps us understand the present and make changes towards a better future. Women’s own experiences, the women’s movement and feminist writing have all raised women’s consciousness about their oppression, but led to no clear way forward. To make further progress towards their liberation, women must grasp the basis of their oppression within a class society and the necessity of working in an organisation which will lead a combined fight against sexist, class, and racist oppression, with the long term goal of a communist society.