Why I am Walking Out of Union International Women’s Day

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Across the UK, women & non-binary people will be striking on the 8th of March for better rights and services. 

Here’s why this strike should also involve university staff and students.

The International Women’s Strike, coinciding with International Women’s Day, is a global movement asking women to strike and refuse all the work we usually do in whatever capacity we can. “If women stop, the world stops with us” is one of the slogans of the strike, aiming to highlight how it is women’s labour – both paid and unpaid – which sustains the world. 

This is because women are highly concentrated in reproductive industries such as care work, service industries or public services and are the primary workers and carers at home, performing 26 hours of unpaid labour a week. Such crucial labour has only been made more difficult to perform by wage stagnation, privatization and benefit cuts, as austerity continues to ravage the UK. By stopping this work, we are seeking to make our absence felt and assert that we will no longer accept the conditions we endure as women and gender minorities. 

Universities too are hubs of sexism and misogyny where such relationships are perpetuated. Only a few weeks ago students led a 1000-person-strong demonstration at the University of Warwick protesting management’s decision to allow students, involved in a chat saturated with rape threats towards their female peers, to return to the university. The perpetrators ability to hire lawyers and threaten the victims who reported their story to the press with lawsuits was likely to have scared the university into not pursuing further disciplinary action. This incident underscores not only the levels of rape culture that continue to permeate our campuses, but how the profit seeking drive of universities is enabling it by leading them to prioritise their reputation over the wellbeing of vulnerable students.

The same ideology that is driving austerity and  neoliberalism is turning universities into markets and education into a transaction, having dire effects for women. Whilst neo-liberal universities pretend to stand for equality by promoting women to high-paid positions and marketing themselves as diverse, this offers no solace to most of us. 

The gender pay-gap in Higher Education stands in average at 15.9% and in its worst-case amounts to a staggering 37%. This is because more women continue to do lower paid jobs such as cleaning, in which workers are often outsourced, having little to no sick pay, maternity leave, holiday leave or pensions – something which persists whilst vice chancellors (often men) sit on six figure salaries. With a crisis of mental health blighting our campuses and little support available to students, women lecturers are also expected to take an extra unpaid shift of providing that care for students. 

Finally, the perpetual diminishing of financial aid for students means more are turning to sex work to get by – a highly feminised job which remains criminalised in the UK, making for poor working conditions and insecurity.

Join us at Briggate during your lunchbreak on the 8th of March – walkout from your university and workplace to transform our campuses and society!

More information on our Facebook page: Women’s Strike Assembly Leeds.

Helena Navarrete Plana