Our Violent Economy is Hurting Women

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.

We need to see how the structures of traditional patriarchy merge with the emerging structures of capitalist patriarchy to intensify violence against women.

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.

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.”

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.”. 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.  I have repeatedly stressed that the rape of the Earth and rape of women are intimately linked.

Thirdly, economic reforms lead to the subversion of democracy and privatization of government. Economic systems influence political systems. 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. 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

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. An economics of commodification creates a culture of commodification, where everything has a price, and nothing has value.

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.

Society and economy are not insulated from each other . 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.

by Vandana Shiva