“We remind the leaders of the world’s richest, most powerful nations that in truth, the North owes the South. The wealth of the North has been accumulated largely at the expense of the South – our land, our minerals, our forests, and waters, our labour, our communities, our economics, our cultures, our governments, our freedom, our lives.” – Jubilee South, Network of Southern Justice Movements

Women’s rights and environmental rights are just some examples of what is excluded from most commentary of the current economic crisis. Social justice movements all over the world believe that feminist and ecological perspectives are crucial in helping us to understand the real impacts of mainstream economics on our real-life experiences. These perspectives might offer new solutions to growing inequality and the destruction of the natural world. We suggest that the values and ethics of feminist and ecological perspectives offer us a fresh understanding of economics, allowing space for the things that matter in our lives, like power, care, solidarity and sustainability.

Learning outcome

That participants will gain an understanding of feminist and ecological perspectives and how they apply to economic justice issues.

Blogger: Cathleen O’Neill
Session Question: How can feminists and ecological perspectives help explain the world? Does the progress of capitalism depend on the exploitation of both women and the environment?

Keywords: Capitalism Care Labour Love Labour Neoliberal Patriarchal Structure Recession Second Wave Feminism Social Policy Solidarity Care

Response to Women’s Perspectives, Ecological Perspectives

by Cathleen O’Neill

The Caoin

I started to scream again today
A slow sad scream of frustrated anger
Today I wailed at the wall of officialdom!
Smug, smiling, filing cabinet face
Closed to my desperate entreaty
Social justice is a right
Don’t dole it out like charity
I stood there, dead-locked, mind-locked
Helpless in his sightless one dimension world
With dignity in danger, I turned and
Slowly, silently I walked away
And my mind screamed a slow , sad caoin for the Women
And damned their Patriarchy

During the recession in the mid 80’s I was a very young mother with 5 children who had been forced onto social welfare after a marriage breakup. The combination of recession, depression, feminism and poverty made for a fast learning curve as I battled week after week with one state or political official or another for survival. As an introduction to this article I start with a poem that I had published during those battles, and sadly those same feelings evident in the poem are as unchanged today as the day it was written.

Yet, there was hope to be found in the 80’s. The second wave of feminism was still having an impact, particularly in the media, as women journalists debated the issues and produced a raft of TV and radio programmes to raise awareness of the issues facing women. Working class women were setting up daytime adult education centres that were community based. Politics, feminism, women’s publishing houses and community based writing groups gave a voice to women. It was possible in those days to meet with and lobby your local TD or government minister to advocate on behalf of your community or group. Out of this space many voluntary projects and community development projects were funded by the state.

Yes there was poverty and social class discrimination; yes there was huge inequality in the state; in schools, in work and politics. But there was a hope, that between the women’s movement, the community based groups, the voluntary sector- and our friends in Europe, we could bring about change. In our classrooms and groups we discussed how the Poverty Industry worked, we tried to understand Economics, and the Law, and the role of the Exchequer and the banks and how Europe could be an ally through its various funding opportunities for women’s groups. We became experts at writing and costing funding proposals, writing business plans, finding European partners etc. It feels like we slipped seamlessly from one recession to the next, and that our feminist ideology and perspectives took a heavy battering along the way. Whilst the Celtic Tiger roared, we concentrated on community development and networking. We worked with our communities to build capacity. In some cases we entered into private/public regeneration partnerships, building houses, community halls, schools and other essential community needs.

And then, at a stroke, we watched as the politicians and the whole Neo Liberal structure swept us off the table. We lost our own advocates in the Equality Authority, The Combat Poverty Agency, The Irish Human Rights Commission and we lost our own community development projects. More crucially, we found that our lobbying tactics were falling on deaf ears as They closed their ears and doors to our plea for social justice. And the media completely turned its back on us as they danced to the Neo Liberal tune.

We were battling on the ground to save our projects and communities, to support women who were experiencing domestic violence, persistent poverty, the care crisis, the disability crisis. We marched and protested to draw attention to the fact that women make up the majority of people living in poverty. Households headed by women are at the greatest risk of poverty. Women with a disability are twice as likely to live in poverty. Cuts to social welfare were life and death issues and affected women more than men. We screamed as loud as we could that the State was conducting a war against the poor, that is was actively engaged in hostile, economic and cultural action against women. It was to no affect, our protest went unheard even as we continued the fight.

In the present crisis we totally need to push our feminist perspective worldwide. We need to end the gender blind nature of government and social policies. We must educate ourselves and the policy makers about the fact that women make up the majority of the working poor, that they are mostly in low paid jobs, with zero hour contracts, and so on. The whole nature of Care Labour or Solidarity Care needs to be debated in political and public forums – for without Solidarity Labour Capitalism cannot continue to grow. We must promote the work of feminist writers and economists. They have produced fantastic research and policies. It is clear to us all that Capitalism relies on the existence of unpaid work (Love Labour)  that is done by women globally in order to satisfy its greed and growth. We should demand that the feminist voice be included in the mainstream commentary on the current global economic crisis. And we must ensure that our own values and ethics can offer new ways of Naming our own world and bring about positive change for all. Patriarchal structures and Capitalism will not be changed without a massive battle being fought, but we are able and ready to win this challenge.

As mentioned already, these are life and death issues for ourselves and our communities and our world.


1: Video: Vandana Shiva on Democracy Now!, ‘Capitalist Patriarchy’s has Aggravated Violence Against Women’

In this video Vandana Shiva speaks to fellow woman activist Amy Goodman about the connection between different forms of violence. She says “We are living in a violent economic order to which war has become essential; war against the earth, war against women’s bodies, war against local economies, and war against democracy.’

2: Feminist Economics: A Brief Introduction

This resource describes how the unpaid work and major contribution of women to society is typically written out of the economic story, and the impact this has.

3: When Climate Justice Means Fewer Cuts – Nick Deardon

In this brief article, Nick Deardon tells us that we need to claim our own story. In this new story economic justice and environmental justice go hand in hand.

4: Video: Introduction to Climate Justice and Climate Injustice

This video gives an introduction to Climate Justice – poor countries are far more susceptible to the impacts of climate change than the rich countries who are responsible for the crisis. The video was made in Canada, so has a slight focus from Canada, but is still relevant to everyone.

Extra reading

Barker, D.K., & Feiner, S.F., (2004). Chapter 1 ”Economics’, She Wrote’ in Liberating Economics: Feminist Perspectives on Families, Work and Globalization, (University of Michigan Press).

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