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A Call to Reimagine Economies for Women’s Economic Justice 


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We, feminist thought leaders, following our participation in CSW68, and in particular the session on “Reimagining Economies for Women’s Economic Justice: A Pan-African and Global South Feminist Perspective” wish to urgently call for a reform of the current global economic architecture shifting from one that is steeped in neoliberal capitalism to one that centers people and the planet. We need to shift from a system that is upheld and directed by patriarchal, colonial and capitalist institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to one that is democratic, informed and guided by lived realities and experiences of the majority world i.e. the global South in Africa, Asia and Latin America that is dominated by black and brown people. Even recent reports, by the United Nations have criticized these institutions, highlighting their negative impact on the global majority contrary to their initial intended purpose. Through their excessive influence over policymaking and the global financial architecture, these unaccountable institutions have eroded human rights and democratic processes.

The system they uphold has for long been condemned for denigrating the contribution and hard work, both paid and unpaid, of structurally excluded people, particularly women, indigenous peoples, sexual minorities. As such, this system remains solely responsible for the structural and systematic failures of institutions and the persistence of poverty, particularly among women, in the global South and deepening injustice.

A fundamental objective of the Beijing Platform of Action for Women was to promote women’s economic independence and eradicate the persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women by addressing the structural causes of poverty through changes in economic structures, ensuring equal access for all women, including those in rural areas, as vital development agents, to productive resources, opportunities and public services. To date, 1 in every 10 women is living in extreme poverty (10.3 percent), and by 2030, an estimated 8 percent of the world’s female population – 342.4 million women and girls – will still be living on less than $2.15 a day. Most (220.9 million) will reside in sub-Saharan Africa.

Furthermore, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 16.4 billion hours are spent on unpaid care work every day which is equivalent to 2 billion people working 8 hours per day with no remuneration. If that care work was rated on the basis of an hourly minimum wage, it would amount to 9% of global GDP, which corresponds to USD 11 trillion. Moreover, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2023 approximates that it will take over a century (131 years) to reach gender parity and another $360 billion per year to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment across key global goals according to a progress report on the sustainable development goals.

As policymakers, gender justice advocates, and feminists continue to meet in various spaces around the rhetoric of ‘sustainable development goals’ and ‘gender equality’, we demand the urgency for bold and dedicated spaces for state and non-state actors to deeply reflect and reimagine economies through a Pan African and global South feminist perspective. For a long time, African leaders of the past, feminists, economic justice actors and gender justice advocates have, in recognition of the impacts of neoliberalism on the lived realities and wellbeing of women and other socially excluded people, pushed back and organized for radical social, political and economic transformation. This call has also particularly been ignited by the inconsistency in Africa’s economic development pathway. Why do developing countries continue to be plunged further into debt, stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty and inequality despite being home to a vast wealth of resources? Why does the gap in economic related gender equality persist for women and other socially excluded people, despite years of continued investment in economic empowerment programmes?

We reiterate the urgency for economic related gender injustice to be addressed as a macro-critical disparity by applying a feminist analysis to the full range of macro-economic and financial policies – from tax administration to trade negotiations, so that countries, policy makers and development practitioners can assess and avoid the gendered and unjust impacts of such policies.

We also reiterate the need to foreground the imperative to approach women economic justice as a process that shifts social and political power in three critical ways: 1) by challenging and rethinking the ideologies that inform the broader economic models and development pathways that to be adopted; 2) by calling for and supporting the transformation of existing global economic governance and institutional structures that reinforce and sustain existing power imbalances steeped in legacies of colonialism, western imperialism, neoliberal capitalism and patriarchy; and 3) by centering women’s power and agency including making visible their invisibilized contribution to the development process.

This call draws inspiration from the Global South feminist thought leaders, authors, researchers, and activists and academics whose insights seek to redirect us to the pursuit of feminist, decolonial and transformative solutions,  challenging us to reimagine what was, reconfiguring African Studies including the pre -colonial age of the global South and taking into account the experiences and lived realities of structurally excluded people and applying intersectional approaches in order to dismantle the current social stratification that is based on race, caste, class, ability, sex, sexuality and age.

Points of reflection…

How can women’s economic justice be achieved when the tax system is regressive, and has been constructed to extract from individuals who spend a significant proportion of their income on consumption/ survival, the majority of which are women? Low-income households, majority of which are headed by women, are consistently bearing a greater burden of taxation because many tax systems in Africa are dominated by consumption taxes and income taxes that target the working class. Wealthier households, in contrast, only spend a fraction of their budget on consumption, with the rest put away for savings, luxury vacations or private education, even though they spend more in total than poorer households. Ultimately, consumption and income taxes form an inordinate part of the tax base while big corporations barely pay their fair share. The use of tax incentives or tax subsidies as a tool for attracting and maintaining Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) has also resulted in a race to the bottom. These incentives have eroded tax bases of countries in Africa and the Global South, leading to significant revenue losses, thereby depriving governments of much-needed resources to fund gender transformative public services and social infrastructure

How can women’s economic justice be realized in a system that promotes trade liberalization with minimum state regulation, at the expense of food sovereignty, human rights, corporate accountability, and gender justice. Efforts such as the AfCFTA have not considered the gendered impacts of agricultural trade liberalization strategies which are designed to meet the needs of production for export. According to FAO, women farmers produce 60-80% of food in developing countries and about half of the world’s food. While it took a special focus on agricultural trade, the AfCFTA, like many protocols and free trade agreements, missed the mark by not taking into account how small farmers in developing countries, majority of whom are women, would be protected from an increasingly globalized food economy. Competition from more technologically advanced or stronger heavily subsidized producers in developed states greatly impacts poorer subsistence under financed small holder farmers, majority of which are women, that solely rely on incomes from their farm produce. In some instances, the few farmers who own land are forced to abandon their small farms for waged labor in other economic activities, consequently increasing the burden of care with regard to the provision of food and other supplies, of which this burden is largely borne by women.

How can women’s economic justice be achieved when public services remain under-funded? Women and other structurally marginalized groups heavily rely on public services. When public services such as health care, education, child care centers, are underfunded, women squarely bear the burden as they are forced to provide these services, either as unpaid caregivers in health centers or of children at home. As such, many women are also forced to choose between actively participating in the market economy to earn an income and or dedicating their time to unpaid care and domestic work, a reality that could be avoided if public/ social services were properly financed and provided by the state. The reasons for cuts in public spending on these key services are numerous, however, few of them are structural and systemic, and if addressed could potentially overturn the current situation. First, the role of International Financial Institutions like the IMF which insist on austerity measures under the guise of fiscal consolidation cannot be overstated as these measures have led to the slow disintegration of public service systems. Budget shortfalls due to low Domestic Revenue Mobilization owing to outflows such as Illicit Financial Flows have pushed developing countries to rely more on debt to fund their development needs. The more states borrow, the more their debt and servicing obligations grow at the expense of funding for public services on which women heavily rely. A report by Debt Relief International (2022) showed that on average, spending on debt servicing by developing countries is more than twice the spending on education and averages 9.5 – 10 times health spending. When it comes to social protection, Africa spends 22 times more on debt servicing than on social protection. Recent IMF economic projections (2022) show a resurgence of austerity for low and middle income countries marked by a notable increase in sovereign indebtedness.

How can women’s economic justice be achieved in a world that continues to use GDP to measure development yet evidence shows that it was designed to invisibilize women’s contribution to the economy by eliminating the contribution of domestic and care work to the market economy. Women’s unpaid care work, which subsidizes capitalism and the global economy at large, serves to cover the cost of state failures, especially during crises. This was clearly demonstrated during the COVID-19 pandemic where care work done by women doubled with women globally losing more than 64 million jobs in 2020 alone. According to a report by Oxfam International, this loss of jobs took women back by at least $800 billion in earnings, which is more than the combined GDP of 98 countries. Due to women’s overrepresentation in poverty and ultimate reliance on public services, the breakdown of an already overwhelmed public service system hugely impacted women who could not afford private health services. Moreover, in many countries in Africa where there is no minimum wage or where the minimum wage remains unexecuted so as not to discourage foreign direct investment, it is more difficult to create opportunities for redistribution or reduction of care work.

As we reflect on Africa’s current development tapestry that has been influenced and shaped by a multitude of ideologies, theories, and assumptions – some historical or current, pre-colonial, colonial, post colonial, or neocolonial, some socialist or capitalist – we stress that the project of Reimagining of Economies for Women’s Economic Justice must be steeped in the many lessons and reflections that emerge, including more broadly in redefining Africa’s development pathway. What does decolonizing neoliberal economics look like in terms of addressing the assumptions and addressing the systemic inequalities of our macrosystem because our structures construct indebtedness and austerity? We continue to ponder on questions such as “Does the ideology underpinning Africa’s current development pathway centre on your ongoing visioning and strategy preparation for a different development footprint on the continent?”

Our conviction is that the process of interrogating the ideology that underpins our development pathways, whether in Africa or the Global South as a whole, must be rooted in reviving the powerful concepts from the past, in particular from dependency theories such as the concept and strategy of delinking towards justice, equity and transformation. The imperatives of unpacking structural power (particularly the power of finance), the importance of narrative shifts and dismantling ideologies of neoliberal/neoclassical economics towards radically reimagining the financial architecture and global economy, and rebuilding our economies as feminist economies that are rooted in a feminist social contract and transformative solutions. We reject the capitalist framing of gender equality as an investment into the economy that views women as mere drivers of financial, and economic growth rather than addressing these issues as the structural and systemic failures of neoliberal capitalism that they are.

As feminists, we recognize the importance of adopting a structural and systems change approach that addresses the root causes of the problems women in their diversities face, and we maintain that merely investing in micro-level interventions that only focus on addressing symptoms cannot begin to repair historical imbalances. We believe that to deliver transformation, a shift in programming for Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) is essential to uplift heterodox, Marxist perspectives based on global South feminist analysis. We reject the co-optation and the depoliticization of feminist language, of what used to be and should remain strong radical positions, which have been traded in for philanthro-capitalist interests and led to the diversion of focus and funding from radical grassroots work to a mobilization around capital. We call for decolonising economic knowledge and methodology based on colonialism and neocolonial structures favouring feminist economies that sustain life.

Acknowledgement

AMwA developed this communique on behalf of feminists who participated in and contributed to the conversation held during the NGO CSW 68 side event on “Reimagining Economies for Women’s Economic Justice: A Pan-African and Global South Feminist Perspective”. We are grateful for the thought leadership and contribution of our panelists: Lebohang Leipollo Pheko, Bhumika Muchhala, Dinnah Nabwire, and Sarah Nannyondo Okello.

Are you authorised to sign on behalf of your organisation? Please sign this communique on this link.

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