Connecting Women and Globalization

Betsy Bowman
Bob Stone
The Center for Global Justice
Thursday, September 1, 2005

San Miguel’s Center for Global Justice recently hosted a hugely successful conference on “Women and Globalization.” From July 27 to August 3 over 185 registered participants from 13 different countries focused on why women have been most adversely affected by globalization and how they have been most creative in resisting it and inventing alternatives.

The fully bi-lingual conference brought together researchers and activists, the global North and the global South, men and women.

Most represented were the US and Mexico with 100 and 50 participants, respectively, but Argentina, Cuba and Brazil were well represented, as was India, Germany, Poland, Philippines, South Africa and Nicaragua.

Fifty of the papers presented are now available for free download and printing from our website, most in both Spanish and English. See

Globalization is the spreading of capitalist relations of ownership and production to previously non-capitalist, communally-based societies. We can draw an analogy with capitalism’s beginnings in first England, then in Europe. When manor lords fenced in communal land, previously independent subsistence farmers were separated from their means of living and reproducing their lives and forced into wage labor in factories. Globalization is today imposing this on so-called undeveloped countries. Because capitalism is the accumulation of labor power and because it must continually expand the workforce, more and more people must be be brought into the workforce. Hence globalization’s expansion to the so-called third world.

Our conference asked why globalization disproportionately hits women. In traditional and pre-capitalist societies a large part of each person’s life comes from communal ownership and subsistence agriculture. This places a high value on the labor of reproducing life, most of which is done by women. Under capitalism, only waged work to produce items that can be sold on markets is valued, work that is male-dominated. By undercutting rural agriculature and substituting for it “productive” male labor, initiatives like NAFTA separate waged work from that of raising children, the future workforce, and caring for husbands, the current workforce. But while traditional women’s work of caring for children and the sick and elderly, keeping house and preparing food, is not paid like factory work, it is essential to reproducing the labor force. Had this work been paid, capitalism could never have developed. Therefore we can see that the rise of capitalism and the present renewed accumulation of capital were built on 700 years of unpaid labor of millions of women around the world, continuing today.

One disappointment was the absence of over 40 participants from an additional 16 countries who wanted to come but could not. Many, especially from Ghana, Nigeria and other sub-Saharan states, could not satisfy new visa requirements of the Mexican government on visitors, including purchasing round-trip tickets prior to visa approval.

Conference workings were dominated by what anthropologists call the gift economy. The behind-the-scenes slogan was “from each according to her/his ability, to each according to her/his need.” Free lodging was provided over 50 participants. About 35 received scholarships for donated lunches and dinners. Local volunteers did the registration, excursions, and provided interpreting and even purified water. The expert, professional donated labor of Babels, a cooperative of translators serving the alter-globalization movement, was perhaps the greatest single gift to the conference.

The Center plans a fund-raising party for October that will provide an occasion to thank roughly 100 San Miguel residents who donated lodging, food, or labor to the conference.

The conference passed several resolutions. One affirmed solidarity with the grieving families of disappeared women in Juarez and Chihuahua; another opposed the U.S. blockade of Cuba.

The 2006 topic — “Another World is Necessary: Justice, Sustainable Development, and Sovereignty” — was set at the Business Meeting, which also chose a Program Committee to realize it and a Coordinating Committee to run the Center. Our next column will focus on the participants’ presentations.