England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

25 November: Fighting gender-based violence under the cost of living crisis

Every November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls, the UN puts on their finest orange clothes to “represent a brighter future free from violence against women and girls”. António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, in this year UN’s statment, called for “global action to increase awareness, galvanise advocacy efforts and share knowledge and innovations to end violence against women and girls once and for all.” 

This year’s UN slogan talks about activism and uniting to end gender violence. But of course when they list the different groups and individuals that should unite they forget the potentially most powerful force in society, the working class, whose collective action and ability to withdraw labour can bring society to a halt. Not a surprise coming from an international capitalist institution that defends the same system that breeds oppression, exploitation, violence and inequality. 

Rather than the UN, we should look toward the traditions of protest and struggle that have been built around 25N. Especially in parts of Latin America, as well as Italy, where 150,000 marched in 2018, we can see an example of the kind of movement that can truly fight gender violence in Britain. 

Cost of living crisis and gender violence 

The cost of living crisis will have devastating effects for working class women and LGBTQ+ people who are victims of gender violence, building a whole new set of barriers for those trying to escape their abuser. There’s a direct link between periods of economic crisis, financial strain, employment instability and an increase in domestic violence. 

Research from Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California, Berkeley, demonstrates that just the fact of living through times of extreme economic distress can be enough to provoke the abuser. This shows how the lack of control in one domain, in this case the economy, leads a minority of men, especially those with deeply rooted misogynistic attitudes, to assert greater control in their intimate relationships. 

Women’s Aid reports that 96% of victims say that the cost of living crisis is making their abuse worse, and 73% of victims say they are scared to leave their abusive home because of fears over finance. 66% of survivors told the charity that abusers are using the cost of living crisis as a tool for control, and further restricting their access to money. 

Economic abuse seeks to restrict and sabotage a victim’s economic resources and independence. With the abuser controlling access to the victim’s bank accounts or preventing them from working, basically controlling every aspect of their victim’s life it makes it extremely hard, if not impossible, to escape. 

But the consequences of the cost of living crisis on gender violence go beyond increasing the risk of suffering from it. It has also created new barriers when considering escaping an abusive relationship, such as not being able to pay for essentials, like food, rent or skyrocketing energy bills, unable to support their children, getting into debt and the fact that benefits won’t cover the increased living costs. 

Lack of economic security forces those who are victims of domestic violence to stay with their abuser for longer which means way more harm, or worse, that they’re murdered, as a result. Usual routes for safety won’t be available because friends and family may not have capacity to support survivors during this time. And with most refuges full – after over a decade of funding cuts and lack of affordable housing – means those that have managed to escape abuse will find it extremely hard to find safe accommodation. 

This just shows the complete inability of capitalism to provide proper support and protection to survivors. When the wealth in society is hoarded by the 1%, it is impossible to fund the services needed to protect the most vulnerable. We need properly funded refuges, rent control, affordable housing and benefits that reflect the real cost of living. 

The establishment won’t protect us 

The new Domestic Abuse Act that was enacted earlier this year brought some important changes, such as a definition of domestic abuse that includes non-physical types of abuse, recognition of children as victims and not just witnesses, a ban on abusers using the defence of ‘rough sex’, and a legal duty on councils to fund support for survivors in ‘safe accommodation’, among others. 

However, there are also clear shortfalls like lack of proper funding and failing to deliver protection and support for migrant women. This should be provided to all women, regardless of their immigration legal status. 

We know well that legislation alone isn’t enough, especially without allocation of sufficient resources. Any right that we win under capitalism can be taken from us very quickly, like we’ve seen in the US with the overturn of Roe V Wade and the immediate ban of abortion rights in many states. Let’s not forget that it was the undemocratic Supreme Court who did this! 

The establishment won’t protect women and LGBTQ+ people. After the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer, the Casey report found that police officers suspected of serious criminal offences, including sexual assault and domestic abuse were being allowed to escape justice. 

The police, the judiciary system, the government and the institutions of the state are not there to protect us – they’re there to protect the interests of the ruling class and the status quo. They are institutionally misogynistic and racist and their role in protecting those in positions of power, combined with a complete disregard of women’s safety further allows patterns of abusive behaviour and violence to spread throughout society. 

Socialist feminism 

The most effective way to combat sexism and end gender violence once and for all is with a socialist feminist approach that fights against the oppression of women and LGBTQ+ people as well as against the capitalist system, while basing itself on the power of working-class people. 

Legislative reforms, educating individuals or having more representation in positions of power aren’t enough to end oppression. We need to completely transform society into a socialist one. 

A democratic society run by and for the working class, and that instead of being built on exploitation and power relations, is built on solidarity, equality and unity would not only solve issues around proper funding for services, housing, benefits, pay, etc. 

It would also have the potential to completely transform human relationships. Through collaboration of the working class from all genders, fighting shoulder to shoulder and eradicating the material need for exploitation, oppression and control over women’s bodies, misogynistic attitudes could be shifted and ultimately uprooted. 

In order to do so we need to link movements against oppression with workers’ struggle. A great example of this is the massive wave of upheaval, protests and strikes in Iran triggered by the murder of Jina (Mahsa) Amini. 

With a strike wave in the UK and workers gaining confidence, trade unions and Enough is Enough should add demands around fighting oppression, such as ending harassment in the workplace, or the right for survivors to take paid leave from work and linking this with the struggle against the cost of living crisis. 

Gender violence is an international problem and as such it needs an international fightback. That is why International Socialist Alternative organises in more than 30 countries. On 25 November let’s organise for it to be a day of struggle. Join us at the protests! 


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