Changing the model by putting sustainability of life as the central principle
Rosa Guillén Velarde* 7/14/2016
Domestic and care work, like nature, are considered inexhaustible resources for capitalist exploitation.
Women in the countryside and in the city organize and struggle every day to face the extractivism taking place in their territories, capturing and polluting the waters, stripping the land, destroying important ecosystems and the social fabric. We have seen them in demonstrations, guarding over lagoons, preparing food for the men and women demonstrators who are demanding justice, asking for solidarity and giving their time, labor, energy, affection and even putting their bodies as shields to defend, protect and preserve their communities and territories. The situation is that, as explained by Brazilian feminist and psychologist Nalu Faria 1, women depend more than men on having access to common goods and resources and are therefore more committed to come to their defense.
Native, indigenous and peasant women are mostly dedicated and committed developing in their communities practices of cooperation, redistribution and solidarity. Part of these noncommercial relationships are care work and performing tasks to suit biological and emotional needs, and a permanent concern for welfare. The market, besides not meeting many human needs, makes it difficult to carry out their activities. The entry into their territories of the market and of large extractive companies redefine the power relationships, undervalue their knowledge, affect the means of life production, deepen capitalist exploitation, discrimination and subjugation through racism, violence, prostitution, human trafficking, and forced migration.
This reality creates distrust and resistance to extractivisms. In many cases these women are marginalized and forced to poorer areas where they continue with their traditional agricultural practices, even if it means that their production is curtailed from then on to small plots, yards, fruit orchards and the breeding of small animals. In the cities they are those fighting for the establishment of public services like water and electricity; who develop in solidarity experiences of collectivization of domestic work.
This behavior of women is not new; it has historical roots marked by their social link with the livelihoods and care in the communities. For this reason it is not surprising for them to commit against the climate crisis, the defense of the Pachamama, or Mother Earth, and the strategies of change.
A feminist economy
The feminisms that initiated with the critique towards patriarchy, a system that structures the domination over the bodies and lives of women based on the gender and social division of labor, give progress to the analysis and questioning of the capitalist / patriarchal system and are enriched by the contributions of feminist economy.
This feminist economy makes a radical critique of capitalism and the political economy by putting front and center the production of human life and care of nature, this in contrast to the strategies of commoditization and centrality of the market, profits and transnational accumulation of wealth, which is accomplished by maintaining relationships that are patriarchal, racist, predatory, extractive and neocolonial.
The gender division of labor arbitrarily separates the production of goods and services for the market from the production of the daily and generational life; it recognizes production as predominantly male, assigns it a market value, and rewards it with a salary, performance of public duties, power and prestige in the private /domestic space. This gender division of labor makes women responsible for reproduction, as if it were part of her destiny because they are life-giving. It establishes a false separation between production and reproduction (afterwards between economic and social policies); it hides the economic link between the two.
Economic science does not recognize domestic work as work even when it involves learned knowledge, energy and it takes time. But the capital and the economy need and at the same time very efficiently take advantage of these domestic care jobs of women that make people available to be ready to work every day, ensures a generational supply and also means no costs to them. For this reason, domestic and care work, the same as nature, are treated as externalities of the economic models and considered inexhaustible resources for capitalist exploitation.
Looking for changes
The question regarding the centrality of human life for the functioning of the society model as well as the questioning of the androcentric character of the Western way of thinking is a fundamental piece of both the feminist economy and eco-feminism, as Faria says.
Meanwhile, Brazil’s Renata Moreno 2 adds that the concept of the centrality of the care of life and nature, as opposed to the centrality of the wage labor market, produces political convergences capable of building another paradigm of sustainability of life based on equality.
To recover the centrality in the production of life and care of nature it is necessary to change the logic of the benefits for the logic of life. It is necessary to calculate the ecological debts and care debts; reduce the extractive economies and waste generation; reduce the use of energy, extend the life of appliances and end programmed obsolescence. This also requires changing habits and reducing consumption; be committed to local production and short commercialization circuits; recover and support peasant agriculture, and reduce private transport. It is also imperative to learn from the accumulated wisdom in sustainable cultures; recover the decent job, with working hours that leave time for mutual care and greater commitment of the wage earners to housework; paid domestic work with all the rights and benefits.
To put the care of people at the center of interest now requires, on the one hand, recognizing women as primary subjects of reproductive work, and on the other, to advance firmly in the redistribution of this work between men and women, in the families and the communities.
It is relevant to obtain commitments from the state with set policies and programs. Some progress has been made in accounting time of unpaid domestic work, including the calculation of its contribution to the GDP in satellite accounts, which in Peru reach 20.4 percent 3 and in Mexico 21.19 percent 4 of the GDP. The integrated care systems developed in Uruguay, or partial programs in other countries in the region that recognize economic noncontributory pensions — economic benefits to people in situations of maximum vulnerability —, also constitute progress in this area, but it is necessary to directly recognize unpaid domestic work with a pension and social security for those women who are heads of homes who do not have any income.
Spanish ecofeminist Yayo Herrero 5 recommends taking a look at the experiences aimed at making visible the centrality of life and care of nature. Herrero highlights the experiences that test alternative ways to produce, maintain or distribute, to manage property, to finance collective projects such as cooperatives of agro-ecological consumerism; shared care networks that meet the care needs for children; and auto managed nursing homes based on mutual support, among others. —Latinamerica Press.
*Member of the World March of Women and the Latin American Network of Women Transforming the Economy (Red Latinoamericana de Mujeres Transformando la Economía-REMTE) from Peru. She presents some thoughts, ideas, strength, discussion arguments that are being shared in the context of building plural social movements.
1 “El aprecio a la vida humana. Alternativas feministas al actual modelo de sociedad,” Perspectivas América Latina Magazine N°1, Heinrich Böll Foundation, 2015.
2 “Economía feminista: una visión antisistémica,” In search for equality: texts for feminist action, Sempreviva Organização Feminista, São Paulo, 2013:
3 Satellite account of unpaid work of homes in Peru, INEI, 2016 (Based on a survey of use in 2010).
4 Satellite account of unpaid work of homes in México, INEGI. SCNM. 2006-2010.
5 “Propuestas ecofeministas para un sistema cargado de deudas,” Economía Crítica Magazine N° 13, Barcelona, April 2012. Compartir