The year is about to turn and with it the tide is also turning. Mothers, often the poorest of the poor, are no longer merely victims of the logic of market competition, division and austerity: they are fighting back. As I argue, with my co-editors in the editorial of the most recent edition of Interface, Feminism, Women’s Movements and Women in Movement, the long-established feminisation of poverty is becoming a feminisation of resistance, particularly in the Global South.
What lessons can those in the UK learn from these struggles?
Mothers who are heads of households are one of the groups (including young people) that are the hardest hit by the Coalition government’s austerity measures and the economic downturn. Cut backs to benefits, tax credits and other subsidies effect women most severely, particularly working mothers. As Emilia Hill recently argued, hard won victories for women’s equality are being eroded. Yet these women still have to ensure that their children eat, have a roof over their heads, proper clothes, schooling, health, love and nurture.
Decades before the UK banking crisis and its consequences, women in the Global South have experienced the dislocations, violences and exclusions of market logics. They know that the removal of public provision of health, education and housing reinforces the care responsibilities of women and that economic crisis and cut backs increase unemployment, undercutting the survival mechanisms of poor families. Many are all too aware that the cumulative effect of these processes is the breakdown of community solidarities, social bonds and collectivity.
Yet, women of the Global South are not only victims, as women never are. My research demonstrates that as women are at the heart of the community and the family they have also been at the heart of resisting these processes by organising the collective provision of housing, education, health and childcare.
In the process, the meaning and practice of motherhood and womenhood become a place of political struggle.
No longer is motherhood confined to the individual care of partner and children. Instead motherhood becomes a symbol of collective community caring and nurturing. Women’s knowledges are combined and developed as the basis of creating sustainable systems of food production, health care, community education and housing.
No longer is womenhood confined to a role in the private sphere as mother, daughter or wife or to an unregulated market sphere of super-exploitation. Rather women take centre stage in the struggles for recognition of their community and family’s right to a dignified life determined on their own terms. Women become the thinkers, facilitators and organisers in their communities.
Such politics impacts upon how women’s bodies are experienced and lived. The body is not merely a site of pain, pleasure for others and exhaustion but also becomes an embodiment of the ability to create and defend life. Women who stand against the violence of the state in protest, women who sing and use their voices to bear witness to the violences of marketisation turn their bodies into sites of resistance and pride.
These practices re-make and re-invent broken solidarities, social bonds and collectivity. In the logic of their resistances is a reimagining of the political; away from the dominant script of power politics around great leaders, parties, the winning of elections and the occupying of the state towards a politics of everyday life, social relationships and self.
Such resistances compel us to stretch our understanding of what politics is, where it occurs, and what it stands for. It suggests that a reimagining of a liberatory politics and theory for our times must take women’s resistances seriously. Dialogue and solidarity between women in the Global South and Global North is an essential part of this process.
For those interested in developing this dialogue and solidarity, Interface, I hope, will give much food for thought.