Background information for discussions on and the definition of the 4th International Action of the World March of Women in 201

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At the 8th International Meeting of the World March of Women, held in the Philippines in 2011, we made progress in our discussion on the global socio-political-economic context and the challenges we face as an anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchy feminist movement grounded in grassroots groups. Some National Coordinating Bodies (NCBs) have sent additional texts and suggestions to enrich the document prepared by the International Committee. We believe that this analysis is still current and that the trends that were identified continue to persist.[1]

This is why in the text that follows – which is a contribution to the debate of the NCBs in preparation for the 9th International Meeting to be held in Brazil – we have decided to focus our analysis on the basis of patriarchy and the capitalism, as systems that feed one another, especially in the context of the current crisis of capitalism and its false solutions. We are guided by the alternatives that we defend and have been building, which is why we have decided to begin this document with them. Based on this, we hope to help synthesize elements of the debate that will guide our future actions and alliances, without losing sight of the analyses that we developed collectively in the Women’s Global Charter for Humanity[2] and the texts for the four Action Areas[3].

Women in resistance are building alternatives

 We, of the World March of Women, together with our allied organizations, are part of one single global movement of resistance to the capitalist, colonial and patriarchal system and in favor of building alternative proposals based on the autonomy and self-determination of women and the peoples.

Rooted in feminism, we defend the sustainability of human life as the guiding principle of this new paradigm, which must be based on dynamic and harmonious relationships between humanity and nature and between human beings. For this, it is fundamental that real changes be made to the modes of production and reproduction and to consumption patterns in order to give new meaning to and broaden the concept of work. The new concept must recognize women’s work and establish a balance between production and reproduction work in which the latter is also shared with men and the State.

At the same time, we defend our right to autonomy over our bodies and our sexuality and the right to separate sexuality from maternity and to decide if and when we want have children. We reaffirm our vision that sees sexuality as being socially constructed and of ourselves as subjects that actively reject heteronormativity[4] and defend the right to live our sexuality free from coercion, stereotypes and power relations.

In our daily lives, we women are creating concrete alternatives to the dominant economy. Through our work and historical knowledge, we are developing a large number of alternative experiences on how to manage life, such as agroecology and solidarity economy, in various parts of the world. We argue that food sovereignty is strategic for the transformation of society, as it points toward another way of organizing the production, distribution and consumption of food – one that is contrary to the capitalist logic of agribusiness.

We demand a profound democratization of the State, which means putting an end to the privileges of the dominant class and generating actions for “depatriarchalization” of society[5]. It also implies guaranteeing the public orientation of the State, which will adopt actions to redistribute wealth and socialize domestic and care work, as well as emancipatory policies built on the basis of sovereignty and popular participation. This also requires States to play an active role on the international scene, where they must promote policies for the integration of the peoples that are based on the principles of solidarity, reciprocity and redistribution, rather than the imperialist/colonial logic of exploitation.

Our defense of demilitarization relates to all of these dimensions and questions the role of the elite/economic powers in State military interventions, which result in them gaining control over territories rich in natural resources throughout the world.

We fight for the right to communication and the democratization of the means of communication. This involves guaranteeing the free flow of information, the freedom of communications infrastructure and the internet, and therefore fighting against the market logic of intellectual property.

Our feminist struggle strives for an alternative model that guarantees the right of women to a life of freedom and without violence, generates equality between women and men and social justice, encourages solidarity among people and is sustainable. This is why we see the alliances of women with other social movements as being essential for the strengthening of our resistance and advancing towards defeating patriarchy and capitalism for good.

One of capitalism’s false solutions to its crisis: strengthening patriarchy

In 2000, in a letter to International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank leaders, we described the structural causes of poverty and violence: “We believe that the world today and the situation of women in particular, can be explained by the combined forces of two worldwide phenomena:

  • the dominance of a single economic system throughout the planet: neo-liberal capitalism, a system governed by unbridled competition that strives for privatization, liberalization, and deregulation; a system that is entirely driven by the dictates of the market, where full enjoyment of basic human rights ranks below the laws of the marketplace, resulting in crushing social exclusion and threatening world peace and the future of the planet.
  • the perpetuation of a social, political and economic system that oppresses women: patriarchy. It is a system that has persisted over thousands of years, at varying intensities and in different cultures. It is a system whose values, rules, standards and policies are based on the supposition that women are naturally inferior as human beings, and on the hierarchy of roles that societies define for men and women. This system enshrines male power and causes violence and exclusions that extend to globalization, thereby giving it a direction that is fundamentally sexist.

These two historical forces feed off each other and reinforce each other in order to maintain the vast majority of women in a situation characterized by cultural inferiority, social devaluation, economic marginalization, ‘invisibility’ of their existence and labour, and the marketing and commercialization of their bodies.”[6]

Since then, analytical perspectives that treat patriarchy and capitalism as either two systems or only one system – capitalist patriarchy or patriarchal capitalism – have coexisted within the March. Both aim to give greater visibility to how the oppression of women – patriarchy – is inherent to the economic, social and cultural relations at the foundation of the current social order. One example of this is the exploitation of women’s labor in maquiladora factories, where ‘feminine’ capacities developed through gender socialization, such as patience or dexterity, are taken advantage of by corporations, yet without recognition or better pay in return. Another example is the use of sexual harassment as a management tool to humiliate and control the workers.

Thus, since the founding of the March in the late 1990s – which took place in the context of the rise of the neoliberal pensée unique and the imposition of “structural adjustment” policies (privatization, reduced government intervention in the economy, market liberalization, and cuts to social welfare spending) – we have not only tried to examine the impacts of globalization on women, but also dared to speak of alternatives, of other ways of organizing life that are based on our concrete experience and, above all, on the creative, daily forms of resistance of women. While we have identified new forms of colonialism in IMF and World Bank policies, we still need to develop within the WMW an understanding that links the patriarchal and capitalist systems to racism and neocolonialism.

Today, we watch as the system undergoes a major restructuring in order to keep the current order of oppression and exploitation in place. This process reveals and magnifies the same violent mechanisms of accumulation that were at the system’s origin, which can be grouped into four processes: a) the appropriation of nature, b) the appropriation of income and worker’s rights, c) control over women’s bodies and their lives[7], and d) militarization, criminalization and violence.

In the current accumulation process, known as “accumulation by dispossession,”[8] everything is turned into a commodity – water, air, forests, seeds and services like education and healthcare. Inequality and the concentration of wealth are on the rise, and the ones who are paying the price of capital’s crisis are society’s poor and middle classes. According to the ILO (International Labour Organization), in 2009, the worst year of the crisis so far, while unemployment rose more than 10% in relation to 2007, the rich (people with more than US$1 million in investment capital) increased their total wealth by 18%[9].

a) The Appropriation of Nature

Throughout the 2000s, we saw market relations expand into even more areas of human life. The ongoing process of land enclosure, which separates workers from their means of production and survival, spread even further. As a way of controlling our lives and creating dependency, capital imposes the use of GMO technologies that, in practice, seek to stop people from cultivating their own food by limiting seeds’ ability to reproduce (terminator genes that have only one productive cycle) and forces them to pay royalties to transnational corporations for seeds that have been common goods of humanity for centuries.

Nature is treated as an infinite resource used to produce goods that fuel overconsumption in part of the world’s population. Overconsumption is stimulated by the insane strategy of planned obsolescence whose sole goal is to keep sales levels high by selling products that either break down right away or quickly become obsolete due to the rapid development of new technology.

The commodification of nature is being intensified by speculative financial markets’ search for real assets (land, water, minerals) in order to maintain confidence in the system and to sustain themselves. This is what generated new crises – environmental, climate, economic and political – in the system. The 2007-2008 food price crisis, for example, was triggered by financial speculation and the funneling of volatile capital into investments in land, securities and the futures market. Land grabbing has become particularly widespread in Africa, Asia and Latin America, as land is used to grow food and agrofuels as monocultures, for exports. Urban areas are also experiencing a new cycle of property speculation, which the construction of mega-projects related to mega-events is part of. Mining companies are expanding their prospecting and open-pit mining and continue to pollute the water, overexploit workers and are at the heart of a number of armed conflicts.

b) The appropriation of income and worker’s rights

Centuries of workers’ struggles have led to the establishment of rights that put limits – albeit insufficient ones – on exploitation by capital, such as: the right to weekly and annual periods of rest, the number of hours in a work week, sick leave, the right to paid retirement, access to public services like education, healthcare, sanitation, transportation, etc.

But now, in view of the “crisis,” the system is making major adjustments to the relationship between capital and labor through cutbacks to public spending on all public service sectors and by imposing a certain level of instability on everyone. Such instability used to be limited to countries in the geopolitical South (the poorest ones) or to certain sectors of the population (mainly women and immigrants). Unemployment and the threat of unemployment are used by the powers running the system to ensure that these reductions of workers’ rights are accepted with little resistance. And when there is resistance, it is either concealed or downplayed.

The transfer of the costs of capitalist production to women and to the reproductive work that they perform is part of this adjustment. Reproductive work is work done to take care of others – such as preparing food, cleaning, etc. – carried out mainly in the home and by women. Women are the ones who manage scarcity and instability in their homes. Thus, in most cases, they are the ones who take care of people when the number of beds is reduced, hospitals or daycare centers close or when lunches are not provided by schools.

Women’s work is the variable used to adjust between the contradictory logic and cycles of the market, driven by the pursuit of profit on one hand, and of care for human life, on the other. Even though women are already overworked and many of them are always available, there is a crisis in care-giving and the way society responds to people’s basic needs for food, affection and sense of security[10]. The relocation of the production of goods is linked to the relocation of care work, as an enormous contingent of women from the South and poorer areas migrate to the North or richer regions to take care of children, the elderly and the sick, while no one takes care of them.

In countries where repression of the struggle for rights is more severe, working conditions are even more dramatic. Episodes like the fire and collapse of the garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, which took the lives of 1,127 people, the majority of which were women, clearly illustrate this.

c) Control over women’s bodies and their lives

Patriarchy, combined with capitalism, not only attempts to appropriate women’s work, but also the very source of women’s ability to work: their bodies. During capitalism’s initial phase (primitive or original accumulation), the system used not only the sexual division of labor but also control over sexuality for its own advancement. Heterosexual marriage and motherhood were established as the norm, with prostitution being encouraged at times, while at others, women in prostitution and those who knew of contraceptive practices were persecuted.[11]

The market economy based on the exploitation of women’s unpaid work corresponds to a market society that presupposes the organization of workers in nuclear families. We can prove that over the past two decades, there has been a steady increase in conservatism, which promotes women’s role in the family in order to justify overloading them with work and make women believe that they alone have to assume the responsibility of providing care. At the same times, conservative groups are exerting increasing pressure to eliminate public policies providing support for social reproduction (in countries where such policies exist) or to stop these kinds of policies from being approved. At the same time, there is growing pressure to get women to leave the labor market, as a way of lowering the unemployment rate. The mechanisms currently in use include offering lower wages to women and imposing cuts in public services that result in both greater unemployment among women (who are the majority of public sector employees) and in women assuming additional care-giving functions at no cost to the State or the private sector.

The domination of women’s bodies is more complex today – a time when contrasting images of the body, from burqa-covered to nude, may create the same sense of oppression. Is it the “body for itself” or the body as an object of desire for the other, the “other” typically being a male? When feminist discourse on the autonomy of women – expressed as the historical slogan, “My body belongs to me” – is co-opted by the system and converted into “My body is my business”, it clearly transforms the body into a thing, into an object that can be bought and sold. In addition to the growing influence of religious institutions – be they Catholic, evangelical or Islamic – on the regulation of public life, we are also seeing the rejection or reversal of rights relating to women’s autonomy and their emotional and reproductive life. At the same time, however, LGBT movements in many countries have succeeded in getting same-sex marriages legalized and winning adoption, inheritance and other rights. Yet these measures are facing strong resistance from conservative sectors that are becoming increasing aggressive towards lesbians, gays and transgender people. For example, in France, conservative religious sectors have organized several protests against same-sex marriages and the adoption of children by couples of the same sex. More recently, in Nigeria, a bill has been proposed to condemn homosexuality as a crime.

d) Militarization, criminalization and violence

In her analysis of the imperialist phase of capital in the early 20th century, Rosa Luxemburg notes that in principle, the industrial-military complex is capable of infinite expansion, as capital controls its own production rate through legislative action or by using the media to manipulate the so-called ‘public’ opinion[12]. After a century of wars that cost so many lives and efforts to rebuild, given its current structural crisis and decline in production, capital is now even more dependent on steady growth of the arms industry, which is clearly associated to military expansion.

In 2001, the sales of the arms industry reached US$ 410 trillion. 44 US-based corporations accounted for 60% of this amount, while 29% corresponds to 30 companies with head offices in Western Europe. Even the slightest decline in sales leads these corporations to begin employing strategies to move into Latin America, the Middle East and Asia and penetrate the cybersecurity market[13]. In other words, they aim to increase the use of technologies for social control, while creation an illusion of greater security. Militarism cannot be reduced to its economic dimension and extends the imposition of military values (belief in hierarchy, obedience, the resolution of conflicts by force, etc.) to all of society. These values are clearly patriarchal and their most grave expressions are the use of sexual violence and the increase of prostitution, including young girls, which is linked to the presence of the army.

The increasing level of control over society is made obvious by the growing criminalization of resistance, which often results in the distortion of the very instruments we create to defend justice, memory and respect for human rights. The reactions of Guatemala army officials to the sentencing of Rios Montt, the dictator responsible for genocide and sexual violence against the Ixil people, is one example of this. Military leaders responded by accusing historical activists of being “terrorists” and either taking legal action or inciting parts of the population to turn against them. All of this is part of a process to deny the defense of rights.

Women are also forced to contend with patriarchal violence. We know that violence against women is a tool used to control our lives and our bodies. Violence against women has been given greater visibility in recent years, particularly sexual violence committed in public places, and has rallied women – as well as men – to action. The past few years have been marked by images of the Egyptian police dragging a female activist along the street and by the gang rape and subsequent death of a young Indian woman. In both of these cases, the mainstream media was full of cultural explanations, while there was very little reflection on the structural causes of this type of violence. The rare analyses of the topic[14] spoke of how the fact that women have won the right to occupy more space in public life – at the price of enormous personal and collective efforts – has triggered an extremely violent call to patriarchal order. Even though women’s unemployment is higher than men’s in most parts of the world, women are accused of “stealing” men’s jobs, just as we were at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

Depoliticization and information control

The system’s violent offensive to reposition its accumulation at a higher level of dispossession is compounded by the weakening of spaces for political negotiation. It is no longer necessary for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to use its missions to countries to impose its policies on governments. Today, former IMF leaders (or leaders from the World Bank or Central European Bank) are now occupying high-level government positions, inventing the figure of the technocratic dictator. Transnational corporations are taking over the United Nations and imposing their agendas and their negotiating terms, in order to give their false solutions a veneer of legitimacy. While capitalism individualizes and divides, religions are being presented as vectors for creating solidarity. With this rhetoric, religious institutions are also taking over supposedly democratic institutions, imposing their specific views on everyone. This is the case of the Catholic Church, which has imposed the criminalization of abortion on numerous States, and of Islamic governments that suggest adopting Sharia law as the basis of national constitutions.

Again, some feminists and the demands of women’s groups are being used and distorted by those in power to further their agenda against us and to weaken our strategies. For example, the discourse around the reconciliation of careers and family life is directed mainly towards women. It is used to pressure women to reduce the number of paid hours of work and, at same time, to make our struggle for the abolition of the sexual division of labor regress.

It is also important to criticize the attitudes of some social movements that reinforce women’s subordination. Some examples are: actions that reinforce the sexual objectification of women’s bodies; paying homage to Margaret Thatcher, a well-known neoliberal and fascist; accepting funding from the Bill Gates Foundation and similar funders that are known for financing anti-union activities, or supporting racist positions masked as women’s liberation.

The system’s offensive attack has the support of mass media (radio, television and newspapers with broad coverage), which is controlled today by five international conglomerates or, at the national level, by a few families. By controlling what gets broadcast and how, and what is omitted from the news, media conglomerates play a decisive role in molding public opinion to make conservative ideas and values, or austerity measures for example, more acceptable and on the criminalization of social movements. In this context, those who attempt to contest these ideas (through community radio or blogs) are repressed and the number of initiatives to control infrastructure and the flow of information on the Internet (from emails to social networks) is growing.

Our reactions to capitalism’s offensive strategy

In light of increasing militarization and the monopolization of territories, people’s rights and women’s bodies, there is a tremendous amount of collective resistance going on. We saw this, for example, in the content developed by several National Coordinating Bodies for the 24 Hours of Feminist Action around the World on December 10th, 2012: defense of communities’ territories and livelihoods; defense of the right to abortion and public healthcare; and confronting violence against women.

In Europe and the United States, the fight to defend workers’ rights has developed into other forms of struggle to question the system as a whole. Workers’ strikes, such as those in coalfields of Tunisia and in textile factories in el-Mahalla el-Kubra, Egypt, were precursors to the popular uprisings of the “Arab Spring.”  We women are taking back our territories: we defied the jihadists’ bans in northern Mali and went to sell fruits and vegetables. We challenged Prime Minister Erdogan’s police in Turkey in a struggle that began with mothers and teachers protesting against the transformation of a park in Istanbul into a shopping center and a replica of Ottoman barracks. This protest has spread to the territory of the body: many women see the new abortion law and Erdogan’s recommendation that all Turkish women have three children as sign of the kind of policy he will adopt.

We women are leading pacific resistance to mining companies in different territories around the world, confronting police in protests and facing constant attacks when we organize and denounce abuse. We women are creating and giving greater visibility to daily forms of resistance. We are proposing constitutional changes and contributions to peace processes. We are developing our own means of communication – including those considered unconventional, like the “batucadas” (drums), the theatre of the oppressed, – and generating our own content and information on what is going on in the world.[15]

These acts of resistance and efforts to build alternatives are all based on an analysis of systems of oppression and their effects on our lives. In the text below, we propose a few questions in order to stimulate debate among yourselves and to help formulate the contributions that your NCB’s delegates will make during the IM. NCBs that for some reason will not be able to participate in the IM can send us their written contributions by July 31st, if they wish to do so.

  1. In the WMW, we seek to bring to light the causes of the injustice and oppression that women experience in the order established by patriarchy and capitalism. Racism and colonialism are also systems that structure the oppression of indigenous people and non-white individuals and make the expropriation of their land, the overexploitation of their labor, harm to and assault on them appear normal. How can we advance in developing our analysis of the connections between patriarchy, capitalism, racism and colonialism? What impacts do they have on how we define our demands and actions?
  2. How does the process of monopolizing territories affect your lives, and what struggles do we need to engage in to strengthen women’s control over their territories and to put an end to this form of expropriation?
  3. The fight for equality necessarily involves questioning the sexual division of labor between men and women. How can we discuss this without falling into the trap of creating mechanisms that will, in the end, lead to the consolidation of domestic and care-giving responsibilities solely in the hands of women?
  4. For decades now, technological advances (such as the mechanization of agriculture and of industrial production processes, the adoption of the personal computer, etc.) have been sold to us with promises of more free time for workers. But the result of these advances has been more profits for the owners of the means of production and the intensification of the exploitation of workers (with one worker now taking on tasks previously performed by more than one person). What do we, as women, propose as alternative ways of organizing our time – ones that are different from those of the capitalist system?
  5. We are seeing transnational corporations advance in all dimensions of the economy, but also in the construction of subjectivities and the capturing of public spaces that start to operate in favor of corporate interests. Have you identified an increase in the presence of transnational corporations in your country and/or region? In what sectors of the economy and what are their impacts on women’s lives? Does your NCB participate in concrete actions against transnational corporations?
  6. In view of all that has been presented here, we see that feminism – as a theory, a practice and an organized movement – has become a target of the capitalist and patriarchal system, which attempts to trivialize and divide it, and give it a new, superficial meaning. Can you see this process happening in your local struggle? If so, how?
  7. In our 2000 action, we denounced the unrestricted global circulation of money, which is increasingly detached from the real economy. We have thus supported proposals for the creation of taxes on financial transactions (such as the Tobin Tax) and on large fortunes and putting an end to tax havens. In 2005, with the Women’s Global Charter for Humanity, we defined our vision on how an alternative world to capitalism should be organized. In 2010, we rose up to denounce the increase in violence against women caused by militarization and by the armed or legal repression of organized movements, as well as the persistence of domestic violence. What struggles (themes and types of actions) should we include in the 2015 Action, in order to contest these new mechanisms of control over women’s bodies, time and lives?
  8. International solidarity is a strong component of efforts to build our international movement. How can we make our solidarity actions – whether they are with women in countries in conflict (such as Palestine, Western Sahara, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Central African Republic) or in countries where women are fighting to guarantee rights – more effective?
  9. Communication is a fundamental part of our mobilizations and our organization. It allows us to debate ideas among ourselves and directly with society, and to gain strength. How does your NCB work to produce its own discourse and communication tools (bulletins, websites, information exchange lists, audiovisual materials)? Is the fight to democratize mass media vehicles on your NCB’s agenda?

[4] This term is used to describe situations in which all sexual orientations other than heterosexual are marginalised, ignored or persecuted through social practices, beliefs or policies. This concept is based on the critique of the imposition of heterosexuality as a norm for society and questions gender identity and social gender roles based on a binary male-female opposition.

[5] “Depatriarchalization”, or “despatriarcalización” in Spanish, is a proposal put forward by Bolivian feminists during Evo Morales’ popular government for the transformation of structures, daily practices and discourse that perpetuate and reproduce power relations that subordinate women.

[6] The World March of Women 1998-2008: A Decade of International Feminist Struggle. São Paulo : SOF – Sempreviva Organização Feminista, 2008, p. 66. Available online at: http://www.marchemondiale.org/publications/libro1998-2008/part02/en

[7] Ecofeminist Ariel Salleh asserts that “capitalism is built on a social debt to exploited workers; an embodied debt to unpaid women for their reproductive labor; and an ecological debt to peasants and indigenes for appropriating their land and livelihood.” (Ariel Salleh, Rio+20 and the Green Economy: Technocrats, Meta-industrial, WSF and Occupy, March 31, 2012). Available online at: http://www.zcommunications.org/rio-20-and-the-green-economy-technocrats-meta-industrials-wsf-and-occupy-by-ariel-salleh

[8] “Accumulation by dispossession” is a term coined by Marxist theorist David Harvey, referring to the use of primitive accumulation methods to sustain the capitalist system and commodify areas that were previously inaccessible to the market. While primitive accumulation implied the establishment of a new system as a replacement for feudalism, the purpose of accumulation by dispossession is to maintain the current system and spread the effects of the crisis of capital over-accumulation to the poorest sectors of the population.

[9] Document from the 2nd International Conference: “Political vision of workers on development,” Argentina, April 2013.

[10] Amaia Pérez Orozco: Amenaza tormenta: la crisis de lo cuidado y la reorganización del sistema económico (Storm warning: the crisis in care-giving and the reorganization of the economic system). Available at:

http://www.observatoridesc.org/sites/default/files/1_amenaza_tormenta.pdf

[11] Silvia Frederici: Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, Autonomedia, 2004. Available for download at: http://libcom.org/library/caliban-witch-silvia-federici

[12] Rosa Luxemburg: The Accumulation of Capital. Londres, Routledge, 1963, p.466

[14] Vandana Shiva, The Connection Between Global Economic Policy and Violence Against Women. Availabe at: http://www.forum.awid.org/forum12/2013/01/violent-economic-reforms-and-the-growing-violence-against-women/

[15] To access the debate on communication held during the WMW’s International Committee meeting in 2011, go to: http://www.marchemondiale.org/structure/8rencontre/communication/en

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