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Category: Feminism, Politics, Economy, Environment, International, Violence against Women

Dr. Vandana Shiva—The New Delhi Rape and Globalization

| February 11, 2013

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Economist and ecofeminist Dr. Vandana Shiva addresses the root causes of violence against women.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, economist, environmentalist, and feminist, spoke of the public outcry in India and how the devaluing of women in a global economy set the stage for the New Delhi rape. Adapted from a conversation broadcast last month on Women's Media Center Live with Robin Morgan.

Robin Morgan: In a feminist analysis certainly, everything is connected to everything else.  You recently wrote a stunning piece about the ghastly gang rape in New Delhi and the subsequent demonstrations and how violence against women and the economy were all connected.  I’d love you, please, to talk about the points that you raised.

Vandana Shiva: I’ve been working on how the economy’s changing—globalization, free trade, WTO, the structural adjustment. I’ve made the connections between those purposes and what happens to women in what is called the New Economy. They even call it the Emerging Economy, as if a 10,000-year-old civilization emerges only when it is locked into corporate globalization.

The first level at where violence against women begins is in the very defining of the economy.  Economy means household.  It is what women define both inside the physical households, but also the world, inside the planet as the household.  As long as the principles of management came out of that, they focused on sustenance, livelihoods, mutual giving—of course, within the typical patriarchies all our societies have had.

[With] free trade globalization, the first thing they do is knock out that major sector of women’s economy and, as Marilyn Waring has written in If Women Counted, install a production boundary to calculate growth.

The Gross Domestic Product grows every time you can pull something out of nature and something out of women customers’ economy, which means every time you destroy nature and women’s livelihoods, and production, and creativity, you can call it growth.  It’s created to mobilize finances for the war, and it becomes the dominant number imposed on our world.

I’ve been appointed by the King of Bhutan to an expert group we’ve created because Gross Domestic Product is the wrong measure.  The King of Bhutan said we should be looking at the well-being of our people to measure Gross National Happiness.

At this time, growth measured as Gross Domestic Product is already collapsing world-wide. It collapsed with Wall Street.  It’s collapsing in Europe right now in front of our eyes. and it will collapse in India after a few years.  How long can you sustain an eight or nine percent growth that excludes women as the primary backbone of the economy? That is the first violence.

The second violence is in terms of decision-making and politics.  In so many debates in India we hear, “Oh, we can’t have politics in economics.” But every time they make a decision within a patriarchal model of the economy, it is politics.  It’s politics that basically says, “Only corporations count, only the powerful count, and we’re going to mutate democracy from being, “By the people, of the people, for the people,” into being “By the corporations, of the corporations, for the corporations—and the powerful.”

The convergence of economic and political power further excludes women, but it also creates a class with immunity and impunity, which can do all levels of violence, change laws, and remove protections. There’s rape at every level—rape of the earth, rape of our resources, rape of the economy, and rape of women, which is what this drastic, dramatic tragedy has woken up India to.

Then there are other levels of violence because displaced people are more vulnerable.  I was asked by the National Commission of Women to grapple with what globalization was doing to women in India, in terms of two key factors: water, and food and agriculture. At public hearings around the country, whether in Calcutta or down south, women would speak out boldly about how sexual violence has increased and made them more vulnerable as they were being made economic and ecological refugees.

That is at the very foundation of this new liberal model: everything is a commodity.  Everything is property.  Everything has a price and nothing has value. Added to the traditional patriarchies of societies, that's created what I call a super-virus of patriarchy. When two viruses hybridize, they start to kill.

Basically it’s a bit like climate change.  We’ve had cyclones, but Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy present a different level of violence.  Of course, we know that this is contributed by climate change. We need to start looking at how an economy based on patriarchal fictions—and the corporation is the biggest patriarch in our lives to come—how this patriarchy is combining with traditional patriarchies to unleash even larger violence, both the kind we see on the streets of Delhi and the economic kind, the violence of robbing you of your home, of your foundation.

Our prime minister said recently, it’s these loose-footed migrants that are part of the problem. Because the Delhi rape involved migrants at both ends. The rapists were all living in slums in hugely brutalized conditions, thinking that brutalization is the norm.  The poor girl's father had sold his land because farmers aren’t being allowed to make a living.  Two hundred and seventy thousand Indian farmers have committed suicide.  The rest are hanging on the margins of existence.  He moved to Delhi to load luggage at the airport to be able to survive and send his children to school.

The prime minister just called them loose-footed migrants creating problems. I said, “Mr. Prime Minister, they are a product of your policies.  They are refugees of your economic policies.”  None of these—economics and culture and society—are insulated silos. The patriarchal economic model is becoming the dominant force in our society.  Societies have been reduced to the economy.  Economy has been reduced to the market.  The market has been reduced to what is controlled by finance, capital corporations.  And if all you show is women as commodities, selling other commodities, those images start to further distort already damaged brains.

RM: Isn’t it amazing, Vandana, how when you put something in context—the background of the victim and for that matter of the perpetrators—it changes? Also, I'm reminded of your colleague Ruchira Gupta who wrote a piece in which she pointed out that the commodification of women by the rampant growth of pornography and prostitution sends the message that, in fact, this is what women are for. She connects that to the apparently quite dramatic rise in rape in India.

VS: Hugely dramatic.  Eight hundred percent since the ‘70s and more than 250 percent since India’s economy, was as they say, made "more open" [with globalization]—more open to more violence against women.

RM: From where I sit here in New York, it seems heartening that women in numbers never seen before and accompanied by men as well have been on the streets in not only Delhi but across India.  They haven’t quite made the connections you’re making, but they are on the move protesting violence against women.

What can we do to turn the enormity of this around?  It’s always for example, blown me away, that a woman who is, say, in her fifteenth hour of labor, straining away—the doctor and the nurses and the anesthesiologists are all productive because they are wage labor, but the woman who is actually giving birth is not considered in a productive act.

VS: I think that is the foundational error. Everything that replenishes is treated as not producing at all and everything that’s degrades, everything that depletes, is treated as production.  I call it the creation boundary, which has given us the fiction of growth and the Gross Domestic Product—that destructive acts are creative acts of produce. The really creative acts of nature—of women in their tremendous diversity and amazing ability to juggle 50 jobs, 50 responsibilities—their whole society and economy are treated as unproductive. That, I think, is the most important shift we need to make.

As you know Robin, I come from the part of the Himalayas where it's recognized that women are the main productive force. They go out in the forests [to work] and there's nothing like the rape [that occurs] when you come into the plains where women are no longer considered productive. When I, with my sister, Dr. Meta Shiva, was studying female feticide, we realized that the map of high growth in the patriarchal measure are the same zones with the high levels of extermination of girls—fifty million girls haven't been allowed to be born in the last few decades.

The response in Delhi is beautiful for a number of reasons.

The first, that the younger generation has come. The younger generation was absent from social movements, especially the middle class because they were getting it so good with globalization—the IT jobs that moved to India. They were all seeing themselves as individual consumers, so society did not matter to them. But this rape reminded them that it could have been them coming back from their IT farms, from their phone call service centers.

The second difference is, while we have had a feminist movement in India for a long time, it was only the women. The beauty now is, young men joined. It was a young man who was defending this girl in that bus.  I think for the first time, there’s this new generational solidarity that’s emerging. Those very gutsy young people who are being beaten up and sprayed with tear gas and water canons realized that the state has become militarized. The state itself is a patriarchal institution. It will take time. There will be the hysterical voices saying death sentence, death sentence! But new connections have started to germinate that are really going to make a serious change.

RM: That’s very encouraging.  When you look at the global scale of things, I confess that I look to women not only because we are the majority and that permits more peaceable and more, how shall I say, witty and ingenious new strategies, but also because there’s no area that isn’t a women’s issue.  We spill over into everything if the connections are made.  I definitely see the global women’s movement as the politics of the 21st Century.

VS: We are really living through a period of collapse of all kinds in the patriarchic system.  The collapse of the financial economy they’ve built, a collapse of the eco-systems they have raped.  The UN has recognized that 90 percent of eco-systems are on the verge of collapse, if not already collapsed.  In this period, it’s the creative principle which women bring to bear for the simple reason that they were left to look after the real stuff of life, the goals that really mattered.  So they bring both another world view, another mindset, and other capacities, other skills—which is why I run a grandmother’s university at the new school I created in Dehradun called the Earth University.

RM: I love it.

VS: Ghandi always said a prayer, “Make me more womanly.”  If there is going to be a future for humanity, it will have to be a womanly future. I go to Europe and young men will bring me my books [to sign] and say, "I'm an ecofeminist, Dr. Shiva." That to me is a major, major shift. A shift to a creative economy where women start defining and playing the leadership role but others recognize that there has to be a mind shift.

RM: Whenever I talk to you, I feel both incredibly depressed because one is made yet again to realize the severity of the situation and at the same time, incredibly optimistic because I get from you a validation of everything that we’ve been trying to do and will do more and even better and with more people involved in the future. 

I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your wisdom and your perceptions and for everything that you do.

VS: And Robin, I want to thank you for your vision and leadership and your love.

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