Life in an oil-based economy

9 October 2005

(Written October 5 - apologies for delay in posting)

Today I was listening to a radio discussion about the availability of a drug called Perceptin to treat women in the early stages of breast cancer. It’s expensive, which is why it’s only been available to women whose cancer is advanced. Mary Blewitt, in her introduction, asks what more we can do to secure antiretroviral treatment for Rwandan women survivors of the genocide.

It also brought my mind back to one of my current dilemmas (forgive me if everything seems to be about my new baby) which is whether or not to vaccinate. The vaccinations contain heavy metal compounds, toxins like formaldehyde and phenol (also a carcinogen), faecal matter, urine, pus from sores of diseased animals, foreign animal tissues, macerated cancer cells and sweepings from diseased children, among others. I’m supposed to allow that cocktail to be injected into my tiny boy for the sake of his health.


There’s a lot of profit in vaccines, as there is in antiretrovirals and breast cancer drugs. That’s why they’re not available to everyone, of course, and also why drug companies manufacture things for injection into babies which are so vile and unwholesome: because it’s not about people. It’s only about money.


For me, that sums up the reason why we haven’t made anywhere near enough progress, despite 1325 – because the route to real and radical social change is through economic change, away from a world ruled by corporations to one run co-operatively by people.


As Mu Sochua says, “It is not enough to have a resolution passed unless there is a global campaign and mechanisms and means to spread the words and put into action what has been adopted.”


To me, the mechanisms and means to empower women, or anyone, are through undermining the economy that currently dominates the globe and creating at the same time one based on co-operatives: workers’ co-ops where the workers are also the owners and directors; housing co-ops where accommodation is collectively owned; food co-ops, in which people buy collectively to retain control of their food, as opposed to being dictated to by supermarket behemoths.


Boitumelo Mofokeng wrote (Oct 3), “I ask myself, if women owned half the media in the world, what stories would we be telling and how these would be educational and empowering to women. I have seen and continue to see women's columns of major newspapers still profiling women in a stereotypical way, functioning as if there's no Gender Commission, UNIFEM, etc. Media for me is a tool that we need to advance our cause.”


Boitumelo, I agree. The media needs to represent the people, instead of telling us what we’re supposed to think. I’m not convinced things would change merely because women owned half the media – if they were women with the same intentions as Rupert Murdoch and the other filthy rich men who own the media now we’d be no better off (think of Condoleezza Rice, for example). Media co-operatives, on the other hand, offer the potential for collectively owned and run outlets to provide information, drama, news, social commentary and so on that pay a fair wage but do not exist primarily to make profit for essentially uninvolved owners or shareholders.


The same goes for NGOs and especially for charities. For the most part, these are about doing something to ‘the deserving poor’. Charities in the UK are prohibited from political activity on any meaningful scale, under threat of losing their tax exempt status. Campaigns and programmes are often determined by the funding available rather than by need and in many cases the projects are fundamentally disempowering to the people on the receiving end.


Angela Castellanos writes, “The Organizacion Femenina Popular, which gathers 1200 women, has various Women Houses in the region, where they offer training for work, health care and art courses.”


Angela, to me this sounds much more positive, much more empowering, more like mutual aid, self-education and practical assistance according to what the women involved want and need. It seems to be more or less what Boitumelo is advocating when she writes, “A door shut in your face never to learn anything but labourer's skills was a curse on a people with such a big heart for forgiveness. If women could read, write and teach formal and informal education, manage and own media with editorial rights, maybe we would not even be discussing the whether or nots of gender quotas.”


Here in the UK we’ve got a National Curriculum, enforced by constant testing of children and league tables for comparison, which have squeezed all the exploration out of education. Education could also fit well with the co-operative structure, people coming together to share skills, to educate children and enable them to explore as well, with respect for teachers’ skills, rather than imposing on both teachers and pupils (and parents) the information selected by the ruling interests.


Boitumelo, I think the answer is yes – democracy is “a lullaby to put us to deep sleep to forget the other half of our own and work against the gains of the women's struggle worldwide?”


I think while we’re asking political institutions for changes we’ll never get anywhere. 1325 is fine, but it can’t ever change anything while the global economy remains a capitalist, oil based one in which inequality is a cornerstone. Mu, you ask, “What kind of peace? And what after the negotiations?” You also say that “Using 1325 requires a great level of political campaign and lobby”.


Perhaps my view is rooted too firmly in my own Western European experience, but to me political lobbying is precisely what we don’t need. The people we would lobby have interests fundamentally opposite to ours. What we need is a much more radical change, in which we undermine the old (hierarchical, unequal, capitalist) economy and replace it with a co-operative, equitable one.


It is a huge challenge but, unlike change through lobbying, it’s so do-able, so empowering. When we control our own labour, our own housing, our own food, media, education, then we will be free, then we will be equal.
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