The scandalous verdict given by Pamplona court in the case against the ‘Manada’ (the wolf-pack) rapist gang, has enraged millions of women, young people and a majority of men, as was seen in the massive demonstrations which took place around the country only hours after the sentence was pronounced on 26 April.
The trial has brought to the fore the prevalence of sexist and misogynistic attitudes that exist in the legal system and society in general. In Northern Ireland, over 94% of all rape trials have resulted in no conviction for the accused. The conviction rates for sexual violence are far lower than for any other crime. In the South only 19% result in convictions and 7% when the case is contested. As Suzanne Breen, one of the few journalists who have covered this trial in a fair manner, put it: “This was a case where it wasn’t always clear who exactly was on trial. Each defendant is rightly allowed their own legal representation. But a 21-year-old woman being cross-examined by four defence barristers over eight days pulls at your heart-strings…The young woman failed to secure the verdict she desired. She did not win, yet she has certainly not lost.”
The sexist attitudes that have dominated this trial show there is a need for special measures in order to ensure that victims of sexual violence receive justice. The example of specialised courts should be considered, as in South Africa and other countries, which provide judge and juries with training and have achieved a higher level of conviction and a less traumatic experience in court for victims of sexual violence.
This year marks the centenary of the first women in Britain and Ireland winning the right to vote in parliamentary elections. The political establishment and right-wing propaganda have been celebrating the introduction of the 1918 Representation of the People Act. But it cannot be forgotten that this Act was a deeply classist compromise, and aimed only to enfranchise a small number of property-owning women from the privileged elite in society, whilst simultaneously ignoring millions of ordinary working-class women.
When the twenty first century dawned young women in the US and much of Europe were being told that equality was within their grasp. They didn’t need feminism because capitalism was offering a glittering future based on growing prosperity and gender equality. Today that illusion lies in ruins.
During the trial in which Ulster and Ireland rugby players are accused of raping a young woman at a party, there has been fury at many of the comments made by the defence in court. When the young woman told the court she had consented to a kiss from Paddy Jackson but had not given consent to anything else, the defence barrister accused her of “teasing” Jackson, and asked her, “if you didn’t like him, why were you kissing him in his bedroom?”
In January 2010 when the earthquake struck we wrote: “The humanitarian catastrophe that has befallen Haiti beggars belief.” Hundreds of thousands were killed and millions left homeless, injured, denied medicine and starving. The country had just two fire stations and no ‘quake-proof’ housing. Even before the earthquake 80% lived below the poverty line and three-quarters were out of work. Haitians were therefore extremely vulnerable. Our headline read, “a disaster compounded by capitalism”.
The primary strategy of capitalism to maintain the rule of a tiny few over billions of workers worldwide is to divide workers from one another along the lines of race, national origin, religion, and gender. Socialist feminism recognizes that the oppression of women is part of the system of capitalism itself, and not simply caused by bad laws, outdated attitudes, or even men themselves. Socialist feminists fight for reforms that make a real difference in the lives of women and to foster solidarity among working-class people. At the same time, we recognize that full liberation for women is only possible on the basis of a socialist transformation of society that eliminates all forms of oppression