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Feminist propositions for a just economy: time for creative imaginations

Close your eyes and imagine the global economic systems of your dreams. One in which feminist theory and practice are integrated and concepts like market, growth, and profit are replaced with solidarity, sharing of resources and collective well being.

Now more than ever is the time for such creative imaginations.

What needs to change?

The neoliberal model driving the global economy has consistently  demonstrated its inability to address the root causes of poverty, inequalities, and exclusion. In fact, it has contributed to the creation and exacerbation of these injustices.

In the current context, there are many obstacles but five major documented threats to the struggle towards feminist just economies have been identified:

  1. Growing financialisation of the world economy
  2. Harmful trade agreements
  3. Unprecedented scale of threat to ecosystems and biodiversity
  4. Accelerating commodification of land and resource grabbing
  5. Entrenched patriarchal foundations that structure the capitalist system

These threats challenge feminists to re-think our frameworks and strategies and to renew and reactivate our commitment to movement building with others for a just economy.

Where to start

We are not starting from zero, nor are we alone in this attempt to dream that another world is possible. Different experiences have been advanced, or exist in practice, within diverse communities challenging and resisting the mainstream market and growth-based economic systems.

A joint online project by AWID, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL), and the African Women's Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) offers a space to share, document, analyze, critique and improve some of these propositions  for a feminist economic justice agenda.

As feminists struggling for gender, peace, economic, social and environmental justice, we know there is no single recipe for creating an alternative economic system, but rather that an array of possibilities can, and are, making change happen. The opportunities are as diverse as our movements and the communities in which we live and struggle.

The propositions

What if the value of goods and services was determined by communities that depend on them and not by profit logic and companies? What if human relationship, generation of goodwill, and attention to  nurturing the whole society, and not just one’s immediate self, were the norm?

Solidarity Economy

A solidarity economy framework proposes just that. Proponents have  been experimenting, resisting and co-existing for years with the capitalist system in the forms of cooperatives and other associations. Experiences of a solidarity economy have  huge potential, but should not be romanticized. It is essential to actively identify and pushback against capitalism, patriarchal norms, sexism, racism, classism and other sources of discrimination and oppression that could  be reproduced within this framework.

Community knowledge to build just futures

Community knowledge is at risk of being erased from practice, commodified and colonized. Despite this, communities  continue to make huge contributions to integrate production and reproduction as inseparable processes of the economy. For example the concept of Buen Vivir (living well), a concept adapted from Andean Indigenous peoples’ knowledge,  is about collective achievement based on harmonic and balanced relations among human beings and all living beings, in reciprocity and complementarity.

There have been important criticisms, from a feminist perspective, of the binary interpretations  of gender that leave little space for a deeper discussion on hetero-patriarchy. Nevertheless, one of the main contributions of centralizing the principle of Buen Vivir to political, economic and social frameworks, is that equality is no longer the paradigm of individual rights, but the transformation of society as a whole.

Agroecology and Food Sovereignty

Agroecology and food sovereignty propose a break with the hegemonic rural development model, based on large landed estates and single-crop plantations, which  use technologies harmful to  the environment. Instead, they  involve rural people, particularly women, building on local priorities and knowledge. Reflection on socially constructed gender roles are also important to advance the emancipatory potential of agroecology as an alternative means of food production.

Reclaiming the Commons

The concept of the commons rests on the cultural practice of sharing livelihood spaces and resources (including the resources of knowledge, heritage, culture, virtual spaces, and even climate) as nature’s gift, for the common good, and for the sustainability of the common. Experiences that aim to reclaim the commons seek to restore the legitimate rights of communities to these common resources. Patriarchy is reinforced when women and other oppressed genders are denied access and control of these resources. A feminist perspective towards the commons acknowledges women and other oppressed gender roles, and provides equal opportunities for decision-making, seeing all as equal claimants to these resources.

Challenging the economic growth model

Contesting the premise that a country’s economy must always ‘grow or die’, de-growth propositions aim to shift towards a lower, sustainable, level of production and consumption. In essence, shrinking the economic system to leave more space for human cooperation and ecosystems. Looking at this proposal through  a feminist lens, there is potential within de-growth to devalue capital driven activities that fuel the current model of economic growth. Instead to redefine and re-validate unpaid and paid, care and market labour, to overcome traditional gender stereotypes, and the prevailing wage gaps and income inequalities that devalue care work.

Some of the important critiques to this proposal come from Southern perspectives. Not everyone can afford de-growth -  countries on the periphery are still overcoming colonialism, building and adapting  sustainable production models, and many still lack access to basic needs such as water, food, healthcare and  education, to enter in a de-growth mode.

An invitation to co-create across movements

Feminist propositions for a just economy are critical to create dents in the system and draw lessons for transformative systemic change. Now is the time to imagine futures free from oppression, injustice, war and violence, and to develop concrete strategies for people and the planet based on our shared humanity.

This is a call to action

The upcoming 13th AWID International Forum taking place in Costa do Sauípe, Bahia, Brazil, 8-11 September 2016, is a process and space for re-imagining and co-creating our futures. 2,000 participants from a broad diversity of movements and sectors will collectively strategize for feminist futures: from women’s rights and feminist movements (including special attention to Brazilian women’s rights activists), to peace, economic justice, environmental, and human rights movements, among others.

This is a key opportunity to leverage our collective power as a movement and begin to build a feminist just economy together.

As Arundhati Roy said  “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

Explore our initial propositions