Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) recently launched a new book entitled, “The Remaking of Social Contracts: Feminists in a Fierce New World”, edited by Gita Sen and Marina Durano, published by ZED Books, London. This book is a result of a long process of debate and reflection that DAWN members engaged in, along with partners and allies in different civil society organizations and social movements. It follows from the previous groundbreaking books that DAWN has published through the years, starting with Development, Crises and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspectives (Sen and Grown,1987); Population and Reproductive Rights: Feminist Perspectives from the South (Correa and Reichmann, 1994) and The Marketisation of Governance (Taylor, 2000).
One of the analytical themes the book focuses on is Political Economy of Globalization. In the introductory overview, the book discusses the emergence and fracturing of social contracts, the rise of social movements, and the promise of human rights. The term social contract is used differently from what is found in political science textbooks and certainly far removed from the notion of free and equal persons creating a society based upon rules to which all agree. While a social contract may indeed be a collective agreement, it is an agreement embedded in the political economy of power and inequality. Social contracts have fluidity due to contestation from above and below. They are thus imbued with the potential for change.
The book argues that change is possible even as we recognize the difficulty of making it happen in a fierce new world. The early 21st century has been marked by the “war on terror” and the series of financial and economic crises. It is also a time of climate change and ecological crisis; a time when the world of work has been drastically transformed towards flexibility and precariousness; and a time of backlash against progress towards social justice and human rights. We live in a fierce new world—as the book says, it is a world full of shaken premises, complicated contradictions, serious fractures, severe backlashes, broken promises, and uncertain outcomes for the world’s peoples.
Gendered power relations, as well as other social inequalities, are interwoven into other power systems, such as economic, international relations, military conflicts, and political ecology. Each system shapes the others. This is why DAWN saw it as a critical task to outline a conceptual framework that treats in an interlinked, rather than isolated, way the four analytical themes that traditionally have guided DAWN’s work: Political Economy of Globalization (PEG), Political Ecology and Sustainability (PEAS), Political Restructuring and Social Transformation (PRST), and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). Feminism in this Fierce New World asks us to confront and interrogate the interfaces of multiple systems of power. DAWN recognizes and analyzes the relative autonomy of each power system even while insisting that the interfaces between and across systems of power must be recognized and challenged.
The book speaks of the promise of human rights. DAWN’s approach to feminism has been based not on a calculus of identity alone but on the recognition that women’s human rights are lost or gained in the midst of the interplay between the personal and the structural environment. For women as women, the politics of personal relations, of the body, of sex and reproduction matter greatly. The household and family relations are a critical site of gender power expressed in multiple dimensions. At the same time, women are workers juggling double and triple burdens under increasingly harsh conditions; are members of communities struggling for land and livelihoods; are agents in societies undergoing cultural transformations; are actors in economies shaped by globalization and militarism; and are parts of production systems unmindful of ecological limits. An approach to feminism that cuts across and is inclusive of these distinct yet interconnected spheres is still uncommon and calls for greater conceptual clarity.
The books’ essays and boxes are a mixture of in-depth analysis and proposals for the remaking of the broken social contracts in this fierce new world. The first set of chapters is a series of critiques against the systemic reproduction of inequality.
Stephanie Seguino explores the role of inequality in contributing to the most recent global economic crisis, and the related tendency to ‘financialization’ – the increased size and importance of an unregulated financial sector—as inextricably linked to that trend. She argues that macroeconomic frameworks must allow for the disciplining of capital and the alignment of profits interests with broader social and economic interests.
Yao Graham and Hibist Kassa use the case of Africa to illustrate how cooperation and contradiction among South countries play out as the balance of power shifts away from the North Atlantic, through an exploration of trade and investment flows, regional power, aid politics and the reform of multilateral institutions. In doing so, their chapter also addresses contradictions within the South, particularly among the emerging new poles of accumulation. An underlying premise of their essay is that the accumulation model is what defines the transfers and emergence of power, with economic strength, even in the South, defined as the capacity to act as supplier to the markets of the economic North.
Oscar Ugarteche explores the militarization of the economy proposing that the business of war is not to win them, but to wage them. What matters is not to win, he argues, but to prevent others from winning. And the role of wars is to generate income streams for the defense industry. He also shows how war reactivated the growth of illicit economies as the outcome of declining productivity in the traditional leading economic powers.
Aldo Caliari explores the drawbacks of the human rights and political economy frameworks from a feminist perspective and argues that their synthesis is an urgent task for the feminist movement. Counter posing a human rights approach and a ”political economy” approach to development, he critiques each of them, finds complementarities and assesses what each of them has to offer to a feminist perspective. One of the results is the agenda of construction of a state that is both developmental and accountable.
The second set of chapters tackles the issues of sustainability and climate change. Anita Nayar outlines policy responses to the convergence of dilemmas around existing patterns of consumption and production and its demands on ecological systems as well as around the resurgence of defunct Malthusian notions of population stabilization and climate change. Diana Bronson discusses and reflects upon how a band of scientists, venture capitalists and corporations are moving ideas of re-engineering the planet into the mainstream. Zo Randriamaro highlights the consequences for food security and ecological balance as aggressive land-grabbing operations continue in the African continent.
The third set of chapters confronts fundamentalism and attempts to decipher the complexity of bio-politics. Alexandra Garita and Francoise Girard remind us of the need to continually secure full and equal participation in decision-making, as the work towards promoting and fulfilling sexual and reproductive rights is treacherous and complex. Fatou Sow and Magaly Pazello explore the difficulties in ‘secularizing’ the social contract through the lens of three major religions – Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Rosalind Petchesky argues that a feminist politics relevant to the twenty-first century cannot take sexuality or gender out of political economy and development; nor can political economy and development be addressed without sexuality and gender.
The last set of chapters looks into the complex act of building nation-states and the need to galvanize social movements. Claire Slatter surveys the tensions in formal democracy and authoritarianism, legislative reform and political extremism, the political conditionality of ‘good governance’ and corrupt practices, private power centers and ‘failed states’, citizens’ rights movements and fascist forces intent on taking over the state. Amrita Chhacchi discusses the difficulties of distinguishing in practice between religious fundamentalism and secular governance arguing for the creation of public spheres of deliberation that accommodate democratization. Kumudini Samuel calls for a nuanced understanding of masculinity and femininity that are reproduced and reconstructed in settings of militarization, war and conflict. Josefa Francisco and Peggy Antrobus draw our attention to the challenges faced by feminist movements negotiating for rights, inclusion and equal power in a dysfunctional multilateral system.
Overall, the broad sweep of the book’s chapters point towards a more inclusive approach to feminist analysis and engagement with the complex contradictions of the world we live in today.
Marina Durano is Assistant Professor at the University of the Philippines. and Gita Sen is the General Coordinator of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN). Both of them are co-editors of The Remaking of Social Contracts: Feminists in a Fierce New World. Click here to order the book.