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25 November - International day for elimination of violence againt women
Violence against women*: a systemic issue
by CADTM International
30 November 2022

(* The term ‘woman’ applies to any person who defines herself as female)

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women the CADTM International network highlights the urgent need for a systemic approach to this global issue. The aim of our struggle is to live in a world that is free of sexism, racism and poverty. To build this new world it must be understood that violence against women is not only a domestic issue within the home but is part of a systemic colonial, capitalist and patriarchal context. Building an empowering alternative to tackle violence against women involves exposing and acting against the very foundations of oppression. And it means going beyond the tip of the iceberg of patriarchal violence.

Disentangling forms of violence in order to change the world

We have to be aware that patriarchal violence can take several forms: it can be physical, psychological, sexual, economic, professional, colonial, etc. All those forms of violence are part of a naturalized and interiorized system of domination known as capitalism. We are going through times when several crises are affecting our lives on a global level: an energy crisis, a health crisis, an economic crisis, a food crisis, a climate crisis, a human rights crisis, the rise of the far-right, the increasing use of authoritarian forms of government, etc. Together, these crises are weakening many breakthroughs achieved in past struggles against patriarchal violence while at the same time transforming and increasing patriarchal manifestations.

In this regard the analyses produced by feminist movements are fundamental, particularly those by Latin-American feminists, who have developed a systemic reading of patriarchal violence and exposed financial and economic violence and the correlation between indebtedness and the heavy toll of feminicides on the continent: “We want to live free and without debts” (Argentine); “They owe us our lives” (Chile); “Women against debt” (Puerto Rico).

Debt is a form of capitalist and patriarchal violence

In the Global South as in the North illegitimate debts have been an instrument of domination and a system for transferring wealth which further strengthens the bonds between capitalism and patriarchalism and thus reinforces a neoliberal system based on inequality and violence.

All over the world indebted States are forced to implement austerity policies or structural adjustment plans in order to repay their public debts. Such policies result in the privatization of public services, the shrinking of public spending (health care, education, employment, etc.), the liberalization of the economy, the increased VAT, inflation and precarious employment, but also in the destruction of soils and of ecosystems and the suppression of subsidies, especially to farmers, etc. In the Global South as in the North this array of anti-social measures has the same disastrous consequences. They drive people into debt in order to face an increasing cost of living. This affects the most vulnerable populations, most directly working women, users of public services and caregivers. The aggresions against women’s economic empowerment is everywhere becoming more violent, thus increasing their need to borrow to survive and forcing them into violent predicaments. Public and private debts are tools to discipline the people.

Enforcing anti-social measures that favour repaying public debts infringes social rights and directly affects women, exposing them to multiple forms of violence:

🟣 The impossibility for many of them to achieve financial autonomy except through debts. In some countries microcredit has become one of the few opportunities for women to enter the labour market, achieve financial autonomy or continue with their studies.

🟣 The invisibility of care work, of social reproduction and of housework, and as a consequence, the devaluation of women’s work. The bodies and the lives of women are perceived as disposable, both in the dynamic of capitalist production and at the social level: feminicides, human trafficking, labour exploitation, feminization of poverty, etc.

🟣 The impossibility for women to leave dangerous homes because they have no economic autonomy, they run the risk of losing their home, of losing custody of their children or because they have contracted debts to be able to meet the cost of essentials for their families (food, health care, education, etc.).

🟣 Extractivist policies of commodification and unshackled exploitation of nature which deprive local populations of their natural resources and traditional farming lands. Women peasants are most affected since while they defend their land they cannot help but notice how these policies increase violence against women and exacerbate gender inequalities wherever they are implemented.

Those are but a few illustrations of how anti-social measures enforced to insure that the burden of the public debt is repaid (they include the destruction of jobs and of means of subsistance, privatization of public services, reduction of social expenditure) contribute to patriarchal violence (whether physical, economic or mental) in the North as in the Global South. This is how public and private debts are entangled.

Private debt is the last resort for women faced with a lack of economic autonomy, difficulty in accessing employment, and the absence of public policies to free them from the burden of the so called “menial tasks” of society. This is how finance colonizes homes, how it perpetuates the web of patriarchal violence.

Let’s stand up against patriarchal violence

We say, an empowering alternative involves exposing and fighting against the foundations of oppression. One of them are illegitimate debts, which we can refuse to pay. As stated in the manifesto ’For a feminist non-payment of the debt’, published by the CADTM International network on 8 March 2021, we demand the following:

🟣CANCELLING ILLEGITIMATE PUBLIC DEBTS owed by countries of the South to all creditors, whether bilateral, multilateral or private.

🟣RELIEF FOR PRIVATE INDEBTEDNESS and ALTERNATIVES TO MICROCREDIT such as the solidarity economies that have been LOCALLY experimented and have given interesting results. In the short term we ask for an improvement in the IMF’s loan conditions: such as zero interest rate and a trustworthy and binding legal framework.

🟣Measures against this financial system which is ruled by a minority of speculators out to increase their profits and replace it with a loan system that would serve the common good.

🟣Implement a FEMINIST AUDIT OF THE DEBT, which must include a feminist dimension, i.e. take into account the unacknowledged contribution of women to the economy, propose the socialization of health care and include all social and economic actors in these activities on which we all rely.

🟣Setting up a NON MACHIST/SEXIST EDUCATION and making young people aware of discriminations and violence against women as well as of sexual and reproductive rights and to the rights of women in all walks of life.

Our current challenge as feminists is to radicalize the processes of struggle that we have been building in a perspective of plurality of subjects and of resistance to the capitalist model. We must move on and dismantle this way of living based on violence, injustice and exploitation and achieve new forms of connection, of collaboration and articulation of struggles, in which wellbeing will be central.

Translated by Christine Pagnoulle and Mike Krolikowski

CADTM International