An eco-feminist reading of debt to think differently about auditing

4 March by Camille Bruneau

The citizen audit of public debt is an essential tool to regain control of public finances, first, by making data on the debt process and budget allocation accessible and clear in order to determine their legitimacy, second, by drawing economic and political conclusions and establishing permanent people’s monitoring. Audit is even more relevant in the current context of economic crisis whose causes (including financial causes) were already present before the pandemic that triggered it.

Indeed, the invisibilization of social reproduction processes and ecocidal extractivist practices characteristic of capitalism are responsible for the scope of the health crisis, both in terms of the propagation speed of the virus (exaggerated displacements, food industry, deforestation...) and of the (in)ability to manage it (social and health sectors in particular). Political responses confirm that this crisis is not a simple “economic” or “health” issue, but involves our relationship to care, to others and to the living. Therefore, an ecofeminist audit of the debt is required.

 A Feminist Audit of Debt facing Patriarchal Capitalism

We refer to “patriarchal capitalism” as these two systems feed off each other. They lean on the work of social reproduction supported free of charge or underpaid by a majority of women, especially racialized or precarious ones. This sexual and racial division of labor is central to patriarchal domination and capitalism accumulation, and there is nothing “natural” about it.

Debt, as a central tool of wealth transfer and political control in favor of dominant classes, affect women in the first place since they are:

  1. the most represented in sectors concerned by budget cuts (public services such as health and education);
  2. the main users of social allowances and cut public services (family planning, nurseries and crèches, maternity wards, family allowances, water, transport...);
  3. those who make up for suppression or inaccessibility of these services;
  4. the first global producers and farmers whose means of subsistence are destroyed by neoliberalism;
  5. the heads of household who have to contract debts to meet their needs;
  6. the first victims of sexist violence, a violence that is exacerbated by poverty and the lack of social protection.

Thus, women are creditors of an immense social debt, owed to them by the whole of society, in particular by the capitalist class, men and the state. Also called “reproductive debt” or “care debt”, this to often invisible debt has to be made visible and the balance Balance End of year statement of a company’s assets (what the company possesses) and liabilities (what it owes). In other words, the assets provide information about how the funds collected by the company have been used; and the liabilities, about the origins of those funds. of power and the scale of values have to be reversed. The health crisis and lockdown have contributed to highlighting this reality, particularly the place of marginalized women in “essential” activities. Political responses have been profoundly inadequate. A feminist non-payment of the debt therefore seems to be an obvious conclusion.

 An eco-feminist reading of debt

Ecofeminisms are increasingly imposing themselves as essential analytical grids and practices for composing a desirable future. One of their common denominators is the parallel drawn between the exploitation of women and of nature. The dominant order removes all value and invisibilizes the other pillar of the reproduction of life on earth: the regenerative capacities of “nature”, which are also necessary for capitalist accumulation.

The contribution of ecofeminisms is to make this link explicit, and to affirm the need for interwoven and united struggles that do not prioritize the stakes. One of the central problems of our societies is to have denied the importance of “taking care” (of the human and non-human) and to make it a collective and shared responsibility. The neo-liberal project, among other things, consists of the invisibility and externalization of regenerative processes that are essential to our well-being, which has destroyed - especially through austerity measures - our capacity to face the multiple crises it generates.

An ecofeminist reading of debt allows us to tackle these problems at their roots by rejecting the common logic that feeds them, via a few key questions: What is meant by debt? What really matters? Who owes what to whom? Who owns what? Who produces for whom?

 The North is a production of the South

Western “modernity” was built over 500 years of robbery, rape and murder organized by colonization, resource looting, land grabbing, slavery, and so on. This process continues through the reorganization of the work of production and reproduction, among other things on the basis of the appropriation of the work of women in the South (including those who migrate to wealthy countries to take over part of the care: domesticity, childcare, care...). This goes hand in hand with the appropriation of natural resources and greater financial flows from South to North than from North to South.

A first proposal would be to recognize the existence of a colossal social, colonial, ecological and reproductive debt.

 Understanding debt differently

A debt is not just a coercive relationship. It is also a relationship of “duty”, “dependence”, “accountability”, and even “gratitude”. The concept applies to tangible things (money, “resources”, “services”) but it is also useful when we look at the heavy past and present of exploitation and destruction that has created what some people call a “metabolic imbalance” due to a lack of reciprocity with respect to what we take.

The current model gives power to so-called “male” values of competitiveness and makes invisible care, reproduction, activities and processes essential to life, but regarded as exploitable “resources”.

An ecofeminist perspective also recognizes what is known as an “embodied” debt, owed to all marginalized entities, individuals and communities that nevertheless regenerate living and productive conditions. These include small farmers and indigenous peoples, mothers, and those who have a daily link and experience with the processes of regeneration and reproduction.

Ecofeminism is an invitation to understand the links not only between the common and inseparable dominations and logics that make it a system, but also the interdependence between us and the world that surrounds us.

The proposal for an ecofeminist “audit” of the debt could be conceived in two stages:

  1. The idea put forward by Yolanda Vargas of “ecofeminism as an alternative to budget cuts”: “[It is necessary] to reflect on the reality of our current world with the keys that feminism and ecology give us: to change the paradigm and stop considering the market as a measure of value and to put the sustainability of life at the center of public policies. Rethinking our value systems and accountability relationships in order to”redo the accounts". This means a massive cancellation of illegitimate debts in order to start afresh on a better basis where resources (including property) and budgets are allocated differently.”
  2. Recognize that “caring” does not refer only to humans but to all living things. This requires not only giving the right value to the processes and practices of caring for communities and ecosystems (knowledge, maintenance of the commons, “natural” processes, etc.) but also radically rethinking our place in the world: moving from the pyramid to the circle.

In short, to make visible the invisible and to draw inspiration from already existing practices to imagine more desirable alternatives, and also to recognize, hear, revive, and resurrect the voices of the struggles of the women of the South. Some avenues to be developed:

By integrating all of these considerations, an audit can have a major political impact.

Article taken from the magazine AVP - Les autres voix de la planète, “Des audit pour démonter la dette” published in December 2020. The magazine is available for free consultation, purchase and subscription.

Translated by Melissa Baleka Da Silva and Christine Pagnoulle




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