Neoliberalism, Feminism and Transnationalism

By Winch, Alison; Forkert, Kirsten et al. | Soundings, Spring 2019 | Go to article overview

Neoliberalism, Feminism and Transnationalism


Winch, Alison, Forkert, Kirsten, Davison, Sally, Soundings


The essays in this special issue attest to the multiplicities of neoliberal practice across the globe, and to the ways in which aggressive neoliberal marketisation impacts differently across different axes (of class, race, age and gender, amongst others). The focus of this issue is on feminism and gender inequality, but, as the contributors show in their many different ways, it is impossible ever to separate out a specific form of inequality, and to see it as existing independently of other structures of privilege and disadvantage, or to see the experiences of any one group in isolation from the multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and exclusion in which they are formed. Our contributors also offer a range of different ways of understanding this variety, and different takes on how to organise. What is not in dispute, however, is that women are organising in new and radical ways in many different contexts and in many different countries.

Ruth Pearson, writing about women's experience of neoliberalism in the UK, draws attention to women's role in 'daily and generational reproduction', and argues that understanding the centrality of this work to the economy is key to any feminist political economy She also argues that the rollback of social democracy has left most of those on whom this responsibility falls in a vulnerable position. Because it is primarily women who do this work, and because the cuts hit working-class people and people of colour the hardest, it is these groups that bear the brunt of the government's austerity measures (which, as she notes, are political measures, aimed at redistributing income away from the poorest groups and towards the already wealthy). Tamsyn's Dent's review of Tracey Jensen's Parenting the Crisis reinforces this point: Jensen argues that working-class parents are demonised and blamed in the media for problems that are caused by the failures of the state. Care work and the reproduction of generations is also central to Sara Motta's analysis of feminist and feminised struggles in Latin America. Here too, neoliberal policies - and their connections with 'patriarchal capitalist-coloniality' - have specific impacts on specific constituencies. Precarity has been exacerbated across the working class, indigenous and black people have been amongst the most severely affected, and poverty has been feminised.

The ways in which neoliberalism intersects with so many other structural inequalities - including colonialism and post-colonialism - is also key to the essays by Yemisi Akinbobola, who interrogates feminism in Nigerian contexts, and Awino Okech and Dinah Musindarwezo, who discuss the pan-African feminist network FEMNET. For these authors, as well as Motta, feminist resistance is often in complex negotiation with the multiple effects of colonialism and globalisation, and this has impacts on the possibilities for transnational feminist solidarities.

Neoliberalism has also offered opportunities for some women, although its gestures towards feminism are usually double-edged. In Latin America, as Motta notes, 'the neoliberal transnational governing elite have embraced a gendering of development which places women's rights at the heart of overcoming poverty and inequality'. However, while this may enhance the prospects of a small group, as she shows, the money that is then allocated becomes a stand-in, a substitute for any real attempt to overcome gendered hierarchies and power relationships. Indeed, the neoliberal development practice of offering micro-finance, or conditional targeted subsidies, works to 'contain the poor racialised woman'.

What Catherine Rottenberg has called 'neoliberal feminism' is a focus of analysis for many contributors. All recognise that it is problematic, but there is not a general consensus in this area. It is clear from any intersectional analysis that gender can be articulated to privilege as well as to poverty, but it is less clear what this means for alliances between women in tackling issues of gender inequality, or whether gender inequality can ever be seen as cutting across other differences - as constituting a potentially common ground. …

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