The last year has been a worrying time for women’s rights around the world. The Republican-dominated Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs Wade in the USA last year was a reminder that we can never consider these truly safe from right-wing ideologues. This attack on reproductive rights comes at a political moment when conservatives across the world are attempting to reassert traditional power structures as their right-wing economic project comes under increased strain.
“If we are going to build a more equal world for all women, we need to recognise that our oppression is connected, so our struggle must be too.”
To talk about culture wars as a “distraction”, fails to recognise their deeper purpose. It’s not simply about pointing the finger away from the unfolding catastrophe of soaring living costs, falling pay, and crumbling public service provision; it’s about making it harder to challenge the status quo by taking away people’s rights.
Patriarchy, racism, ableism and imperialism are all mutually reinforcing. If we are going to build a more equal world for all women, we need to recognise that our oppression is connected, so our struggle must be too. The theme of this year’s International Women’s Month is “embracing equity”. It encourages us to understand that women start from different places, so true equality requires us to acknowledge the diverse experiences and conditions of different women. As Flavia Dzodan said: “my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit”. There is no place for a feminism that seeks to exclude or marginalise racialised women, disabled women, or our trans siblings.
Whilst the issue of abortion is not polarised along party political lines in the same way as it is in the USA, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking it can’t happen here. We have a Government that is almost singularly focused on ripping up legislation enshrining our rights and specifically legislating to undermined the right to protest, strike, vote, and claim asylum. And the presence of Tory MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who recently called abortion a “cult of death”, and Danny Kruger, who contends that the question of whether women can access reproductive healthcare is “a proper topic for political debate”, is a reminder that our right to choose is never safe from the political Right.
During my time in Parliament, we have seen important steps to extend the right to abortion, MPs voting to introduce telemedical abortion and buffer zones outside clinics – both issues which split the Tory Party. But as women wait weeks to access reproductive healthcare or are forced to travel hundreds of miles to seek a surgical abortion, it’s clear that this right is being eroded by the Government’s attempts to run our NHS into the ground and undermine the provision of universal healthcare.
The current crisis in our NHS is damaging for everyone trying to access healthcare. The consequences for those at the bottom of the priority list are more serious still. This reflects the way cuts and austerity have consistently fallen heaviest on women, and particularly racially minoritised, disabled, and trans women.
As the writer Shon Faye says, “if you have a body that is in any way marginalised by the gender binary […] we have a state that is largely apathetic to your pain, both physical and emotional.” Women’s struggles to access abortion services, Black women’s appalling experiences of maternity care, the lack of adequate gender recognition services and disabled people’s unmet healthcare needs are all part of a bigger picture. Healthcare is a vital battleground but with the Government hell-bent on further disempowering the marginalised, there are so many other fights we have to take up together.
This International Women’s Month, I’m thinking of the fact that Black women are still four times more likely to die in pregnancy in childbirth.
I’m thinking of Child Q, Sarah Everard, and the need to end the misogyny and sexual violence perpetrated by the police.
I’m thinking of all the women refugees and trafficking victims who will be denied asylum if the Government gets away with its latest piece of violent anti-refugee legislation.
I’m thinking of the migrant women denied access to the support they need by the hostile environment.
I’m thinking about women in the Global South who face increased risk of hardship and gender violence because of climate breakdown and cuts to the aid budget.
I’m thinking of Brianna Ghey, Sophie Gwen Williams, Alice Litman, and all the trans women whose lives have been cut short.
I’m thinking of the disabled women whose freedom to get around will be disproportionately impacted if the Government manage get away with destaffing our rail network and closing down ticket offices.
I’m thinking of the women who will be hit hard by another austerity budget this week.
I’m thinking about how changing all of these things starts with embracing equity, standing together, recognising the connectedness of our struggles, and leaving no woman behind. We need to challenge the Tories’ scarcity mindset, where rights are a zero-sum game. Taking rights away from one oppressed group will never enhance the freedoms of another. In the fight for liberation, our solidarity cannot be selective.
This article was first published in Labour Outlook on 17th March 2023.