Linking Gender, Economic and Ecological Justice: Feminist Perspectives from Latin America

by Alejandra Santillana Ortiz (Ecuador)

Alejandra Santillana Ortiz
Alejandra Santillana Ortiz is an alumnae of DAWN’s GEEJ training institute and editor of the recently released GEEJ eBook. This article is the prologue of the book, which available for download HERE

eBook Cover

A few centuries ago, the emerging international division of labour meant that some countries became specialized in exporting Nature (Global South) and others in importing Nature (Global North). The development of capitalism and western modernity established the separation between Nature and human beings, where Nature was constituted as a productive resource, used for the reproduction of capital. Women were linked to Nature and men were associated with culture and science.

As part of this split, the patriarchy articulated itself with capitalism and determined that women were “naturally” in charge of reproductive work and men were part of productive work. Both productive and reproductive work are socially required but they have not occupied the same place in the social structure: productive work is valued as such while reproductive work is not even recognised as work.

In this sense, extractivism synthesizes the primitive accumulation of capital as a primary export model that is part of the consequences of the international division of labour. The way capitalism developed contributed to deepening the gap of inequality in the world, increasing ecological deterioration and exposing the biophysical limits of the Earth.

As a corollary of this context, the last four decades have been characterized by the emergence of governments in Latin America (neoliberals and those that have modernization of capital as a political project, such as the so called “progressive governments”) centred on extracting raw materials to export to the Global North, as well as to China and Latin countries. At the same time, these different political regimes have implemented and institutionalized criminalization of protest, militarizing territories, building police States and undermining organizational autonomy.

The trend is that most of the Global South is now dominated by agroindustry (soya, canola and African palm), biofuel production, mining and oil companies and hydroelectricity for mines. None of these activities have brought better conditions for the population. Extractivism has meant more inequality and pollution for local populations, dispossession and a systematic process of regression in terms of guaranteed social, economic, political, collective and cultural rights. Evidently, the way that the industrialized countries of the North are seeking to get out of the crisis is to deepen the role of the South in terms of extractivism by forcing them to sign free trade agreements. These mechanisms increase global inequality, international and sexual divisions of labour and represent an erratic way to stop climate change and environmental problems.

GEEJ women fightersWomen’s situation worsens in extractivism contexts; because of their roles in social reproduction women are directly exposed to water pollution and seed contamination, reducing agricultural products for food sovereignty and food security; the break-down of community relationships and lack of decent employment often mean that sex work is almost the only way to have an income. But women have also shown strong capacity to build networks, initiatives and support struggles and demands worldwide. These women are not only part of women’s movements but also participate in feminist organizing, bringing wide, enriched and multiple concepts to feminism, as well as other claims, representative structures and collective action that have changed the way feminism has been perceived in the past three decades. So, the problem of inequality, gender, ethnicity and class are equally important for women, and are closely interconnected, as indicated in the graffiti on Bolivia and Ecuador streets: “no food sovereignty without body sovereignty”; as the care economy and reproductive labour incorporate demands about territories, seed, land and water, concepts like “Buen Vivir (Living Well)” become linked to peace and self-determination.

These days, it seems that the post neoliberal progressive governments in Latin America, which made important promises and raised expectations over the last 10 years or so, haven’t transformed the exploitation and dominant structures. While the level of poverty has decreased, inequality has not and experts now say that to eliminate poverty, States must change the structures of inequality. Extractivism has proven once again that Latin America economies hold the possibility of redistribution and real change.

The actual narrative of the Latin America process has proposed two hypotheses in order to understand the present time: crisis of hegemony or the end of progressivism. Both are related to a context of increasing conflict between social movements and governments; but it also means an economic pact between governments and right wing/dominant national sectors. In the case of some countries in the region, these kind of alliances show a possible answer to the crisis or a shift to right.

But what is the situation of women in Latin America in terms of extractivism in their territories? How are they organized and what is the feminist content in region? What is the role and the place of care as a political category? Are they fighting against extractivism?

Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) presents a collection of articles and materials written by feminist researchers and materials from Latin America to show extractivism as part of capitalism and the patriarchy, of an international and gendered division of labour, the ways it is being established in the territories and the outcomes for the population, especially women. We start with a broad understanding of what the women’s demands are, self-defined and linked to each situation and process, so the book will incorporate all of these experiences. And we want to show the important mechanisms and strategies that women have in their personal, everyday life as well as in other political contexts, to fight for their lives and also for the life of humanity and the planet. This e-book is a tool for all women, feminist-activists in different spaces, intellectuals who contribute to feminist thinking not only in Latin America but beyond these “borders”.