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Globalization And Feminism

By Alda Facio, Costa Rican writer and lawyer. February 2003

I understand globalization as a phenomenon that is replacing production-based economics with speculation-based economics. And, although feminists of the 1960s used to criticize the overvaluation of goods production as compared to caring for human beings, globalization has not generated a positive attitudinal change about reproduction. On the contrary, it has brought about the overvaluation of virtual, immaterial or intangible goods - like money, the stock market or capital circulation. As a result, human reproduction, which was and still is a key question for feminism has been undervalued even more.

Now we live in communities that not only dismiss nurturing and taking care of others, but also the production of traditional economic goods like food, clothes, buildings, etc. But as economists say, wealth does not emerge from nothing; if there is no production, wealth can only be created by taking from someone else. A lot of wealth - like the wealth enjoyed by Bill Gates and other multinational executives - implies that a small piece of wealth is being taken from many different people. And, when a small piece of wealth is all that many people have, the big wealth of just a few implies poverty for many others, particularly for women.

Since globalization values the intangible, it encourages an acceptance of discourses that are not accompanied by actions. The fact that oligarchic international institutions like the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the IMF have acquired a "gender perspective" in their discourse has allowed them to move on with their plans for structural adjustment without opposition from the feminist movement because they are operating "within a gender perspective". Several years after Beijing, women of this world are poorer and more shunned and marginalized from the real power positions, and yet we say that we have moved forward because now we are present in the discourse of the powerful and a "gender perspective" figures in almost all their projects. A key feminist strategy has been the incorporation of a gender perspective in all human actions, not as a "discourse," but as a concrete means to eliminate real inequality between men and women.

Globalization denies the future because within a framework of speculative economics, businesses or politicians wanting to stay afloat, demand immediate profits. It does not matter what the consequences are for nature, animals, men and women workers, or for the planet. The notion of an ideal future - a utopia - has been a major feature of feminist movements. But without a future, we cannot imagine a utopia and without a common utopia, there cannot be a movement. The feminist movement can be diverse; it can encompass many different women, but a movement cannot survive without common goals, which in turn need a common position. Fighting against globalization can be our common position; dreaming of a world of equality can be our utopia.

Globalization destroys hope because it excludes millions of people from the possibility of escaping poverty and encourages violence as a means to survive. People cannot wait anymore for the situation to improve and often their only way out is stealing, killing or trafficking. Since they do not have access to rich people, they steal, traffic and kill their own sisters and brothers, partners or neighbors. Still another concern for feminism has been the right to live without violence. But without hope there can not be peace because the absence of hope is already a form of violence.

Working on Democracy, on fundamental freedoms and on Human Rights in general has been a strategy for the feminist movement, particularly during the last decade. Yet globalization has denigrated these values, which even Capitalism supposedly considered fundamental, to the extent that it does not make sense to appropriate them anymore. Why do we want a system that only allows us to choose, from time to time, among two or more bad approaches and even worse politicians? Why should we settle for bringing proposals inside this system, like political participation quotas or domestic violence penalties, instead of imagining and also fighting for a real democracy? How do we defend "freedom of speech" if it has become freedom for big business to manipulate the truth at their will?

I am not saying that we should not fight for Democracy, Human Rights and freedom of speech. But we should do it from a standpoint of questioning the way these concepts are understood within a context of deepening globalization. We need more women in power positions but we also need them to be women who are ready to fight against globalization. We need to end gender violence but we need to do it through proposals that do not end up benefiting the powerful ones.

Globalization has allowed the USA, the country with the biggest intangible market and a military system to back it up, to be the leader in questions that have nothing to do with its economic and military power. The US political, legal, and educational systems are seen as models for other countries, despite the fact that in that country the current President was not elected by the majority of voters, prisons are full of people belonging to ethnic minorities, and women do not have proper maternity leave. Further, greater female access to higher education is not creating more women who support the disenfranchised majority that are excluded from the "benefits" of the current system, only a few more women enjoying the privileges offered by globalization. The world is more and more passive in the face of the arrogance and despotism that comes out of the US, which has set itself up as arbiter of the world. There is hardly any questioning of technology, science, and medicine and whether they have really given us more leisure time, more freedom, health or peace.

From my point of view we do not have to see the good side of globalization. Some time ago I read an article by Miguel Riera in the Spanish magazine "El Viejo Topo" in which he talks about the difference between globalization and "worldization" which is a much older phenomenon. I propose we speak about globalization when we speak about the current model of capitalist domination on an international scale and the current hegemony of the USA. However, we should talk about "planetarization" when we speak about a genuine exchange of knowledge, values, goods, practices and ideas. I also propose that we speak about "planetarization" when we refer to a movement that joins diverse international movements against the excesses of capitalism. We should also speak about "planetarization" when we refer to bringing feminist ideas and practices to all women and men of all cultures, ethnicities, ages, colors, genders and abilities. We should use the term "planetarization" of feminism to mean interpretations of our reality that are different from dominant globalization -- including re-elaboration of values, languages and symbols, feminist science, art, cinema, music and literature. After all, "planetarization" of feminist culture is as real as globalization and it is not due to it.

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