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On Feminism and Anti-Neo Liberalism

Dr. Peggy Antrobus- an academic, social worker, consultant and advisor to various local and international women’s organizations including United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and Development Action for Women Network (DAWN) made a distinctive remark against the recently proclaimed 2009 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the rest of the world consider MDGs as response to development challenges since it adopts a global framework that hopes to end poverty and inequality, Antrobus labels them as the “Most Distracting Gimmik”.

This statement made by such a respectable individual is explained further in an article from a Women’s International Coalition for Justice publication- whose title is the same as her powerful comment. This essay gives a description of Antrobus’ views about MDGs as I see it both as an issue of ideology and relevance. In such a case, I accept her political views with enthusiasm although I would like to suggest alternative areas for analysis of her criticisms to neo-liberalism. Peggy Antrobus contextualized the new MDGs vis a vis women’s struggle for equality and their disadvantaged position in the emergent market economy.

My knowledge of Marxism and Feminism leads me to read her elaboration of the matter as a Marxist-Feminist account. I do not contest this ideology. Moreover, I think of her opinion as highly intellectual yet for some reason, her suggestions are incomplete. For someone who criticizes neo-liberalism; its subjugation of poor countries to international policies, trade agreements and treaties that limit their capacities and the inherent economic competition that results to growing gap between the rich and the poor within countries; a potent and plausible option ought to be presented as a matter of dispute to the prevailing system.

Feminism is a perspective that promotes equality of rights between men and women in various respects like socio-political and economic. The clamor for such suggests the prior existence of gender inequality- an issue that is not isolated to political economy. The dominance of patriarchal societies has produced women who have been treated as weak, uneducated and less in power and authority. Hence, poverty becomes highly related to women as a class.

Marxist feminism in line with Marxist tradition seeks to liberate women by overthrowing capitalism. The latter is viewed as the root cause of economic inequality that impacts on men-women social relations, politics and culture. Women tends to be oppressed in capitalistic settings such as women laborers that are less favored than men causing high unemployment rate among the former. With this framework in mind, Antrobus reacted against the lack of gender sensitivity in the MDGs.

For instance, MDG1 (to end poverty and hunger), MDG2 (to achieve universal education) and MDG7 (to promote environmental sustainability)- are all for her inconsiderate of women’s vulnerability. To her, women’s poverty is worse than men because of the macro context that yields uneven power distribution and resources. Gender concerns have been collapsed to the all-encompassing concept of poverty therefore neglecting that poverty is embedded in gender relations. Primarily; she supported the global feminist community in pushing for inclusion of women’s sexual and reproductive rights in the list of goals.

She stated further that MDGs are distanced from the social, political and economic context in which they are executed purporting that the women’s subordination and exploitation serve as barriers to the achievements of MDGs. Besides, she blames it to the religious fundamentalism and economic fundamentalism which she claims to be under neo-liberal policy framework the exclusion of goals of women’s sexual and reproductive rights which for her are significant indicators for the four other goals; MDG3 or women’s equality and empowerment; MDG4 or child mortality; MDG5 or maternal health and MDG6 or combating HIV/AIDS.

It is very clear then that Antrobus criticizes neo-liberal policies due to its consequences both in local economic relations and social relations. Neo-liberalism owes much of its ideas from neoclassical theories of economics, which believes that states can benefit from each other through trade due to the principle of comparative advantage. Hence, governments must weaken its economic intervention or work towards managing capitalism in order that barriers to trade may be eliminated such as tariff, import quotas, etc.

Peggy Antrobus while admitting that this is the mainstream political-economic ideology is consistent with her view that it suffers from a lot of flaws which none of the UN MGDs try to explicate. She mentioned how governments suffer loss in revenues because of tariff cuts and selling of state assets to cope to international capitalism. Antrobus brands the current system as yielding a less enabling environment for the success of both MDGs and women’s equality platforms and programs.

Besides, the indicators for each goal lack a sense of correspondence to the others in that for instance, indicators on equal opportunities for education may show promising results although are not translated to equal employment opportunities that are also essential in eradicating poverty for both men and women. Equal political participation that is measured against women voters’ rights and political involvements in elections does not tell the real story of male power domination in policy-making. Altogether, I agree with Dr. Peggy Antrobus’ commentaries.

Her testimony against MGDs as “The Most Distracting Gimmiks” emphasize that the real issues have been blurred by rhetorical aspirations- deceitful analysis of poverty issues leading to wrong strategies and false hopes. Political economy which looks into the influences of political science, law and economics to each other and particularly, international political economy that focuses on how state policies affects international trade and finance or vice versa is a good approach in understanding the limitations of neo-liberalism.

Antrobus nonetheless failed to trace the origin of United Nations as well as the World Trade Organization and International Monetary Fund as international organizations- that is liberalism’s belief that there are more opportunities now for cooperation amongst nations unlike in an anarchic world system. The so-called “harmony of interests” resulted to liberal institutionalism and internationalism creating international institutions and organizations that would lead to interdependence and absolute gains from cooperation.

Hence, even global feminist movements and organizations belong to the category of an internationalized effort at pursuing harmony of interests. Amidst Antrobus’ challenges against the neo-liberal framework of MDGs has she truly questioned liberalism or the existence of UN, which is prone to manipulation by developed states, or WTO whose ministerial conferences almost always fail due to the absence of multilateral concessions? Are European Union, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation and Association of South-East Asian Nations or other regional integration initiatives sincere about their collaborative efforts at beating other economies?

Is there indeed a harmonization of interests in a world driven by profit, in a system where economic competition is inevitable? Didn’t United States refuse to sign the Kyoto Agreement on Environmental protection due to its massive number of industries, which are contributing, to environmental degradation? Isn’t it that the world continues to be divided between the rich and the poor, the developed and developing or underdeveloped to include the category of the dependistas- and within local capitalism between the capitalists and the working class, rich and poor countries alike?

I think she failed to arrive at an alternative theory given that she was so blatant about her disagreement with the conventional; and even if she did ask for modifications of the prevailing system in order to correct the issues, then she might be simply serving Robert Cox’ problem-solving purpose of theory trying to manage the smooth functioning of the system instead of a critical theory that deals with the root cause of the problem and offer an emancipatory perspective. I am neither a fan of Antonio Gramsci or Robert Cox, but the latter serves as an area from which Antrobus could analyze her own agenda.

Antrobus was complacent with the idea that states given the circumstances of neo-liberalism are either weakened or transformed to cope with the new world order. Thus, she leaves them with no agential role to seek answers to the demands of their own people, including equality for women. Yet, the opposite may be true for some countries that were able to create benchmark policies not only for women’s rights but also in other democratic objectives. Has she forgotten about local civil society’s role in ensuring quality of life through democratic practices- that citizens too could still possess bargaining power with their governments?

In the end, I commend Dr. Peggy Antrobus for choosing to be critical of the existing realities in International Relations. I only hope that her feminism does not bias her analysis in favor of women- that even if patriarchal systems dominate the world, inequalities persists across gender. Her involvements in Women Organizations are noteworthy which may or may not be supportive of other anti-poverty initiatives like the ones contained in MGDs therefore will still have a long way toward success- a necessary yet not a sufficient element in aspiring for change.

In fact, true commitments come from governments and its people. The state has to be treated as the result of consensus between the rulers and the ruled. The government and the people could manage capitalism locally. International efforts at consolidating interests serve as guide to national agenda but are not limited to obedience of the state to better off the level of their democratic indicators.

Besides, even democracy is a disputable issue with some scholars contradicting liberalism’s exclusive attribution of this ideal to capitalism. Antrobus expressed in subtlety yet I am certain she would agree that Washington Consensus’ Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) have truly disadvantaged the poor countries because of the impositions of IMF and World Bank for a reduced spending on health, education and social welfare programs on member countries with debt hence resulting to lower standards of living in these nations.

United Nations must have looked into these policies, which its fellow and related organizations have been promoting all along. Maybe then aside from global feminist communities and other civil society sectors urging for human rights, equality and freedom from state and non-state actors; the developed economies spearhead the alleviation of global poverty by rethinking their neo-liberal policies.

References Antrobus, Peggy. “Contextualizing the MDGs and Local Voices”. Seeking Accountability on Women’s Human Rights: Women Debate the Millennium Development Goals in http://www. wicej. addr. com/mdg/index. html. McLellan, David. Marxism After Marx. Basingtoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Reddock, Rhoda. “Peggy Antrobus”. Development and Change. Volume 37, No. 6, 2006: 1365-1377.

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