ourEconomy: Opinion

Towards an emancipatory feminist economy

Across Latin America, feminists are struggling with indigenous, peasant and Afro movements to create an economy for life. Español

Natalia Quiroga Díaz
19 December 2019
Protest at the murder of Berta Cáceres, Washinton DC, 2016.
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Image: Daniel Cima, CC by 2.0

This article is part of the 'Advancing gender just economies' series, presented by ourEconomy, ActionAid, FEMNET, Womankind Worldwide and Fight Inequality Alliance.

I usually start macroeconomics courses with a phrase from the great economist Joan Robinson, who wrote "you have to know the economy very well, so as not to be fooled by economists". One of the great contributions of feminism is to help us remove the conceptual veil that covers up important economic work: reproductive work, domestic and care work, without which the operation of the economy would be impossible.

That's why we claim that economic theory has not been gender neutral. Reproductive work has been undertaken by women without their contribution to the generation of wealth being recognized in the various economic theories. In neoclassical theory, women’s contribution to domestic care and work is systematically unseen. One of the great contributions of economists like Silvia Federici has been to show the way in which reproductive work is the pillar that accumulates wealth in the capitalist system.

The conceptual scaffolding constructed for the analysis of the economy leads us to consider the production of goods and the unlimited accumulation of profits as the axes of the economic. We often forget that true wealth is in the care of human and non-human life. In this context there is an emerging field, emancipatory feminist economics, that constitutes a critical response to the destruction of life and the decline in rights, conditions and well-being of women that the neoliberal model is producing.

In Latin America, this critical response intersects with long-standing struggles in the region: the struggles of the peasant movement, the indigenous peoples’ movement and the Afro movement, and also of the groups fighting in defense of the social conditions of reproduction (health, public education, housing, etc.). In this meeting of collectives arises emancipatory feminist economics.

Economics is a hegemonic field, which in life has control of the diary of development, so it is dangerous for it to remain in the hands of orthodox economists. That is why the broad collective that makes up this group includes members of the most diverse disciplines and life trajectories. Our group is made up of women and men from Mexico to Argentina. And all with baggage and experiences of struggles and very diverse work.

When we think of feminist economics as a key, we connect these long-standing struggles with the feminism’s critique of the non-recognition of the work done by women mainly in the domestic and care fields, because it is the most invisible of work despite being the basis for the reproduction of the workforce as an indispensable condition for the functioning of the productive system. However, it is necessary to connect that which occurs mainly in households with what happens at the level of society and in the territories; that connection is not explicit, on the contrary it is presented as unlinked events.

To give an important example, the militarization of life in urban and rural areas entails the presence of armies serving businesses, mafia and state actors, whose actions are almost always intertwined. The ever-patriarchal expression of this power leads to bloody forms of violence on the bodies of women, as Rita Segato shows us is the case of the Juarez City; violence against women's bodies is a mark of territorial dominance. Those are phenomena that are not seen from traditional approaches.

This violence has led to the domination of men, because they have a mandate for superiority in their role as ‘protecters’ of women and as an extension of the state.

The militarization of everyday life serves to guarantee the dispossession of communities by extractive industries. Peasant peoples, indigenous peoples, black peoples, are besieged by the military occupation that guarantees the operation of mining, monocultures and megaprojects. Meanwhile in cities, citizens are invited to coexist and approve the military presence, which is encouraged by a security discourse whose legitimacy is completely separated from the causes of structural inequality that characterize Latin America.

In our cities, the mass of citizens, the villages, the favelas, are stigmatized. The conditions for real estate speculation involve the segregation of ordinary citizens through brutal persecution based on skin color, on ways of dressing, and on ways of self-managing a life that does not enrich the coffers of real estate capital.

In the region, our streets are no longer the workplace of street vendors, of everyday citizens, who also face harassment in their own neighbourhoods. This is about attacking the fundamental conditions for the reproduction of life. In our cities there is a criminalization of ordinary people expressed in trigger-happy practices aimed at non-white and poor populations. It is then about homogenizing the social landscape; new urban projects are being built as spaces for social whitening.

The second point that we are interested in highlighting relates to the attacks on women leaders in Latin America. Berta Cáceres in Honduras, Machi Francisca Liconado in Chile, Milagros Salas in Argentina, and Francia Márquez in Colombia are among many women who have been fighting against the dispossession of their territories. They have been attacked, arrested, and in Berta’s case murdered. A witch hunt is taking place in America; these are not randon acts, they show a patriarchal strategy of attacking communities.

These women are indigenous, Afro, peasants. Francia Marquez had to leave her community in the Colombian Pacific during its fight against gold mining. Several attempts have been made on her life for defending the communnity’s territory and for her work with representatives of indigenous communities to come up with a plan to protect against extermination.

Why the cruelty against women like Machi Liconado, Milagros Salas, Berta Cáceres? The forms of authority they represent challenge the foundations of this extractivist and developmentalist model. They unmask the myth of progress and make explicit the project of death and uprooting that it entails.

The punishment and persecution suffered by indigenous people, peasants, Afros; the mechanism of labelling the Mapuche people in both Argentina and Chile as terrorists, shows how those communities have developed an autonomous power that is seen to threaten the sustainability of capitalism. The death-match waged by business, mafia and state not only aims at material dispossession, it also tries to dispossess these collectives of their understanding of the world. Destroy their ability to understand and the society of consumption and ‘progress’ is sustained.

These peoples have ways of living in the world that today question society as a whole and are increasingly considered an alternative to reorganizing life in the context of the deep crisis civilization that we face.

Indigenous peoples, farmers, peasants and popular sectors have been inventing, for centuries, ways of sustaining life in their own territories, against neolibralism, racism and coloniality. These ways of sustaining life allow us to think from other places, community defense, control of the territory, justice and common politics also for women.

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