Women and Globalization

Par Evelyne Accad

Evelyne Accad
Evelyne Accad

Readings and analyses of Globalization have so far ignored women’s condition and perspectives.  Pretending to be neutral and asexual, such ignorance, especially in the context of building a future, is actually misogynistic.*  The domain Women and Globalization aims at making visible and giving voice to all the women who have thus far been suppressed or relegated to silence.  It wants to look at Globalization through women’s eyes. Throughout History, women’s points of view have been ignored, if not down-right resisted and contradicted by anti-female analyses and statements in the name of patriarchal rationality.

This domain plans to deal with world globalization from women’s perspectives. All over the world, women have been, and still are, harmed by men’s politics in all its various dimensions of oppression, violence and victimization, including, today, globalization. Globalization in its actual dynamics is no exception to the rule.

Currently globalization ideology does not invite women to discuss theories (as it did some decades ago with the Feminist critique of Lacan, or the debates on the status of such and such a culture, Islam in particular). What is important now is to speak about the concrete facts of women’s lives: their real life condition.  Just a few examples are their increasing poverty due to globalization, the disintegration of the family (children’s custody landing almost exclusively on women’s shoulders), migrations, sexual exploitation, women’s struggles, women’s suffering in wars (civil wars, US world police operations, struggles for independence such as the Intifada, etc.) (Nahla Abdo).

The concept of globalization invites us to also reflect on a question that keeps recurring on a world scale: why are women so often accomplices to their own oppression?

Globalization also leads us to question a number of representations, such as those connected to “private” violence between men and women.  MacKinnon gives us the staggering example of women who die from ill-treatment or murder by men every year in the US.  Those numbers amount to more victims than there were on 9/11, even though this continuous massacre is not considered war.  The attack against the Twin Towers, an act of individuals against civilian buildings, was considered to be war and led to the « war against terrorism. » At the same time violence perpetrated against women by men, an international phenomenon, is not considered a violation of human world ethics, even though it is a war which has gone on for centuries.  The reason given is that such violence has been lost in the sands of times.  Today we ought to consider the terror committed against women on a world scale as a violation of international law, a war against humanity.

« The personal is political, » this expression dear to Feminists, will here bear two opposite meanings:  1) Politics of Power towards women, or women as objects of politics, or even yet, women as political objects, 2) Women’s actions at the political level in all of its modalities: meaning not only of course, the action of women on the political level stricto sensu, but also the collective transformations of women’s lives, reputed to be personal and private, but are actually public, political affairs.  Therefore the domain Women and Globalization covers the entire area that has become political thanks to women’s actions, thanks to the transformation of representations, and to the opening, freeing effect which the slogan “the personal is political” has brought about.

1. Women as Political objects:

In this first meaning, women have become an object which power manipulates on the political scene.  This manipulation can take various forms (social, legal, symbolic, etc.), and follow multiple objectives.  It can try to obtain political support from the population itself being manipulated (here meaning women), or the support from other sectors of public opinion (men for example).  In past decades, several authoritarian regimes have adopted political positions favorable to women  in order to bring them over to their side, while repressing « political » opinion expressed mostly from the male side of the population.

The best example of the manipulation of « woman object » through power is the case of Afghanistan. The Taliban regime, extremely repressive towards women, was put into place with the support of the USA in their struggle against the USSR.  Subsequently, the war of Afghanistan, committed to fighting Al-Qaida’s « terrorism », all of a sudden saw itself invested with another objective, that of the liberation of the Afghan woman oppressed by an obscurantist Islam.  The choice of this objective was above all meant to win « enlightened » world opinion.  No sooner had the victory been won than war objective was forgotten and a regime strongly and classically patriarchal, just as repressive towards women, was put into place without any qualms.

This betrayal is all the more scandalous because the emancipation of women in Afghanistan has a long history (Moghadam).  Afghanistan is the space for a patriarchy with very strict, rigorous norms (« classical patriarchy » in Deniz Kandiyoti’s terms,1988 cited by Moghadam); at the beginning of the twenties, under the influence of a reformist king and a few intellectuals, legislation was adopted which, in all of Islam, was the most progressive in terms of women’s liberation.  This reform provoked a reactionary revolt in 1924 led by clerics, then the uprising of 1928, followed by the king’s abdication.  There is, without a doubt, an ancient struggle for the emancipation of women in Afghanistan, which was picked up by the communist regime in the eighties; and the USSR intervention in Afghanistan covered itself with the same excuse.  Reaction to this emancipation started with the Mudjahedines in 1992-96, and continued with the Taliban, supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but also by the USA.  The politics of the Taliban has been violently anti-feminist and anti-women, especially after they seized power in 1996.

Women’s cause tends to become today, and this is very remarkable, one of the main ideological values of the institutions of Empire.  One can see it in the politics of the United States, but also in other institutions that call themselves international.  Globalization as it is understood by imperial economic organizations (the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, etc., but also the United Nations) tends to, with the best intentions in the world, manipulate women just as it manipulates the poor.  Women are made to think that no matter how weak or poor, everyone can consume and acquire needed goods with whatever means they have — in other words, with whatever price they must pay for such transformation, i.e. additional impoverishment.   This is one of the worst aspects of globalization in its frightening paradoxes (see Jeanne Bisilliat, 2003).  The ideology of globalization conceives women as the most open to the myth of consumerism, the central myth of the American way of life.  Under this ideology, women become phantasmatically invested with the capacity to transform societies, to become the defenders of Western values and civilization.  In contrast, Islam, (as formerly Communism) reputed to be masculine in their attributes, are considered to be poles of resistance to “modernity.”

2. Women as political actors:

In this second meaning, Women’s Politics designates the unorganized and massive women’s movement which is today worldwide, as well as the explicitly asserted Feminist Movements struggling against a constantly reborn patriarchy.

The main target of Women’s Politics today is the masculine management of the world, the will and efforts to militarize to the extreme, and to promote everything that is military (Cynthia Enloe). The militarization of any approach to problems within civil society (that of drugs for example), means that women’s voices are reduced to silence.

Women’s politics also struggle for the ratification of International treaties on the traffic of women and children, on children’s rights in times of war, on the banning of anti-personnel mines, on the recognition of the International supreme penal court of all the treaties now waiting to be actualized which would stop, limit, and frame violence between societies and violence done to nature.  American political men fundamentally refuse these treaties because they would be considered as signs of weakness, and contrary to « male » behavior, to a certain harshness in relationships — violence and harshness being conceived by these political men as the most efficient exercise of authority.

Feminist critique can still apply today to the political uses of women’s cause — particularly to its use by Imperial Power, the United States, the choices of which are worldly defined.  The war in Afghanistan is a remarkable case.  It provoked a virulent protest from Feminists.  (See as an example, in Annex, the article by Christine Delphy).  The politics of various instances of Imperial Power in relation to women is today a central subject of interest, observation and action.

More than ever before, through the alibi – “to save women from the South” – which Imperial Power uses to legitimize “the right to interfere” (without asking women their opinion, and often putting their lives in peril), the Feminist movement must reinforce its own globalization.  This necessity cannot however legitimize, on the part of Feminist organizations from the North a “right to intervene” in the choices of Feminist organizations from the South, a mimesis of the Imperial “right to intervene.”

Relativist critique, the notion of incommunicability between cultures which not so long ago was opposed to Western Feminism (reproaching its ignorance of cultural differences) made Western feminists silent on the question of the Afghan woman’s status, for example.  In such a context, the status quo was seen as necessary to maintaining Afghan society, to keeping its distinct identity in front of the West, to resisting the foreigner.  The same can be said about excision.

Faced with the aggressive power of globalization, these excesses of passivity are no longer acceptable; dialogue and reciprocal effort to understand one another must be actively pursued in the rapports between Feminist movements of different societies (see in Annex Sonali Kolhatkar, « ‘Saving’ Afghan Women », for an extreme caricature-like case of a truncated dialogue).  Feminists all over the world today recognize that a certain number of priorities exist for all women in all cultures: education, income, right to reproduction.  And the question is to know what the world Power does or does not do directly or indirectly to reach those objectives.

As for the women’s movement, this collective push from women in most societies is by its very nature difficult to capture:  it is unorganized.  One perceives it more in the reactions it arouses from the Patriarchal power authorities, in the frequently displayed willingness to maintain women in a non-status zone, which can only be explained by a willingness to repress.

Its most remarkable manifestation is probably women’s literature.  Practically non-existent several decades ago, it tends to become a universal phenomenon.  Everywhere women dare say “I”, thereby publicly affirming by/through their writings the autonomy of their voices and expression.  By their very audacity, these writings are critical of patriarchy. Layla Baalbakki, with Ana Ahya (I live, Beirut, 1962), and Assia Djebar were probably the first ones in the Arab world to break the taboo of silence.

Assia Djebar’s writing is particularly representative of this women’s movement.  She herself has always claimed a distance from Feminism, and one would find it difficult to place her work within a Feminist manifesto.  But the free, almost wild, walks of her characters through the streets, the places of the city, the public spaces until now reserved exclusively to the males and forbidden to women, are a hymn to women’s freedom within the city, the appropriation of the city and of its centrality.  Her writing is a political act.

Many other authors attest to women’s  “political” movements illustrating this perspective, the two domains Mediterranean Peoples and Women and Globalization publish jointly the series of critical articles: Patriarcat et écritures de femmes au Maghreb (Patriarchy and writing of women in the Maghreb).

References

* I owe a lot to the collective work September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives  (ed. by Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter, Melbourne :  Spinifex, September 2002) for writing this presentation of the Women and Globalization domain.  The names of authors in parenthesis, without other indication, refer to articles published in that collection.  Many of the articles in September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives have inspired me, but too freely for me to quote them more fully. I would like to thank here all the authors of this collection.

** Jeanne Bisilliat (dir.), Regards de femmes sur la mondialisation, Paris, Karthala, 2003.

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Joint Articles

– Supang Chantavanich, « For Better or For Worse. Female Labour Migration in Southeast Asia », Asian Review 2001, pp. 122-46.

– Christine Delphy, in September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives  (ed. by Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter, Melbourne :  Spinifex, September 2002).

– Sonali Kolhatkar, « ‘Saving’ Afghan Women », in September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives  (ed. by Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter, Melbourne :  Spinifex, September 2002).

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The domain “Women and Globalization” in the P&M site will accept the submission of original or already published texts and articles in relation to its objectives.  Anyone can submit a document for publication.  The decision to publish in this domain will be taken after three persons have read and accepted the document (see details about this on the web site).

Texts submitted can have been presented at conferences or colloquia, or can be waiting to be published for paper reviews or journals.  The domain “Women and Globalization” has no reservation concerning texts previously published.  At the author’s request, the text in question can be taken out or maintained in the domain.  If maintained, a reference to the paper publication can be made.

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