Placard reads, “Women demand equal pay.” (Picture: Jim Champion)

Women are paid less, hit hardest by the lack of childcare—and progress towards any sort of equality is appallingly slow. That was the message on the eve of International Women’s Day from a survey by consultancy group PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). It said the root cause of this is the “motherhood penalty”—a result of entrenched discrimination and spiralling living and childcare costs.

The lack of childcare, and the horrendous cost of it, means women are being priced out of work—especially in poorer families. PwC added that the gender pay gap in 2021 was widening four times faster in Britain than it is in other richer countries.

It means an 18 year old woman entering the workforce will not see pay equality in their working lifetime. And it would take more than 50 years to reach gender pay parity.

Meanwhile, the Living Wage Foundation says more than 2 million women are paid below the real living wage—14 percent of women compared to 9 percent of men. Such statistics are depressingly familiar. 

Women workers are paid less than men and more likely to be in part-time work with fewer rights and chances of promotion. Women tend to be in lower grades at work, and sectors where many women work are also among the worst paid. 

The nuclear family unit, which is central to class society and takes a particular form under capitalism asserts women have to take the primary role in raising children, with all the discrimination and restrictions that implies.

And in Britain, over a decade of cuts and austerity have ravaged the services that would take some burden off women. Sexual harassment and discrimination are also widespread at work.

Women have many reasons to resist, and they are fighting back. The majority of strikers on 15 March will be women—and that would be even more true if the NHS unions were out as well.

Women aren’t just striking. In many areas they are at the forefront of organising and running the strikes at rank and file level.

Unified struggle in the workplace provides an opportunity for collective resistance to challenge the role assumed by women across society and the consequences of it. Victories for the present wave of strikes will be a win for women, and for men.

Women socialists launched International Women’s Day as a result of strikes in the early 20th century. It has been nourished by waves of struggle since. Working class women and men fighting together in this period of struggle can begin to challenge inequality at work and show the way to challenge the chains of oppression.

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