Young Women and the Struggle for Equality

BY:Anita Wheeler| September 26, 2001

Speech given at the Women’s Equality Conference

I hope my
remarks will kick off a discussion that is needed in the YCL and Party
about the issue of the struggle for equality and democracy of young women.
The framework for this discussion is hard to outline in ten minutes and
deserves more in depth research and discussion.

Young women
have been victimized on a number of fronts. With the new Bush administration
and the right wing controlling a majority of seats in Washington and the
economic crisis plowing full steam ahead the attacks on equal pay for
equal work, reproductive rights, violence against women, welfare reinstatement,
access to public education, and criminalization are among the other issues
we’re going to have to address.

Linda Tarr
Wheelan of the Center for Policy Alternatives said that Bush’s trillion-dollar
tax plan is supposed to help working families. However, merely paying
women (and people of color) an equal wage for equal work would put an
average $4000 back into family coffers.

Young women
are super exploited by the capitalists and the economic, political and
social structures they control. Young women have both age and gender working
against them. If you’re a young woman of color you can expect the racist
and sexist edge to be even sharper. Imagine (better yet don’t imagine
but look at the reality) You go to work and make only 72 cents while your
working brother makes $1 for the same labor. Most young women work in
retail/sales industry jobs with no job security, with restrictions on
hours and are denied the right to organize.

Young immigrant
women have the worst working conditions yet.

The stated
goal of so-called "welfare reform" was to end single motherhood
and enforce the nuclear family. According to the 2000 census there are
over 12 million families where a woman is the single head of household.
Thirty percent of those families live below the poverty level. Welfare
reform is on the top of the list to target women of color.

Welfare as
it stands is biased against young women of color – with workfare, time
limits, denial of education credits, low wage service jobs, and no health
insurance. The right wing will dismantle the existing safety net for young
mothers. We must demand reinstatement of entitlement status for social
welfare programs and remove timelines and sanctions. At the same time,
the right wing is dismantling what is left of the existing safety net
for young mothers. The welfare rights movement, which has a substantial
number of young mothers, is hitting the streets fighting for their lives
and demanding reinstatement of entitlement status for social welfare programs
and the removal of timelines and sanctions.

The criminalization
of young women of color is on the rise. Racial profiling not only affects
young men but also young women. Young black women are singled out by police
and searched and accused of drug trafficking. The forces protesting the
prison industrial complex need to take up this aspect.

Today the
majority of students in college are women. The issue of reproductive rights
is a hot topic on campus and in the upcoming period we should expect an
upsurge in the women’s movement on campuses. In fact, the vast majority
of all women (and Americans) support reproductive rights.

Why do most
young women relate to this issue so closely? Over half of the women who
have abortions are under 25. In his first working day in office, Bush
cut funds to international family planning programs. Bush and the religious
right mandate to all three branches of government is to: restrict access
to abortion and birth control, pass anti abortion rights bills (it is
no secret that Congress wants to), implement an abortion procedures ban,
limit who can prescribe RU-486, and impose criminal sanctions on anyone
who helps a young woman cross state lines to avoid her home state’s limits
of abortion.

Leader Dick Armey said that he doubted that this Congress could overturn
Roe v. Wade. Instead we all know that Congress will whittle away and restrict
access to abortion rights.

The prospect
of the future of young women’s lives being determined by rich, white men
in Washington who will never confront this danger of illegal abortion
themselves is angering, and young women want to fight.

Neither the
working class nor any women, men or youth can advance until the right
of women’s self determination is fully won. This is a fundamental fight
in the struggle for women’s equality.

Young women
all over the country are fighting against this just as women did a generation
before us. Women have always played an essential role in the progressive
and labor movement as a whole. The current upsurge in activism by young
women on the left is astounding.

Look at the
young women who are in leadership in the United States Students Association,
The Black Radical Congress Youth, United Students Against Sweatshops,
Union Summer and many more. From my own experience attending various events
with young workers and students, more young women are fighting in the
struggles more so than young men are. But this has not yet been reflected
enough in the leadership of some of our own organizations.

What are
we fighting for? What do we see at stake?
-Access to higher education. Earlier I mentioned that the majority of
students on campuses are women. However there are many hurdles. Some being
affordable childcare at two- and four- year colleges and mothers not being
looked at as students.
-Curriculum, not only on the college level but K-12, is geared towards
male learners.
-Standardized tests like the SAT, where young men generally score higher
than young women do.
-Sex education and information about contraceptives is currently blocked
from being taught in schools.
-Equal access to sports resources.

I could go
on and on.

Young women
are not only fighting economic and material struggles but also ideological
struggles. The fight against misogyny and male supremacy is intertwined
in all of these struggles.

A prime example
is domestic abuse and rape. Young women are verbally, physically and sexually
abused on an hourly basis. In the past, laws have not had our backs covered,
but many pioneers have struggled and continue to struggle for rights for
victims. The root of such violence is both economic and ideological.

We must ask
ourselves what issues and common experiences shape the minds of young
women and men?

Some examples:
The idea that the struggle for women’s equality ended when we gained
suffrage is still taught in schools.
The notions still exist that feminism is a dirty word and the struggle
for women’s liberation is anti-male.
Cultural influences distort young women’s self worth and esteem. Body
image: young women are just sex objects or baby producers.
The rap scene and rock music culture is very exploitative and misogynistic.
The question stands on how we can uproot these influences. And how can
we develop a new generation of anti-sexist men?
Just as we strive to bring class consciousness, we must develop a comprehensive
program that brings consciousness to young women and men on the economic
roots of sexism and how women are discriminated against politically,
economically and socially.

We must openly
discuss the need to be consistent and unbending on our position against
male supremacy within the ranks of both the Young Communist League and
the Communist Party. Young women must be consciously brought up as leaders,
and the language and men and women alike must confront patterns of sexism.

Special attention
must be paid to young women of color, because of the seriousness of attacks
that we face on all fronts.

Special attention
must also be paid to lesbian, bisexual and transgender women who are some
of the most fervent activists in the struggle for women’s equality on
campuses and high schools and in the workplace.

We must struggle
to build working class unity among young women and men because our interests
must be aligned in order to progress as an effective force in the fight
for immediate demands and for Socialism, USA.


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