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Salient. Newspaper of the Victoria University Students' Association. Vol 42 No. 8. April 23 1979

Women's Rights ~ Class or Sex?

page 8

Women's Rights ~ Class or Sex?

On June 10 1978, massive conference was held in the United Kingdom of women from throughout the world who came together to campaign against all restrictive abortion laws. Laws that prohibit women making a basic decision in their lives: the right to control their own reproductive lives.

They designated March 31 st 1979 as an International Abortion Action Day. This day was of special relevance to New Zealand women since the very restrictive and highly humiliating Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion Act was passed in December of 1977.

Many organisations in NZ have endorsed this day of protest; Trade Unions etc, and many more individual concerned people.

Various activities were held throughout the country, from an abortion march in Auckland, to forums discussing the question of abortion and its relevance to the lives of women.

On March 29, a forum was held in the Lounge, here at Victoria, with guest speakers from WEL (Womens Electoral Lobby), Working Women's Alliance, and WONAC, (Womens National Abortion Campaign).

The representative from WEL was the first to address the forum. She outlined what WEL's aims were and the ways in which they felt these could be carried out. Their official policy on abortion is that every women should have the right to choose. Before the CS & A Bill became law, WEL made several submissions critizing the Royal Commissions recommendations. All were ignored by the Government.

She said that WEL felt the restrictive abortion law and all discrimination of women in our society could be eradicated by Parliamentary reform. She commented on the necessity for women to be on the various Government Select Committees, in business, and generally in the hierachy of our society. It was stressed that there needs to be more than one, or two, women in these positions, which is merely a token gesture on the part of Government and such, for anything effective to come about'.

Martha Coleman, from Working Womens Alliance was next. Martha gave a very general view on the position of working women in our capitalist society, and how the restrictive abortion laws affect working women a great deal more than wealthy women.

She sparked off a very lively debate when she described Working Womens Alliance as being a "non-feminist" organisation. Martha explained that the reason for this term is an attempt to break away from the accepted meaning of the word feminism, which points solely to men in our society as being the oppressors of women. Martha explained that although men do oppress women, they are merely the weapons used by capitalist society, and that the only way to truly remove sexism is to gain an understanding of this, and to destroy the capitalist system. She strongly believes that this fight cannot be won from within the system.

In the best interests of capitalism, people, not only women, are exploited for the gains of a very small percentage of our population. Working class men are exploited in the work-force and in other spheres of society; for example in the education system. Working class women are exploited and oppressed even more - in times of economic hardship, it is they who lose their jobs, it is they who are made to feel guilty for not staying home to fulfill their role as child-bearer, rearer, and unpaid household slave. If it is not done by women the Government would have to foot the bill.

Martha felt that for women to become united body to fight capitalism, and so gain their liberation, they would have to join the labour force. In this respect free, legal abortion by choice, and free childcare is necessary

Specifically related to abortion, Martha explained that the abortion laws at the moment are discriminative on a class basis. A working class women can rarely find the money to fly to Australia, as wealthy women can. If she is desparate for an abortion, but cannot have one legally, unlike the wealthy women, she has 2 choices - have the child (which in many cases, due to severe economic hardship, is not a choice) or have a back-street or self-induced abortion.

Drawing of a pregnant woman with babies

Carol Kelly the final speaker spoke for WONAC. WONAC was set up in 1973 specifically to look at the abortion laws. They saw the need to organise to reform the then existing laws of 1973, and the need to involve a large number of women as possible to provide massive campaigns pressurising the Government to give the women of NZ what they want - the right to decide for themselves whether or not to have an abortion.

WONAC is committed to repealing all laws on the abortion question, so there is no limit on a women's choice to control their fertility.

WONAC is involved in many activities in fighting for this right - letters to MP's, voicing their opinion through radio-talk-backs, media newsletters, inviting overseas speakers to talk on the fight in their own country, organisation of pickets, marches, etc.

Carol finished off with a few words of encouragement "that 1979 will show women to become strong in the fight to Repeal the C S & A Act, [unclear: am] not to be disheartened because we, the majority, will win our struggle.

The forum was then opened up for discussion, where an interesting, lively debate followed.

This forum was organised by the VUWS Women's Rights Action Group (WRAG). The WRAG organises regular forums, discussions, films etc on women's position at Universtiy and in society as a whole. The womens group is for women only, so if you are interested in our activity, watch Salient for notices of our meetings, or contact Victoria Quade or Leonie Morris C/- Salient.

Caroline Massof