Feminist ABC

By Hales, Jennifer | Women & Environments International Magazine, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview
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Feminist ABC

Hales, Jennifer, Women & Environments International Magazine

Global Economic Context for Feminist Popular Education

The Gendered Nature of Corporate Economic Reforms

Reforms to re-entrench the market economy are not limited to any particular country or region and women around the world are affected. Since the 1980s feminists both North and South have been documenting the gender-blindness of reform policies and their differential impacts on men and women, particularly poorer women. This corporate driven agenda is advanced through structural adjustment policies (SAPs). SAPs typically lead to greater decentralization, to the privatization of public enterprises and services and government spending cuts to social services, such as health care, education, social security and public housing. In many countries, SAPs result in the devaluation of national currency and increased interest rates. These policies in turn lead to the weakening of union power, the repeal of labour laws and deteriorating working conditions. All this is done in the name of greater economic efficiency and in the interest of maintaining economic equilibrium. After twenty years of these policies, the effect on poor people and particularly women has been devastating. Restructuring can have positive effects on women. Where employment opportunities increase, it challenges the patriarchal tradition of keeping women at home and out of the job market. Yet the effects are largely negative for women both north and south. The poverty resulting from restructuring harms women more than men. Race and ethnicity further compound this effect. Many jobs are lost in areas where women traditionally had found paid work. Women are forced to retreat into the informal sector or low technology and lower paid jobs without job security and benefits. Women's unpaid work in the home and community simultaneously escalates when cuts in social spending close services such as child and senior care services. Many poorer women must hold two or three jobs trying to meet their families' needs.

Women React

Women around the world are looking for explanations and ways to change their hardship. Feminist popular education has become an important tool to help women understand how concepts as abstract as globalization, neo-liberalism, and structural adjustment are linked to their lives, and how they can mobilize for action and change.

Feminist Popular Education

Feminist popular education is a mode of non-formal education aimed at challenging injustice and oppression. It specifically aims to transform the unequal power relations between men and women. Feminist popular education has its roots in the popular education, or education popular, of Latin America. It developed in the 1980s in response to the male bias in popular education and its emphasis on analyses based on social class rather than gender concerns. In Spanish, popular refers to the marginalized sectors of society. Therefore, feminist popular education aims to address the struggles of women in marginalized and oppressed communities. Feminist popular education recognizes the links and interaction of social factors such as gender, class, race, marital status, age and sexual orientation. It therefore aims to integrate all aspects of power inequalities into its framework. Shirley Walters and Linzi Manicom describe it as being "embedded within social activism and democratic organizations of civil society working for material and substantive transformation of women's lives and conditions."

Feminist Popular Education and Economic Reforms: The 'Wall' Approach

Suzanne Doerge is a feminist popular educator based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Suzanne stresses: "there is a shortage of educational tools that help women to see themselves in the context of globalization and take action." Suzanne and Beverley Burke, another feminist popular educator, developed the 'Wall' workshop to fill this gap in the early 1990s. They use the image of a stone wall to depict a gender analysis of the economy, thereby revealing how the economy impacts on women in their homes, communities, workplaces and unions.

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