Vandana Shiva: Our Violent Economy is Hurting Women

Source: Yes Magazine

Violence against women is as old as patriarchy.

Traditional patriarchy has structured our worldviews and mindsets, our social and cultural worlds, on the basis of domination over women and the denial of their full humanity and right to equality. But it has intensified and become more pervasive in the recent past. It has taken on more brutal forms, like the murder of the Delhi gang rape victim and the recent suicide of a 17-year-old rape victim in Chandigarh.

In India, rape cases and cases of violence against women have increased over the years. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reported 10,068 rape cases in 1990, which increased to 16496 in 2000. With 24,206 cases in 2011, rape cases jumped to incredible increase of 873 percent from 1971 when NCRB started to record cases of rape. And Delhi has emerged as the rape capital  of India, accounting for 25 percent of cases.

The movement to stop this violence must be sustained till justice is done for every one of our daughters and sisters who has been violated.

And while we intensify our struggle for justice for women, we need to also ask why rape cases have increased 240 percent since 1990’s when the new economic policies were introduced.

Could there be a connection between the growth of violent, undemocratically imposed, unfair economic policies and the intensification and brutality of crimes against women?

I believe there is. I am not suggesting that violence against women begins with neoliberal economics. I am deeply aware of the deep gender biases in our traditional cultures and social organizations. I  stand empowered today because people before me fought against the exclusions and biases against women and children: My grandfather sacrificed his life for women’s equality, and my mother was a feminist before the word existed.

Violence against women has taken on new and more vicious forms as traditional patriarchal structures have hybridized with the structures of capitalist patriarchy. We need to examine the connections between the violence of unjust, unsustainable economic systems and the growing frequency and brutality of violence against women. We need to see how the structures of traditional patriarchy merge with the emerging structures of capitalist patriarchy to intensify violence against women.

Cyclones and hurricanes have always occurred. But as the Orissa Supercyclone, Cyclone Nargis, Cyclone Aila, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy show, the intensity and frequency  of cyclones has increased with climate change.

Our society has traditionally had a  bias against the girl child. But the epidemic of female feticide and the disappearance of 30 million unborn girls has taken that bias to new levels of violence and new proportions. And it is into this context of the dynamics of more brutal and more vicious violence against women (and multiple, interconnected forms of violence) that the processes unleashed by neoliberalism are contributory factors.

Firstly, the economic model focusing myopically on “growth” begins with violence against women by discounting their contribution to the economy.

The more the government talks ad nauseum about “inclusive growth” and “financial inclusion,” the more it excludes the contributions of women to the economy and society. According to patriarchal economic models, production for sustenance is counted as “non-production.” The transformation of value into disvalue, labour into non-labour, and knowledge into non-knowledge is achieved by the most powerful number that rules our lives, the patriarchal construct of GDP—Gross Domestic Product—which commentators have started to call the Gross Domestic Problem.

National accounting systems which are used for calculating growth as GDP are based on the assumption that if producers consume what they produce, they do not in fact produce at all, because they fall outside the production boundary.

The production boundary is a political creation that, in its workings, excludes regenerative and renewable production cycles from the area of production. Hence, all women who produce for their families, children, community, and society are treated as “non-productive” and “economically inactive.” When economies are confined to the marketplace, economic self-sufficiency is perceived as economic deficiency. The devaluation of women’s work, and of work done in subsistence economies of the Global South, is the natural outcome of a production boundary constructed by capitalist patriarchy.

By restricting itself to the values of the market economy, as defined by capitalist patriarchy, the production boundary ignores economic value in the two vital economies which are necessary to ecological and human survival. They are the areas of nature’s economy, and sustenance economy.  In nature’s economy and the sustenance economy, economic value is a measure of how the earth’s life and human life are protected.  Its currency is life-giving processes, not cash or market price.

Secondly, a model of capitalist patriarchy which excludes women’s work and wealth creation in the mind, deepens the violence by displacing women from their livelihoods and alienating them from the natural resources on which their livelihoods depend—their land, their forests, their water, and their seeds and biodiversity. Economic reforms based on the idea of limitless growth in a limited world, can only be maintained by the powerful grabbing the resources of the vulnerable.  The resource grab that is essential for “growth” creates a culture of rape—the rape of the earth, of local self-reliant economies, and of women. The only way in which this “growth” is “inclusive” is by its inclusion of ever larger numbers in its circle of violence.

I have repeatedly stressed that the rape of the Earth and rape of women are intimately linked, both metaphorically in shaping worldviews, and materially in shaping women’s everyday lives. The deepening economic vulnerability of women makes them more vulnerable to all forms of violence—including sexual assault.

Thirdly, economic reforms lead to the subversion of democracy and privatization of government. Economic systems influence political systems. The government talks of economic reforms as if it has nothing to do with politics and power. Leaders talk of keeping politics out of economics, even while they impose an economic model shaped by the politics of a particular gender and class. Neoliberal reforms work against democracy. We have seen this recently with the Indian government pushing through “reforms” to bring in Walmart through FDI in retail. Corporate-driven reforms create a convergence of economic and political power, a deepening of inequalities, and a growing separation of the political class from the will of the people they are supposed to represent. This is at the root of the disconnect between politicians and the public that we experienced during the protests that have grown throughout India since the Delhi gang rape.

Worse, an alienated political class is afraid of its own citizens. This is what explains the increasing use of police to crush nonviolent citizen protests, as we have witnessed in Delhi. A privatized corporate state must rapidly become a police state.

This is why the politicians must surround themselves with ever increasing VIP security, diverting the police from their important duties to protect women and ordinary citizens.

Fourthly, the economic model shaped by capitalist patriarchy is based on the commodification of everything, including women. When we stopped the WTO in Seattle, our slogan was, “Our world is not for sale.”

An economics unleashed by economic liberalization—an economics of deregulation of commerce, of privatization and commodification of seeds and food, land and water, women and children—degrades social values, deepens patriarchy, and intensifies violence against women.

Economic systems influence culture and social values. An economics of commodification creates a culture of commodification, where everything has a price, and nothing has value.

The growing culture of rape is a social externality of  economic reforms. We need to institutionalize  social audits of the neoliberal policies which are a central instrument of patriarchy in our times. If there was a social audit of corporatizing our seed sector, 270,000 farmers would not have been pushed to suicide in India since the new economic policies were introduced. If there was a social audit of the corporatization of our food and agriculture, we would not have every fourth Indian hungry, every third woman malnourished, and every second child wasted and stunted due to severe malnutrition. India today would not be the Republic of Hunger that Dr. Utsa Patnaik has written about.

The victim of the Delhi gang rape has triggered a social revolution. We must sustain it, deepen it, expand it. We must demand and get speedy and effective justice for women. We must call for fast-track courts to convict those responsible for crimes against women. We must make sure laws are changed so justice is not elusive for victims of sexual violence. We must continue the demand for blacklisting of politicians with criminal records.

We must see the continuum of different forms of violence against women, from female feticide to economic exclusion and sexual assault. We need to continue the movement for the social reforms needed to guarantee safety, security, and equality for women, building on the foundations laid during India’s independence movement and continued by the feminist movement over the last half-century. The agenda for social reforms, social justice, and equality has been derailed by the aganda of “economic  reforms” set by capitalist patriarchy

And while we do all this we need to change the ruling paradigm that reduces society to economy, the economy to the market, and is imposed on us in the name of “growth.”

Society and economy are not insulated from each other . The processes of social reforms and economic reforms can no longer be separated. We need economic reforms based on the foundations of social reforms that correct the gender inequality in society, rather than aggravating all forms of injustice, inequality, and violence.

Ending violence against women needs to also include moving beyond the violent economy to nonviolent, sustainable, peaceful, economies that give respect to women and the Earth.

Vandana Shiva is an internationally renowned activist for biodiversity and against corporate globalization, and author of Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of the Global Food Supply; Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace; Soil Not Oil; and Staying Alive. The last section of this essay was adapted by the author from “Forest and Freedom,” written by Shiva and published in the May/June 2011 edition of Resurgence magazine. Shiva is a YES! contributing editor.