Speech by Jerónimo de Sousa, General Secretary of the PCP, Session «Equality at work and in life. Observe women's rights!»

The struggle for women's rights cannot be restricted to the struggle against prejudice. It is necessary to undermine the economic, social and political foundations that support them

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I would like to greet the comrades and friends present at this PCP’s Session that marks the International Women's Day, as well as the accounts given here, affirming the correctness of the PCP's struggle for equality at work and in life and for the observation of women's rights.

On this 8th of March, the Portuguese Communist Party salutes the Portuguese women, as well as the immigrant women who study and work in our country.

A date of great significance, set down after a proposal by Clara Zetkin, in 1910, at the 2nd International Conference of Women and that the following year mobilised more than one million women on the streets of the cities of Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Denmark, in the struggle for their rights.

International Women's Day has become a symbol of women's resistance and struggle against exploitation and oppression, for freedom and democracy, for their rights, for a fairer and peaceful world.

A date that assumes a great importance in the development of the organised struggle of women and, for that reason, lasts to these days. Forbidden from being celebrated in different countries, as it was in Portugal during fascism, it continues to be the target of distortion and subversion of its true meaning and historical origins, of its connection to the workers and revolutionary movement that proposed and inscribed it at the service of the organised struggle of women for their emancipation - a great moment of confluence of their many and daily struggles.

In Portugal, the 8th of March this year, despite the context in which we live, marked by the epidemic outbreak and lockdown, is a day of struggle for women and their unitary organisations, - the Democratic Movement of Women (MDM), CGTP-IN and the trade unions - which, with their announced actions, fight against any and all feelings of resignation, embodying a day of struggle on the problems and claims of women, which demand urgent responses.

Just yesterday, many hundreds of women took to the streets, in Cordoaria, in Oporto, in an event that was restricted for reasons of compliance with sanitary rules. A situation that prevented the presence of thousands of participants, as was the case of the National Demonstration of Women held by MDM, last year. Women who loudly shouted the slogan: “There is no excuse for setbacks! Enjoy the rights, End violence, because women cannot remain silent!” Reasons that will surely bring many hundreds of women back together on the 13th of March, at Restauradores, in Lisbon.

In this moment of concern in view of the epidemic, the PCP reaffirms its determination not to make a truce in the fight against it and its impacts, both in terms of public health, as well as in the economic and social aspects, and for the materialisation of equality at work and in life by observing women's rights.

To this effect, the PCP has presented, over the last year, very concrete measures in all fields to overcome or mitigate the impacts of the degradation of living and working conditions, contain the worsening of social inequalities and impoverishment, as well as any setbacks in the condition of women.

And so, we have intervened and acted with proposals, some of them adopted, to strengthen the National Health Service, to value its professionals, to give a different scale to screening and testing and to guarantee an effective and fast vaccination, demanding diversification in the purchase of vaccines already approved in other countries and not only in the USA and the European Union, and guarantee the necessary investment to create the conditions for the production of vaccines in our country. We have also been striving to resume the normal functioning of primary healthcare with its reinforcement, aiming to speed up the monitoring of serious diseases and of the sexual and reproductive healthcare.

It was through the initiative and determination of the PCP that it became possible to ensure that workers under lay-off were paid their full wages in 2021. As was the case with its initiative and proposal for an extra increase of 10 euros for all pensions that this made the increase possible, regretfully only for pensions up to 658 euros.

The PCP has also spared no effort to extend social protection in unemployment to the thousands of workers who are in this condition. But also in order to guarantee additional support to other sectors of the population affected by the suspension of activities in different areas.

We have not given up fighting, with the closure of daycare centres and schools, to ensure payment of 100% of the salary to parents to accompany their children up to the age of 16. The government was forced to take some measures. But they are far from correcting the serious injustices that are created in this area.

The government has the necessary instruments to prevent the negative impacts of the epidemic outbreak on people's lives and on the worsening of social inequalities and poverty. But the measures adopted and their practical implementation is far from meeting the needs of the present time.

It is not by insisting on the same prescriptions of the right-wing policy and submission to the European Union and the Euro, that the economic and social recession that is underway is prevented and combated, in which women are part of the contingent of those who, as a result, will pay a heavy price. It is not enough to brandish the millions available in the Recovery and Resilience Plan. It is necessary that these millions be applied for the solution of the real problems that the people and the country face and that is not the perspective contained in the Plan.

There are lessons to be learned from the impacts of the epidemic outbreak and lockdown.

From the outset, those resulting from the increase in exploitation, inequalities, discrimination and violence that affect women and that, prior to this period, have now become exponentially worsened.
Big capital takes advantage of the epidemic outbreak to increase labour exploitation, promote the violation of rights that are penalising the lives of workers, confronting them with redoubled demands.

Be they the ones who go out every day to work, ensuring the vital services in the fight against the epidemic and the functioning of society, or the ones who stay at home in teleworking. Those who go out to work, even the most qualified, are now subject to a repeated devaluation of the employment relationship, their salaries and their careers. There are thousands with deregulated working times, with arduous, disqualified and underpaid jobs.

Those who are teleworking are faced with new and worrying forms of exploitation. The epidemic outbreak serves as an excuse to impose teleworking as an advantageous solution for female workers, when in fact it serves to increase exploitation, enhance precariousness and lower labour costs. A situation that these last months have confirmed, with lives trapped with redoubled demands and complete abnormality that has set in their daily lives, with the disruption of working time, personal and family time, forced in many cases to pay expenses that belong to the companies and having their homes transformed into a workplace, classroom, playground and family rest space.

It is necessary to resume the normality of lives. Right from the start, putting an end to this forced return of women to their homes: those who are teleworking, those who lost their jobs, those who stay at home to accompany their children because their wages are lower. But, also of those who are locked at home living in solitude, in social isolation, mostly elderly women and many with disabilities.

But also betting on the valorisation of the work and the careers of female workers, allowing it to be determined by the logic of exploitation, to serve private profit, and with budgetary policies based on disinvestment in public services, on the social functions of the State and employment in public office.

It is essential to combat labour precariousness to ensure equality at work and in the lives of young people, namely of women, who in this period lost their jobs and wages, but also female workers in call centres, research fellows, architects, archaeologists, lawyers, teachers, journalists, cultural workers, among others. The perversity of precariousness subjects them to discrimination in access to employment because they can become pregnant, but also to the postponement of motherhood, to having children increasingly later or even being prevented from having them. Equality at work and in life requires fulfilling the rights of young women by ensuring their right to choose their life project, on a professional, personal, family and social level.

On the other hand, it is not enough to recognise and highlight the number of extra hours that women, namely those with lower resources, occupy with family and domestic life, accompanying young children or school-age children, as well as in situations of dependency worsened in this period, and then continue to postpone overcoming the economic and social factors that are at the root of the perpetuation of this reality.

These imbalances, in order to be changed and overcome in the concrete case of women and families, demand a different way of valuing work and workers. Demand the reduction of weekly working hours to 35 hours for all, the implementation of equal pay, the increase in wages and the national minimum wage to 850 euros, respect for the social function of maternity and paternity, the compliance of the rights of parents and children, free daycare centres, the expansion of the network of support facilities for the elderly, for people with disabilities, the development of the long-term care network. These are material preconditions to boost equality in the family.

Resuming the normality of life is a requirement to face the effects of prolonged lockdown in the proliferation of situations of anxiety, exhaustion, tension within the family and domestic violence. As far as domestic violence is concerned, the implementation of equality at work and in life, the observation of women's rights is the most solid and effective instrument to combat this social scourge, because it allows women the conditions to free themselves from these situations that threaten their dignity. At the same time, it is essential to ensure the effective reinforcement of human, financial and technical resources that ensure women a public, articulated and decentralised response to help those who need it.

If there are any lessons to be drawn from the situation that we live with worsening exploitation, it is that the struggle for the implementation of women's rights, in legislation and in life, cannot be limited, as some political forces advocate, to the fight against outdated prejudices and customs brought by social evolution and the struggle of women. We need to go further. It is also necessary to undermine the economic, social and political foundations that support discrimination against women.

Just as all attempts to impose "a new normal" must be rejected, taking for granted the inevitability of women to accept setbacks, now justified and wrapped in beautiful speeches of valuing their role in combating the epidemic and its consequences.

It is against this background that we tell women that their fight for equality and observance of their rights cannot be postponed, but rather strengthened. A fight that has the committed and active solidarity of the PCP and that it reiterates on this International Women's Day.

A fight that is a commitment that the PCP assumes and is part of the broader struggle that we are waging against the right-wing policy and for the materialisation of the patriotic and left-wing policy that enforces the rights of women as an integral part of the defence of the rights of the workers and people and the construction of a Portugal of social progress.

A commitment by the PCP that is inseparable from the objective of women's emancipation, which means, on the one hand, the emancipation of the women workers from capitalist oppression and, on the other, the emancipation of women in general from discrimination, inequalities and injustices to which they are subjected because of their sex.