Magazine article Women in Action

Reproducing Life as Guide to Climate Politics: "The Climate Crisis Shows Us the Impossibility of Infinite Growth on a Finite Planet. We Cannot Continue Business as Usual, but We Must Radically Recalibrate How We Consume and Commodify Nature, Given the Limits to Our Capacity to Sustain and Reproduce Life."

Magazine article Women in Action

Reproducing Life as Guide to Climate Politics: "The Climate Crisis Shows Us the Impossibility of Infinite Growth on a Finite Planet. We Cannot Continue Business as Usual, but We Must Radically Recalibrate How We Consume and Commodify Nature, Given the Limits to Our Capacity to Sustain and Reproduce Life."

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

This is what Nicola Bullard of Focus on the Global South pointed out at a recent conference in Johannesburg, where the audience was reminded of the same approach that feminists brought to Southern African political economy many years ago. This approach suddenly made sense, when writ large, moving from our region to the planetary scale.

During the 1960s to 1970s, a series of South African male intellectuals argued that the apartheid system or the systematic discrimination against black people, was rooted in the corporations' need for migrant labour, fusing race-class oppression. Behind the typical black male worker who laboured in the mines throughout the first century of gold mining, prior to Nelson Mandela's election in 1994, was a woman. She provided three hidden and un-costed subsidies, as feminists quickly taught us, using the idea of the "care economy".

First, in rural Bantustans--the ecologically-degraded apartheid "homelands"--women raised the migrant worker through childhood, as the state was non-existent or merely a religious mission station. Household reproduction was never subsidised, unlike urban residents who had access to state childcare and school systems. Second, rural women were compelled to look after sick workers who were tossed back home until they recovered due to the lack of health insurance as offered by states and companies in the West after workers battled long and hard. Finally, when the male worker was too old to work and returned to the Bantustans without adequate pension support, the women again took on the responsibility for care-giving

Of course, it's not just a matter of apartheid capitalism. The reproduction of global labour power has been universally subsidised by women's unpaid work. But these days matters look more like the extreme South African system, with state and capital lowering the "social wage" and dismantling social policy gains that have been achieved through decades of struggle. This process extends as well into reproductive health and rights that feminist movements have consistently advocated.

Neoliberal policies and corporate power have resulted in labour outsourcing, casualisation and informalisation. With life more precarious as a result, women are the safety net for household reproduction, in addition to being the most vulnerable and disposable of all labour sectors.

But they have also been the driving force in resisting this process here, overcoming micropatriarchy within communities and leading most of our grassroots campaigns on issues such as water decommodificarion, access to AIDS medicines and other successful strategies to enlarge or defend the commons and sustain life.

As the world recession spreads, global capitalism is becoming much more 1ike apartheid: predatory against women and the environment. Drawing on evidence from Southern Africa, Rosa Luxemburg demonstrated this tendency in her own analysis of imperialism back in 1913: "Accumulation of capital periodically bursts out in crises and spurs capital on to a continual extension of the market. Capital cannot accumulate without the aid of noncapitalist organisations."

Increasingly, such non-capitalist life arrangements rely upon women and the communities that they guide. And yet on the other hand, Luxemburg continued, capitalism cannot "tolerate their continued existence side by side with itself. Only the continuous and progressive disintegration of non-capitalist organisations makes accumulation of capital possible."

Luxemburg would not have been surprised at how the destructive force of capital drives men into migrancy, spreads HIV/AIDS and causes rising domestic violence. Such disintegration is always contested by women's personal strengths and mutual aid systems as well as other anti-/non-capitalist reactions, plus campaigns--successful in South Africa (unique on the continent)--to guarantee reproductive healthcare, including the right to a safe abortion. …

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