Women's Liberation

Defending abortion rights

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This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the private member's bill which led to the Abortion Act of 1967, allowing abortion up to 28 weeks of pregnancy, that was lowered to 24 weeks in 1990 by the Human Fertilisation Act.

The 1967 act ended 164 years of misery for women with unwanted pregnancies. In 1803 abortion was made a capital offence, after centuries when abortion had been legal until foetal movements could be felt. Countless women died agonising deaths as a result of illegal abortion. Fear of prosecution prevented them from seeking medical help. Since the act came into force, the number of abortions each year in Britain has increased from 54,819 in 1969 to 193,000 in 2006. One in three women in Britain can now expect to have an abortion.

Afghan Women

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Elaheh Rostami-Povey, Zed Books, £15.99

There are few subjects more timely than this study of Afghan women and few people more qualified to examine them. Elaheh Rostami-Povey is a British academic of Iranian origin, a socialist and feminist who opposes imperialism in the region. She has talked to Afghan women in their own country, in exile in Iran and Pakistan, and in Britain and the US.

Material Girls

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Lindsey German, Bookmarks, £12.99

I came into socialist politics in the early 1970s through the women's movement. At that time I remember a great sense of optimism about the possibilities for women's liberation. Legislation in the late 1960s to decriminalise abortion and homosexuality, and easier divorce laws opened up the possibility of much greater personal freedom. Anti-discrimination legislation and the Equal Pay Act promised equality at work. Issues such as rape and domestic violence for the first time appeared on the agenda as political issues.

Still looking for liberation

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Lindsey German has written about and been active in struggles for women's rights for many years. She looks at the changing lives of women and explains what stimulated her to write her new book, Material Girls - women, men and work.

What took you so long? That's a fair enough question about a book which has been seven years in the writing. I first made time to sit in libraries back in the beginning of the new millennium. It seemed that a great deal had happened to women in the decade since I finished Sex, Class and Socialism, and I wanted to write a new book which took into account those changes. It seems incredible now that in the seven years from starting to finishing the book so much has changed again in women's lives.

Identikit Hot

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How the media uses technology to create unrealistic images of women


"Our interest is in the appearance of sexiness, not the existence of sexual pleasure, passion isn't the point... Hotness has become our cultural currency, and a lot of people spend a lot of time and a lot of regular, green currency trying to acquire it. Hotness is not the same thing as beauty... Hot can mean popular. Hot can mean talked about. But when it pertains to women, hot means two things in particular: fuckable and saleable."

Recipes for Disaster

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To blame unhealthy children on women is ignoring what the market has done to childcare and people‘s lives in the last two decades.

Talk about not having it all. Women are expected to work longer, but then get the blame when anything goes wrong with their kids.

According to the Economist, "The increase in female employment in the rich world has been the main driving force of growth in the past couple of decades. Those women have contributed more to global GDP growth than have either new technology or the new giants, China and India."

Interview: Ariel Levy

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'Raunch culture isn't about opening our minds to the possibilities of sexuality. It's about reiterating one particular shorthand for sexiness'

In her book Ariel Levy decries the rise of "raunch culture", which sees pornography and stripping passed off as a form of women's liberation. Levy spoke to Judith Orr about her work and the debates it has sparked.

From "Bus Pass Boob Jobs", the title of a recent Channel 4 programme about women over 60 getting breast implants, to the packed pole dancing classes at Cambridge university - society seems to be embracing an image of women's sexuality that in the past would have been identified with the world of pornography.

Plays for Today

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Playwright Henrik Ibsen was more than a pioneer of modern theatre: he carried a torch for all those who fight for women's liberation.

I was once told by one of my school teachers that he loved Shakespeare's King Lear because "everything is in there". By which he meant murder, adultery, pride, jealousy... you get the idea. I feel much the same about Henrik Ibsen. The Norwegian playwright, who died 100 years ago, wrote a body of plays which can rightly claim to have heralded modern theatre. They continue to have a profound social impact.

Going Backward

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Under neo-liberalism women are only 'liberated' as long as it means equal rights of exploitation and being commodities for the market.

Sometimes I feel I'm going back to the 1950s. There seems to be an endless parade of mostly women in the media telling us that we can't have it all, and that women who choose careers without giving due thought to how and when they will have children will regret it. You really wouldn't be surprised to see a young Doris Day pop up with advice on how to keep your man, or a new game show on how to beat your biological clock.

Abortion: Still Right to Choose

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It started with the Cosmopolitan interviews - all three party leaders expressed personal unease over the abortion issue, but Michael Howard went one step further by stating that the time limit on abortions should be cut from 24 to 20 weeks, and that the current law allows what is 'tantamount to abortion on demand'.

The current debate over abortion may not become an election issue, as almost 80 percent of the British public are pro-choice. Britain is largely more secular than the US, where abortion was an election issue last year and some doctors and nurses work in abortion clinics fearing for the lives. But that does not mean that we do not need to be vigilant about defending what is already one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. The anti-choice lobby, like the pro-hunt lobby, are disproportionately advantaged in terms of wealth, privilege and political influence.

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