“They Aren’t Really Poor”: Ecofeminism, Global Justice, and “Culturally-Perceived Poverty”

Regina Cochrane
University of Calgary, Canada

A revised and slightly longer version of this paper is being published, under the title “Rural Poverty and Impoverished Theory: Cultural Populism, Ecofeminism, and Global Justice,” in Journal of Peasant Studies, January 2007 (Volume 34, No. 1). A related paper, “‘Capitalism is Boring’,” has been submitted to the journal Globalizations.

1. Introduction: The Populist Response to Neoliberalism, North and South

At the Toronto Social Forum in March 2003, a group calling itself Toronto Women for a Just and Healthy Planet organized a workshop that was billed as promising to “tackl[e] the patriarchal and colonial as well as capitalist relations at the heart of our current system” (Program 2003: 15).1 Setting out some basic principles, a first speaker informed those in attendance that there are two types of poverty – “real poverty” and “culturally-perceived poverty.” Given the tendency to interpret subsistence economies as “backward and deprived,” “culturally-perceived poverty” is seen as “real poverty,” she continued, and this has given rise to a “whole development industry.” Attempting to put this argument in a Canadian context, a later speaker referred to the situation in Newfoundland, a largely rural island off Canada’s east coast that, together with mainland Labrador, is Canada’s newest and poorest province (and, incidentally, my own home province). People in the small outports (or fishing villages) in Newfoundland don’t have anything, observed this career academic. But they aren’t really poor. It was those from outside who came in and labeled them as “poor.” This is “culturally-perceived poverty.” In a world of corporate globalization characterized by increasing enclosures and privatization of the commons – including the world’s oceans – the alternative this group endorsed was thus “honouring a lot of what has kept communities going” throughout the ages – “gift-giving” practices, especially women’s mothering.2

In light of their collective history and present reality, however, just how valid is it to label those – such as outport Newfoundlanders – who live “traditional” lifestyles and who “don’t have anything” as “not really poor”? The ancestors of today’s Newfoundlanders were mostly Irish emigrants who had been forced off their land by their British colonial masters and English fisher folk who settled there illegally during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in spite of attempts by the British fishing admiralty to preserve Newfoundland as a great ship moored off the fish-rich Grand Banks for their own exclusive use. In the newfound colony, both groups eked out a living, in conditions characterized by frequent malnutrition, widespread illiteracy, and nearly constant indebtedness, under the economic domination of a small fish merchant elite (Overton 2000: 9-10, 20-22, 43-44) and the social control of conservative religious authorities, particularly a powerful Irish Catholic Church. After confederation with Canada in 1949, Quebec and then the federal government raked off the lion’s share of revenues from the province’s hydro-electric and more recent offshore oil and gas developments (Crosbie 2005). The corporate-globalization-fuelled failure of the cod fishery and the resulting cod moratorium in 1992 put around 35,000 fishers and fish plant workers – from a population of just over 500,000 – out of work (Overton 2000: 5-6).3 While out-migration in search of employment has been happening for generations, the fisheries crisis is now accelerating this phenomenon. According to a recent article, entitled “Mexicans with Sweaters,” in a local newsletter, Newfoundlanders are becoming “modern day fruit pickers, the latest migration of foreign labour in the global economy” (Locke 2006: 4).4 With “official” unemployment hovering around 20% and a literacy rate of about 66%, Newfoundland is seen by mainstream Canadian society “(along with our great land north of 60) [a]s probably the most vast and scenic welfare ghetto in the world” (Wente 2005). Various native communities in Labrador, which lack a basic livelihood and amenities and which have been plagued by alcohol and drug abuse as well as youth suicides, are faring considerably worse. To refer to all of this as poverty is not to demean the people living this reality. Rather it is to point to the colonialism and exploitation that have dispossessed many of their livelihoods and the fruits of their labours, and that have deprived them of necessities, like education, that could potentially help them to challenge oppressive economic relations and social traditions.

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Cowboy Masculinity, Globalization and the US War on Terror

Ferguson, Ann
University of Massachusetts / Amherst


The shift of the US government under George W. Bush from a Cosmopolitan Multilateral image to a unilateral Cowboy Masculinity in its dealings with other nations indicates a shift in form between one kind of patriarchal state to another, one which better reflects neo-liberal priorities and the interests of global powers in a period of increasing corporate globalization. In the last 20 years, the US government has been changing its image from a paternalistic capitalist welfare state toward that of a neo-liberal lean and mean state, while global institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have been imposing structural adjustment policies on loans to poor countries. However, the development of the neo-conservative policy of preventive war under George W. Bush, which has been used to justify the so-called “wars on terror” in Afghanistan and Iraq after the September 11 2001 bombings of the World Trade Towers, has involved a massive increase in military spending and a shift toward a more militarized state. The increase in state spending to finance these “preventive” wars on terror contradicts the logic of neo-liberal structural adjustment policies which advocate a massive reduction in state spending. The ideology of Cowboy Masculinity has been one strategy used by neo-conservatives to obscure this contradiction. The Empire-maintaining process of the US is an important part of the process of corporate globalization, with the US continuing to act as the world’s policeman for the unfettered invasion of corporate capital into as many spheres of human life as possible. In the process, corporate globalization continues to weaken and impoverish women even more than men, thus supporting the perpetuation of other patriarchal traditions and controls.

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Can Development Create Empowerment and Women’s Liberation?

Ann Ferguson,
University of Massachusetts /Amherst

Empowerment of the oppressed, whether they be peasants, workers, racial minorities or women, has been taken as a goal by social movements since the 1960s.This has been true particularly Western-influenced women’s movements and other grassroots movements in countries in Latin America and the South influenced by the theology of liberation, the radical pedagogy of Freire, and/or Marxism and struggles for national liberation. While consciousness-raising practices associated with empowerment as the means to challenge social oppression were initially used in radical ways by these movements, Western women’s movements and race/ethnic rights movements often subsequently developed an identity politics that ignored the real conflicts that intersections of gender, race, class, sexuality and nationality caused between members of these movements. This made these movements liable to co-optation or defeat.

In a further blow to radical movements for social justice, empowerment as a goal has been co-opted by the neo-liberal hegemonic development establishment, including the World Bank and various international funding agencies such as USAID. In this talk I shall investigate the way in which the ostensive goal of empowerment has been used as a rationale to advance women’s development by these agencies, but in ways that still perpetuate sexist, capitalist and neo-colonial structures of economic, political and social domination. I shall contrast what I take to be co-opted uses of the concept of empowerment with its more radical definition and applications by struggles for national liberation and movements for social justice. What consciousness-raising and collective self-organization practices at the grassroots suggest, I argue, is that radical empowerment is only achieved when it is a part of a participatory democratic culture fostered by a movement for social justice.

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Global Union Networks, Feminism, and Transnational Labor Solidarity

Mary Margaret Fonow, Arizona State University
Suzanne Franzway, University of South Australia

Our purpose in this paper is to explain how feminists in organized labor forge international solidarity and use the networks and alliances of their unions to create political spaces for mobilizing women’s participation in transnational campaigns for labor rights and economic justice. Union feminists with structural ties to organized labor and to the women’s movement, are in a unique position to mobilize both movements to respond to the issues and concerns that rapid economic globalization raises for working class women.

Globalization plays a significant role in shaping local, regional, and transnational political mobilization.  Although the imbalances of political and economic power between different types of workers within a country and between workers in different countries are exacerbated by globalization, these same processes create continuities that can become the grounds for mobilizing across asymmetrical differences. Giugni (2002) contends that, because of globalization, social movements in different countries take on similar characteristics and that these similarities can be an advantage in mobilizing across national boundaries. The diffusion of information and ideas about collective action across borders presents different movements with the opportunity to adopt similar discourses, strategies, and tactics. The transnational ties and networks of social movement organizations supply the circuits for this diffusion and help to bridge the cultural and spatial divide between activists in different countries.

Feminists and theorists of social movements caution us not to overlook the power imbalances between actors and organizations within transnational networks. As researchers we need an empirical understanding of power relations and flows within networks and not however, make assumptions about how power differences are negotiated. “The social movement sector does not simply mimic world-system power disparities; but rather, in seeking to transform global inequalities, activists self-consciously act to change how power relations between states impinge on internal SMO [social movement organizations] relations “(Giugni, p. 6). Networks can serve as actors in politics and as a way to mobilize and structure the actions of movement participants. The existence of networks in and of themselves does not produce collective action; networks have to be framed by movements as useful circuits for mobilization. Because networks bring together activists within and across national boundaries in a very uneven way, all exchanges are fraught with power differences and this must be taken into account if genuine alliances and coalitions are to flourish.

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Gender and Free Trade: Peruvian Alternative Trade Organizations and Women’s Projects

Jane Henrici
University of Memphis


Trade policies affect alternative trade organizations (ATOs), including those that work with Peruvian women’s projects to assist their traditional and poorer communities. Over the last 30 years, Peru has been increasingly a signatory of regional free trade agreements. New agreements would indicate that the amounts charged on small-scale products to leave or enter Peru are affected, and labor and entrepreneurial conditions for women also altered. Such processes would not be unique to Peru and in fact increasingly occur in numerous regions and nations as a number of researchers and activists assert; meanwhile, the phenomena of free trade agreement effects are relatively recent, yet seem to exacerbate and continue long-standing relations among those involved and connect to both local as well as larger gendered and racialized inequities. Following from earlier research, I have initiated a study of responses among ATO members and workers within Lima and the Southern Highlands to changes in the trade regulations, with an interest in how new policies and laws might impact projects seeking to help low-income women and their families in Peru. This paper briefly introduces that research and concentrates at this stage of the study on connections to work conducted elsewhere.

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Colleen Mack-Canty
University of Idaho, U.S.A.

Western feminism generally has become increasingly interested in, what has often come to be called, postcolonial feminism. This emphasis in feminism works generally to extend the analysis of the intersection of sexism with ethnicity, class and heterosexism, to include the still existing negative effects of Western colonialism (Schutte 1998, 65). The “post,” in postcolonialism, does not indicate that colonialism is over but, rather, that colonial legacies continue to exist. More recent phenomena, the capitalist global economy, development projects in the Southern Hemisphere and events such as environmental racism in the United States, are viewed, in the postcolonial discourse, as neocolonial. They can be seen as “…a continuation of the European expansion begun in 1492″ (Harding 1998,154; LaDuke 1993).

In the United States, academic concern with postcolonialism can be seen in the occurrence of several special issues of feminist journals featuring this emphasis (e.g., Hypatia: Special Issue: A Border Crossing: Multicultural and Postcolonial Feminist Challenges to Philosophy (Part I and II) , Spring 1998 and Summer 1998; Signs: Special Issue: A Postcolonial, Emergent, and Indigenous Feminisms, @ Summer 1995, Signs: Special Issue: Globalization and Gender, Summer 2001 and Women’ s Studies Quarterly: Special Issue: A Earthwork: Women and Environments. 2001 ). Further examples of postcolonial feminism can be seen in events such as the recent formation, by an international group of women = s studies journal editors, of a > Feminist Knowledge Network = to facilitate communication, including the printing of articles from one another = s journals (Hall 2003). Also, numerous feminist conferences in the U.S. have recently organized around some aspect of the theme: international feminism. A case in point is the 2005 National Women’s Studies Conference titled “Women and the Environment: Globalizing and Mobilizing,” which featured the well-known ecofeminist and anti-globalism spokeswoman, Vandana Shiva as the keynote speaker.

On a global scale, postcolonial feminist issues have gained some visible political prominence. The United Nations Conference on Women held in Beijing in September 1995, for example, adopted a platform of action important to postcolonial feminism that was adopted by the 165 participating nations and the multitude of NGOs represented. One of the postcolonial actions was specific to environmental concerns. It reads “environmental justice: for women by promoting sustainable development and addressing the disproportionate impact of environmental problems on women and poor communities.”

Postcolonial feminism works across both geographical and intellectual borders. Intellectually, it unsettles familiar and often comfortable frameworks (Narayan and Harding 1998a,1). Paralleling the postmodern critique of universal knowledge claims, it criticizes the Western scientific paradigm for its assertions of universality, arguing that its knowledge claims are simply knowledges that have been developed by one group of people at one historical time (Harding 1998). The capitalist global economy and its impacts are of crucial importance to postcolonial feminists. These feminist alert us to the fact that in the so-called developing world, women and their children, in particular, are severely affected by insufficient food, the rising cost of living, declining services, and eroding economic and environmental conditions.

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How America Justifies its War: A Feminist Reading of “Shock and Awe”

Bonnie Mann,
University of Oregon, U.S.

Weapons of mass destruction. The harboring of terrorists. Connections to Al Qaeda. These were the “reasons” that turned pre-emption into self-defense, a war of imperialist aggression into a “just war.” Months later, when the “reasons” melted away into half-baked excuses and repeated, though now evidently baseless and fanciful speculations, most U.S. Americans weren’t particularly surprised. Domestic support for the war only waned slightly.

It seems that the people of the United States don’t really need Bush’s reasons in order to support Bush’s war. There is still no decisive public outcry, no mass demonstrations rock the capital, no popular uprising has demanded Bush’s resignation for initiating a war without reasons. Even the feminists are far quieter than one would have expected. What was arguably the biggest feminist demonstration in history, the April 25, 2004 March for Women’s Lives which claimed 750,000 participants, took no official public stand against the war.

One would think that in a democratic nation, a President would be thrown out of office for such presumption. Yet even after Michael Moore’s box office hit Fahrenheit 9/11 exposed the hypocrisy of the war to mass audiences, Bush was re-elected.

But maybe no one really believed Bush to begin with. Or maybe believing Bush and his administration on matters of justifications for the war is not crucial to support for the war. Maybe the question of whether the war is just or unjust is a different question from how the war is justified. Maybe there is an aesthetics of war that displaces the need for good reasons altogether. My contention is that the aesthetic dimension operates pre-reflectively, and more powerfully than rational justifications. The aesthetics that is produced to justify this war takes the form of a hyper-masculinized national identity.
This masculine style has a particularly postmodern flare, rather than being a mere reproduction of an older modern aesthetics of masculinity. Certain postmodern sensibilities are incorporated into this new version of the old aesthetic. Looking closely at this aesthetic will not only tell us something about how the current policy of aggressive war gains such broad acceptance, it will also teach some philosophical lessons about how mistaken we are when we associate liberatory impulses unequivocally with the postmodern and totalizing impulses unequivocally with the modern.

Decolonizing Feminism: the Indigenous Womens’ Movement in Mexico

Silvia Marcos

Originally published in: Dialogue and Difference: Feminists Challenge Globalization, Marguerite Waller and Sylvia Marcos (eds), Palgrave , New York , 2005.

Feminism conjures up a promise to resist the various forms of opression women face, but feminism’s capacity to fulfill this promise has been undermined by its failure to deal with the difference that race and ethnicity and class make for gender.

In Mexico, a certain hegemonic feminism often reproduces the relationship that C. Mohanty speaks of when describing the links between First and Third World feminist discourse. She argues that Western feminist discourse has produced a “…composite, singular Third World woman who is a ‘powerless’ victim of male dominance and patriarchal oppression” (Mohanty, 1983.)

Urban feminist analysis has given rise to a hegemony which has often defined indigenous feminism as the ‘other’: exotic, strangely rooted in ‘culture’ and powerless if not non existent (Jaidopolu, 2000.)

My purpose here is not only to approach the ‘other woman’, the ‘indigenous other,’ but also to revisit the dominant discourse (often feminist) that portrays the indigenous women as passive, submissive, subject and bound to inevitable patriarchal opressions springing from their cultural background. One example could be Xochitl Galvez when she expressed that in her own village, women are considered to be “buenas solo para el metate y el petate” (good only for grinding corn and for the straw matt.) An ‘indigenous woman’ appointed to be representative, at the highest gobernamental level possible, for indigenous affairs by the president of Mexico. She is a perfect example of an ‘indigenous woman’ who has – in this case – internalized the dominant gaze on her own backround.

Feminisms in Mexico are often submerged in practices that follow quite mimetically international feminist theories and priorities. We are inserted into the dominant global international feminist discourse, and a certain sort of feminist movement in Mexico is derivative of the US movement. The pressure of intelectual and activist trends, and the resources to continue with concrete activism, are allocated by agencies that define priorities and targets. Often, they have little to do with the context of indigenous women’s feminist practices.

“The NGOization and transnationalization of the Latin American feminist field appeared to have led increasing numbers of feminists to priviledge some spaces of feminist politics, such as the state and the international policy arenas,… ” affirms Sonia Alvarez (Alvarez, E.S., Dagnino, E., Escobar, A., eds, l998, p. 315.)

When approaching, interpreting, evaluating and/or impinging on the indigenous womens’ movement, urban and other elite (socially advantaged) feminists have to face the challenge of deconstructing a three-tiered structure of bias:

– the gendered assumptions the feminist imported into the indigenous womens situation;

– the attitudes of male superiority in the indigenous group that are selectively communicated to her;

– the interpretation of asymetrical gender relationships in that community (pueblo) as analogous to those in her own context.

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Feminist Frameworks for Women in the Global Economy

Peggy Rivage-Seul
Berea College, U.S.

This year in my classes at Berea College, I am using a book entitled, Global Woman, edited by two outstanding social thinkers from the United States—Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. 1 The collection of carefully researched essays gives students a graphic sense of the multiple effects of globalization on women and their families. This book makes visible the dynamic of first and third world women’s working relationships in the transfer of domestic services from low-to-high-income countries, as well as problems in the international sex industry.

There have been mixed reviews for this book circulating the globe. The Guardian Weekly published a review arguing that Global Woman reveals the dirty secret of feminism, namely that we in the professional class have walked up the ladder of institutional success by leaving our houses and children in the hands of underpaid and overworked women from third world countries. Research shows that the relationships between professional women and domestic workers and nannies fail to acknowledge the importance of the international domestic worker’s family responsibilities and needs in her home country. What is left unsaid in such critiques is the complicity of male partners in households hiring international domestic workers. At the same time, Arlie Hochschild points out, progressive women are not paying attention either. 2 The brutal forms of capitalist exploitation occur in the personal center of the home, and there is no space on feminist agendas to discuss the issue.

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Mexican feminist movement: From Self-Awareness Groups to Transnational Networks

Martha Zapata Galindo
Freie Universitaet Berlin

translated by Otto and Sarah Begus

One of the current preoccupations of international feminism consists in developing theories about the form in which it would be possible to achieve a lasting alliance between feminism, social movements, the activists within non-governmental associations, political parties, state institutions and the university. The various efforts designed to give the feminist movement greater strength and democratic representation on the local, national and transnational levels, aim not only at transforming the patriarchal order of gender, but also at changing the relations of production and reproduction of life that are at the base of masculine domination. In this sense, the brief reconstruction of the past thirty years of the Mexican feminist movement that I present here in the following pages, attempts to demonstrate the different paths pursued and the multiple strategies and alliances followed, and also to make a critical analysis of the conflicts confronted and of the history of the attempts made to resolve these. Finally, I put forward a series of strategic points that, I hope, allow for the formulation of new perspectives regarding the cross-roads in which the diverse struggles find themselves today. At that point I will, then, propose the idea of a movement in which he multiple feminisms might find a space.

The efforts to internationalize the feminist movement in Mexico have been present along its entire history. In the seventies, these were not very intensive because the work done by the first self-awareness groups was aimed at developing a strong concept of autonomy that would allow them to remain independent of politics and its institutions. The radical nature of this concept showed itself when the majority of feminists refused to participate in the official preparation of the international year of the woman. This rejection however did not keep them from accepting development aid to finance projects by and for women, a step that, at the same time, opened the doors for a process of institutionalization and professionalization of the feminist movement, which, at that time in the seventies, was engaged in the search of identity.

The Mexican feminist movement has never had a social base of support, nor has it succeeded in mobilizing the masses for any of its gender-related demands. It had arisen from the organization of a group of middle-class women whose position in society, along with the resources available to them, determined the demands articulated as strategic interests of the gender. From the very beginning the goal of this group was the establishment of an autonomous movement, removed from any type of practical interests.

Given this situation, it established alliances with other social and political agents in order to compensate for the absence of a wide social base and for the scarcity of public spaces. Once it abandoned the logic of a growing self-awareness, it widened its strategy of forming alliances with political and academic arenas in order to prepare its struggle for power, the ultimate end of which was to be the transformation of patriarchal society.

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