Feminist analysis and perspectives at Fourth International women’s seminar

The 2023 Women’s Seminar was held at the IIRE in Amsterdam from 15 to 19 July 2023. A total of twenty-six comrades participated representing Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Britain, Hong Kong/China, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Africa, the Spanish state and Switzerland. As part of the preparatory work for the seminar, each country was asked to complete a questionnaire on the situation of women and the women’s movement in the last five years and specifically after the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, a number of readings were shared prior to the seminar to facilitate discussion and work.

The event - with translation in three languages by six women interpreters - began with an introduction of all the comrades who attended. In addition, we celebrated our diversity by highlighting the participation of women who are also from other marginalized sectors such as the racialized, disabled, LGBTIQA+ and non-binary communities, among others. It was very exciting that sisters from different countries and continents were able to be together in person in this seminar, because we remember that the last 2021 Seminar was virtual due to the pandemic. In person events give much richer connections - formal and informal - than online ones.

We then heard the presentations by country or organization (in the case of some countries that have more than one Fourth Internationalist organization). These covered the situation of women in each country; whether the situation had worsened after the pandemic; the existence of a new feminist wave; the participation of women in trade union movements; on the organization of women in each country; on the inclusion of trans women in the feminist and women’s movement; the inclusion of racialized women in the feminist and women’s movement; whether indigenous, peasant and migrant women are involved in feminist and women’s actions; on international solidarity with other women’s organizations; and also on the participation of each organization in the feminist and women’s movements in their country.

The reports revealed similar situations in several countries, for example, that the condition of women mostly worsened after the pandemic. A general increase in violence against women and an increase in femicides could be observed. A marked feminist wave of protests and mobilizations since 2018 in many countries could be highlighted, confirming the analysis of the resolution developed from the 2019 seminar New Rise of the Women‘s Movement, including the “Women’s/feminist strike" cited as one of the important features marking this new wave.

Another issue mentioned by several countries was the climate crisis in the form of more intense weather events, more frequent and sometimes - for example regions of Brazil - in places that have never had hurricanes before. The adverse effects of climate change and the climate crisis are felt most strongly by women.

Switzerland presented a hopeful picture of the struggle and achievements of the women’s movement over the last five years. There have been and continue to be feminist mobilizations and demonstrations. In Switzerland a successful feminist strike took place in 2019 and there was another mass mobilization in 2023.

Our investment in social movements

In the afternoon, we had a plenary discussion of the draft paper "Orientation and tasks in the social movements" to be discussed at the International committee of the Fourth International this October. After the presentation, we divided into Spanish, French and English language groups. The discussion aimed to develop the text and to answer several questions, suggested by the presenter, related to the existence of right-wing social movements, what they are like and what our position should be on them; whether we should relate to NGOs; how to relate to a government that claims to respond to the interests of the people; and what have we learnt about the pandemic.

Then, it was back to the plenary where each group made a presentation summarizing the discussion. It is important to note that throughout the seminar, the discussion was informed by the differing perspectives that the different countries provided. The plenary discussion showed similar responses about the existence of right-wing groups in different countries, but the levels of violence are different. For this reason, one suggestion put forward in the plenary was to include in the document the criminalization of social movements and those who fight in them, including the murder of activists and activists, as, for example, in the case of Brazil. These right-wing social movements were mostly identified as religious fundamentalists, but there are also other movements, for example in the Spanish state, the Desokupa movement, which forcibly evicts people who are squatting and also anti-migrant brigades. Another right-wing movement is the anti-vaccine and conspiracy movement, seen in many countries, especially during and after the pandemic, and which is gaining followers. In the face of these movements, the challenge is to continue resisting and organizing ourselves in order to give organized struggle in protests and mobilizations and to continue the work of participating in the electoral political arena or in key spaces within the government, in order to participate in the implementation of public policies favourable to the working class, women and the oppressed sectors.

Regarding participation in NGOs, it was recognized that in some of the countries present at the seminar, due to strategic and tactical issues (persecution and repression), it is necessary to use the vehicle of NGOs to be able to do grassroots work, but, recognizing their shortcomings and from a critical perspective. An important aspect of the discussion highlighted that participation in NGOs must not be at the expense of the autonomy of a social movement. It was also mentioned that sometimes NGOs have material resources that we do not have, so they can be a vehicle to that end. On the question of what should be done in the face of a government that ceases to respond to the interests of the people, there was a majority response on the need to be critical and strategic and to recognize when to break away.

The next topic was the draft manifesto "For a just and ecosocialist degrowth, Manifesto of revolutionary Marxism in the era of ecological and social capitalist destruction". The purpose of presenting this document at the seminar was to enrich it from a feminist perspective. After the division into language groups, specific proposals for contributions to the document were presented. The discussion raised a number of points: comrades from the Global South countries pointed out the need to clarify what “degrowth” means in their countries and that just saying “socialist degrowth” isn't enough. The term must be qualified and/or changed for our purposes, this will be part of the ongoing debate; to clarify in section 5.8 “Guarantee the right of women over their own bodies” how the self-determination of women and pregnant people must be guaranteed; to include an ecofeminist educational reform; to include the elimination of all forms of extractivism and the right of women to access to health.

Transinclusivity and depatriarchalization

The next topic of the seminar concerned "Why and how are we trans-inclusive? The presentation of the topic was very appropriate to reiterate the position of our socialist current that we stand for the abolition of gender oppression and that we are trans-inclusive. It was reiterated that transgender people are not a threat to society and that on the contrary, it is transgender people who are threatened and attacked. The questions for discussion in the language groups were: Describe the characteristics of the anti-trans or trans exclusionary movement and how we respond; should the demands of the trans and queer community be central to our strategies; and how do we build an inclusive feminist movement and how do we build alliances with the queer movement? The answers to the first question were difficult, because they revealed the terrible violence against this community, including from the governments in some countries. In addition to being victims of murder, their very existence is denied – they are told that trans women are not women. This exclusion is oppressive in itself and often leads to physical attacks. The response to the second question, it was that the struggle against oppressions is a class issue and that we must therefore be part of these struggles. Another aspect that was part of the discussion on this second question was to establish that yes, it must be central to our struggle as feminists, because the same rights and freedoms that they want to take away from trans people are those that women won through struggles that cost lives. This means that just as the right wing wants to deprive trans people of their right to self-determination, it will also continue to try to deprive women of our right to self-determination and so on with other marginalized and oppressed sectors, thus we must consider the particular relationship between the women's movement and the LGBTIQ+ movement. We would prefer to NOT use the term TERF, since “radical feminist” means something very different from one country to another, and, also, in any country, it is a term that shuts down debate immediately

On the fourth day we discussed gender-based political violence and depatriarchalization. This latter was defined as “deconstruction and struggle against patriarchal elements of the state, in society and in political organizations”. Gender-based political violence can occur against women who are militants, activists and spokespersons or spokeswomen and can take many forms: silencing, failure to promote greater participation, harassment in all its forms, physical violence that can include murder, attacks on reputation, physical attacks on family members, threats, lack of conflict self-resolution measures in all our spaces, including our organizations. We must demand and guarantee safe spaces that promote greater participation of women in the political electoral arena. This must include addressing women’s care needs and demanding greater participation of women in leadership positions. Also, electoral political participation and organizing and mobilization work in order to implement feminist public policies.

The next topic of the day was to identify the international spaces that exist to discuss women’s issues. This topic a description of international forums, seminars and marches or mobilizations that respond to a need to unite Marxist feminists. One of these is the "Marxist Feminist Conference" although this was not considered a priority given its restricted audience. An important forum is the Marxist-feminist stream of the Historical Materialism conferences. The presenters invited us to focus on the intersectional diversity of class in order to build the society we want and to engage in more feminist writing and theorizing. Also, the importance of collective work and construction as feminists in order to change the system was mentioned. In this sense, we were told about a women’s march that takes place every four years in Brazil, since 2000, called "Marches of the Margaritas". It is expected that over a hundred thousand women will take part in this march whose demands are similar to ours and which has the support of trade union and peasant sectors.

The next topic was about the resolution on the party building tasks for the Fourth International. This was focused on discussing and analysing how to strengthen the structures and functioning of the Fourth International and our political-organizational work. Of course, the discussion was done from a gender and feminist perspective. It was acknowledged that there has been an improvement in the Fourth International’s use of the media, with its website, social media profiles and means of communication such as Telegram, among others. As part of the discussion of the language groups, a number of specific and assertive proposals were presented, including establishing political training activities for women comrades, improving the website, establishing regional coordinations, and promoting the creation of women’s caucuses in all regional commissions, as well as demanding gender parity in attendance at meetings. We also considered how to strengthen our statutes in relation to sexist and sexual violence, while respecting the state of the discussion in our different organizations.

Finally, our work culminated in a plenary meeting where impressions of the seminar were shared and messages of hope, enthusiasm and solidarity were exchanged.

Translated from the Spanish by fourth.international

Rosa Segui is a member of the Fourth International.

Rosa Segui