Saturday, 10 March 2018

We must use our collective power to end gender inequality and the abuse and exploitation of women

Here is my speech for the International Women's Day Rally in Aberdeen, organised by the Aberdeen Trades Union Council in our 150th year and compered by ATUC Vice President and Aberdeenshire UNISON Equalities Officer, Kathleen Kennedy.

It was a very cold evening but it was great to see women and men standing together to call for gender equality and an end to all forms of discrimination against women.

Especially good to see my son Euan there to support the struggle!

"Kate Ramsden, bringing greetings from UNISON on International Women’s Day.

And very proud to be speaking here at this Aberdeen Rally to celebrate the achievements of the women’s movement over the past 100 and more years and to gird our loins for the battles yet to be fought.
We’ve heard a great deal about inspirational women and there have been many throughout history – In fact some of them are here today.

But despite the best efforts of those women and the women’s movement I think we all know that gender inequality is alive and well.
Many of the challenges that I was facing and fighting as a young trade unionist and Labour activist are the challenges that face us still

Some things have got better – but much has stayed the same or got worse.
The problem is that we still live in a society dominated by male power and male privilege.

The exploitation and abuse of women is one example of a power imbalance that has never really gone away over the years.

The sexual harassment of women in the film industry is part of the same problem as the sexual harassment of women in the workplace; the undervaluing of women in the media; the gender pay gap which has changed little despite our best efforts.

So why does it only hit the news when it’s about celebrity? What about all the “ordinary women” who experience this? The clerical staff, carers, nurses, social workers, architects, etc? Not a mention.
We live in a society where these abusive power imbalances can be seen everywhere – between the bosses and the workers; in the demonization by this Tory government of the poorest and most vulnerable, including those with disabilities; the rise of racism; the lack of compassion for refugees and asylum seekers; and the targeting of LGBT people.

And there is no doubt that Tory austerity has hit women the hardest. We have never all been in it together.
It is mainly women who work in low paid jobs; many with insecure, zero hours contracts; it is mainly women in public services suffering pay cuts and job losses; it is mainly women who have seen their standards of living slashed with a knock on effect on their children.

And if you are a black or ethnic minority woman, a disabled woman, an LGBT woman, a young woman or an older woman then of course things just get worse.
The whole culture of our society has made it hugely difficult to challenge these power imbalances, because the power rests primarily with men of privilege.

This is not to say that all men abuse their power. That’s clearly not true, as can be seen from all the men here today – supporting our struggle and recognising the parallels with their own struggles.
Many of us have tried to bring our sons up differently and I hope that we have at least succeeded at that.

And of course across the world some things have improved greatly from a very low base. More girls are being educated – more women have positions in governments.  Mind you, in the UK that has proved to be a double edged sword! Maggie and May anyone?
But it’s the attitudes that don’t change. The casual sexism, the put downs of women by men and in many cases, as we’ve seen, the view that it’s okay to view women as sex objects or somehow less valuable than themselves.

This perpetuates the gender pay gap and all the other forms of discrimination against women.
But there is hope and events like today’s – not just here but across the world – celebrating women’s collective power and calling on us all to press for progress – should give us all cause for optimism.

After all, women are more than half of the world’s population. We have our own power, individually and collectively and if we can come together we can surely change the power balance in society and end women’s exploitation.
Ofcourse over the last 40 years we have seen collectivism undermined – The Trade Union Act being the most recent example - a deliberate tactic by those in power and one we need to fight and win.

So we need to keep up the struggle. We need to challenge sexism wherever it raises its head, whether in pay, exploitation or harassment and abuse.
Unions and the left have a key role in this, to protect women in the workplace and community and to support women’s activism but to make sure that when women get into positions of power they don’t need to adopt male values to succeed.

Fundamentally we need to use our collective powers to end male privilege. We need to find ways for women and the men who support us, to speak with one voice across society and demand an end to sexism and all other forms of discrimination and inequality.
The fact that we’ve been trying to do this for the past 40 years and more should not demoralise us but should convince us of the importance of the struggle. There has been progress. And as we #PressforProgress one day, surely, fundamental change will come.



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