The CUSU Women's campaign has initiated a petition to Disinvite DSK - please sign it:
The Cambridge Union Society, is once again showing a callous disregard for the fight for women’s liberation in inviting alleged rapist Dominique Strauss-Khan to speak on the 9th March. Strauss-Khan was forced to resign as the IMF chief last year after assaulting Nafissatou Diallo, a hotel attendant, while a guest at an exclusive venue in Times Square. He has also had a number of allegations of harassment and sexual assault made against him by other women.
Some try and claim that Strauss-Khan as former head of the IMF is deserving of a platform at the Cambridge Union; we can ignore the allegations of rape and sexual assault. The International Monetary Fund has a long history of lending money to countries in crisis and in return demanding austerity and privatisation. During the 1980s, the IMF pushed “structural adjustment programmes” that ruined developing countries. In the 1990s its actions contributed to worsening the South East Asian financial crisis. Today the IMF, as recession grips much of Europe, it still has only one set of remedies for countries in crisis—cut public spending, drive down wages, and increase profits. But the cuts and austerity imposed by the IMF are not making the situation any better, and many people in Greece and in other countries are suffering terribly as a result of its policies.
However, the Union Society appears to have invited Strauss-Khan because of the allegations of rape and sexual assault. In giving him such a prestigious platform it goes someway to normalise violence against women; it shows that if you are rich and powerful then you can not only get away with rape, but receive a fancy dinner and an audience because of it.
The Union may argue that Strauss-Khan has “not been found guilty of anything” however in the case of Nafissatou Diallo there is little doubt that a sexual encounter did take place, and plenty of evidence to show that it was violent. The charges against Dominique Strauss-Khan were only dropped after a vicious media campaign that attempted to destroy Nafissatou Diallo’s credibility as a witness. In the case of Tristane Banon, Strauss-Khan only escaped prosecution because of a French statute of limitations which prevented the charge of sexual assault – a charge Strauss-Khan has admitted to – from being brought.
The treatment of Nafissatou Diallo and the hostility toward her claims is typical of what many women and girls encounter when they come forward with an accusation of sexual assault. It is not surprising that many people do not feel that they are able to come forward when they have been raped or sexually assaulted; it could mean that their whole life is scrutinised and the justice system is stacked against them. Worryingly “rape crisis centres usually see a drop in reported cases in the aftermath of high-profile sexual assault cases, especially those in which the prosecution failed.” While it is estimated that 47,000 Women are raped in Britain each year, we have one of the lowest rape conviction rate in Europe – only 6%.
The vast majority of men are not rapists. Rape and sexual violence are not an inherent part of human behaviour. They are a product of class society, particularly capitalism, which alienates us from our bodies, our sexuality and one another. We live in a society in which sexuality is bought and sold as a commodity or where it is used to buy and sell other commodities.
Violence against women is the outcome of a class society that is maintained by material inequality between men and women – women earn 15% less than men, and there still remains an expectation that women will bear the burden for most of the childcare, cooking and housework for which they don’t get paid at all. It is in the interests of capitalism to divide workers so we see that sexist ideas are promoted, which encourage men to think of women as less than equals. In a society which places so little value on working class women’s lives it is not surprising that some men do not think they have to ask for consent to have sex. But working class men do not benefit from the oppression of women, and must be part of the fight against sexism and for women’s liberation.
Women’s oppression hasn’t always existed, but emerged at the same time as class society. When people lived in hunter-gather communities men and women had different roles, but these roles were seen as equal. Over time societies developed to be able to produce a surplus, which needed to be controlled, and the productive techniques changed so that men’s labour became prioritised. We see that the privatised family becomes increasingly important at the same point as the state and private property develop. Engles called the development of the family “the world historical defeat of the female sex”. The new ruling class wanted ‘legitimate’ heirs to pass on their surplus to. Controlling women and sexual relations became key to achieving this; the whole notion of the private family is based on treating women as second class citizens and as a form of property to be controlled by men. These ideas help to legitimate, and encourage, violence against women.
Clearly a woman’s position in a family under capitalism is different to how it was under feudalism, and many women have fought to transform their position in society over the last 100 years. Men today spend more time caring for children than they did in the past, and in many cases housework is no longer seen as the sole responsibility of women. Changes have occurred in part because of the needs of the capitalist system, but also, importantly, due to the mass pressure and struggle of ordinary people. And that such changes can occur is important to demonstrate that men and women’s roles in society are not something fixed; they can change.
Despite advances, women’s oppression still exists, and the ruling class continue to try and roll back gains that have been won. The family plays a crucial economic role bearing the of bringing up the next generation of workers and caring for the young, old and the sick, meaning the cost is borne by the individual, rather than the state. This means that the ruling class hate criticism of the family and attack those who live outside its structures.
In most cases of sexual assault and rape the attacker is known to the woman. Violence is most likely to happen within the family. Yet the most common image of a rapist is someone jumping out from shadowy bushes late at night. Highlighting that the social relations under capitalism, and particularly the family, are causes of sexual violence is not something that the ruling class would be willing to do.
Protests, such as the slutwalks that sprung up in many towns and cities last year, are very successful in drawing attention to questions of rape and sexual assault meaning they are issues that cannot be ignored or hidden. However to get rid of violence against women entirely we need an entirely different society. Capitalism thrives on sexism, violence and alienation. We need a society in which is free from exploitation and oppression.
We must call on the Cambridge Union Society to withdraw its invitation to Dominique Strauss-Khan. If they persist in having him speak we need to follow the example of New York Hotel workers, and make sure he is met by a large and vocal protest that sends a clear message – that we aren’t taking this any more.