European & International News

Women building bridges across sectors to transform economic powers

[AWID, 05 August 2011] In the current global context of persistent systemic crisis, women’s rights advocates, organizations and movements around the world have been struggling to identify possible alternatives to the neoliberal economic framework that is having a negative impact in the lives of so many people, but disproportionately on women.

By Diana Aguiar and Natalie Raaber

Bridging the gaps between feminist academics and activists is one of the key elements in building a common feminist agenda to transform economic power to advance women’s rights and justice. The importance of this bridge building was at the centre of discussions during the Annual Conference of the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) held in Hangzhou, China, 24-26 June 2011. Within this mostly academic feminist space, AWID with Women in Development Europe (WIDE) and the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) brought together feminists working in different areas, to share perspectives on the systemic crisis and the post-2008 global scenario at a roundtable on Feminist Critiques, Policy Alternatives, and Alternatives to an Economy in Crisis.

Strengthening links between feminist academics and activists

IAFFE was established in 1992 in response to the need for a space for feminist economics to be deconstructed, debated and promoted. While primarily comprised of academics, IAFFE has a wide range of members including students, NGO workers, activists, and policy makers. Bringing together diverse groups of feminists to dialogue, thereby contributing to strengthening the links between feminists occupying different spheres, is a core goal of IAFFE.

Feminist identities are varied and complex based on diverse experiences of working within various spaces in the feminist movement. Being a feminist academic or a feminist activist are not necessarily mutually exclusive, and in fact these identities often co-exist. While some feminists traverse these two spheres effectively – to work, share information and strategize – others working in different spaces do not connect as fruitfully as possible. Given the deepening systemic crisis, developing better links and constructive dialogue among feminists in different spheres and bringing diverse voices and perspectives to common agendas is particularly critical.
Conversations at IAFFE, and in other feminist spaces, with both activists and academics point to a number of causes for the disconnect between feminist activists and academics. Academic and activist work typically takes place in very different time frames. The work of feminist academics is often characterized by longer-term research agendas that allow for more detailed analysis, whereas feminist activists typically work in highly time sensitive environments that demand responsiveness to events as soon as they occur. Given these differences in temporality and the demands related to how the work is prioritized, there are sometimes perceptions that activist analysis lacks rigor, or that academic research lacks practical use for political purposes. These perceptions can result in a lack of common ground between activists and academics to mutually reinforce their work. Given the struggles that feminists face on a daily basis, this is an unaffordable loss of resources, strength and political momentum.
In her opening address to the IAFFE conference, outgoing president Dr. Stephanie highlighted the need for feminist academics and activists engage in regular and continuous dialogue, as part of an ongoing political process. And there are examples of fruitful engagement between feminists in these different spheres. Academic work in many cases serves as the basis for activists’ arguments in policy arenas and within social movements self-organized spaces. Equally, activists can be a valuable source of up to date, relevant information for academics in the development of their research agendas.

The International Association for Feminist Economics Annual Meeting

The theme for this year’s IAFFE Annual Conference was Reorienting Economic Theory, Policies and Institutions: Feminist Perspectives in the Aftermath of the Global Economic Crisis. Discussion there covered a wide variety of topics, including the very definition of how economies should be constructed and what the field of economics is. At a session entitled What type of work can be considered feminist economics? feminist activists welcomed the deconstruction of feminist economics as a field and a clearly delimited area of inquiry. Many participants, including several academics, appreciated the sentiment that the delimitation of feminist economics is quite blurred. Others argued that the concept of feminist economics is still under construction and that the transformative nature of the work is key to its definition. Feminist economics must address the type of change required for women’s economic empowerment and speak to questions of what women’s emancipation entails, what an economy grounded in women’s human rights looks like, and how we might go about achieving this change.

AWID at IAFFE

The roundtable co-organized by AWID with Women in Development Europe (WIDE) and the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) offered a space for diverse feminists– academics, activists and journalists - to contribute to the debate on the origins, impacts and responses to the systemic crisis and alternative frameworks. It focused on the need for a radical reorientation of mainstream economic policy from a feminist perspective. As feminists, we have two concomitant tasks in relation to the crisis and in challenging the mainstream economic system. The first is knowledge generation on feminist critiques of neoliberalism as well as the development of concrete alternative policy responses. The second is envisioning alternatives for systemic transformation - what does the economy look like from a feminist perspective?

AWID presented a feminist critique of the policy responses to the crisis that governments have implemented since 2008 – based on the updated series on the Impacts of the Crisis on Women’s Rights sub-regional perspectives - and proposed policy alternatives that could foster gender equality and human rights. Along with others, we challenged narrow definitions of “crisis” and concluded that in order to transform a system in crisis we need to continue to explore the lived experience of women, feminist resistance to the mainstream economic model and envision alternative economies.

Radhika Balakrishnan from CWGL spoke about an alternative normative human rights framework from which to understand the crisis and fashion responses to it, specifically highlighting the work CWGL has done on macroeconomics and human rights policies in the U.S., presented at the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Christa Wichterich, representing WIDE, spoke from a framework of systemic crisis – describing the crisis as one, not simply of finance or economics, but rather of the mainstream economic system and development model - and called for systemic change. She encouraged participants to think differently, moving away from the current economic structure, to envisioning one that is grounded in principles of care, gender equality and human rights.

Building Bridges Towards the 2012 AWID Forum and Beyond

AWID’s participation in the IAFFE conference was an important step on the road to the 2012 AWID Forum on Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice. It is one of the processes in which AWID is engaging to facilitate connections among the very diverse groups working on issues of economic power. The AWID Forum will offer another important space to continue this dialogue and build stronger bridges between academics and activists, human rights and justice advocates, organizations and movements so that together we contribute to stronger more effective strategies to advance women’s rights and justice.

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