Economic Democracy

 

Economics is politics in technical drag - British feminist economist, 2005

In the same way that political democracy empowers citizens, economic democracy promotes the economic empowerment of all citizens to prevent the concentration of economic power that drives inequality and undermines development. At JASS, our interest in economic democracy comes from our belief that women’s equality demands that decisions shaping access and control of resources and the wellbeing of all should be made through fair, transparent, and accountable processes by all women and men whose lives are directly affected.

JASS’ economic democracy initiative is in the early stages but builds on JASS’ previous work with trade unions, and land rights, debt-forgiveness and economic justice alliances through our program, Economic Rights and Citizen Action (2003-2006). This initiative seeks to: 

  • Develop and promote strategies that combine women’s political and economic empowerment addressing needs while advancing rights;
  • Increase women’s economic literacy to demystify economic policy and politics, and strengthen their activism, citizen education and political organizing on relevant issues;
  • Document, promote and scale up the women’s creative economic alternatives from savings cooperatives to forest management systems;
  • Explore and develop strategies to mobilize women’s untapped economic power as consumers, creditors, shareholders and workers; and 
  • Bring women’s economic alternatives and experiences into important discussions about sustainable development and democracy (more information: Making Change Happen 2).

Soaring food prices, chronic unemployment, international financial scandals, and the worldwide austerity agenda are pushing poor people, the vast majority of whom are women, deeper and deeper into poverty and widening the inequality gap. At the heart of this worldwide trend is a lack of democracy. International banks and multinational corporations have outsized influence on government economic policies and priorities while citizens and movements are squeezed out of the conversation. Neoliberalism, the one-size-fits-all economic policy framework that makes privatization, wage controls, deregulation and reducing the public debt the only options on the table regardless of the context, is packaged as politically neutral. In reality, strict adherence to these policy prescriptions – often referred to as “market fundamentalism” – have proven to serve the wealthy interests of a privileged few contributing to corruption, crony capitalism and environmentally destructive development. Turning citizens into mere consumers, these policies shrink government capacity to enforce rights and provide for basic welfare.  With sexism embedded in all economic institutions, women are hurt doubly by growing economic insecurity and the lack of economic democracy from the Fortune 500 to the community level where women are still last in gaining access to land and fertilizer.

"...if economic thinking pervades the whole of society, even simple non-economic values like beauty, health, or cleanliness can survive only if they prove to be ‘economic’." - Marilyn Waring, economist

Citizen Responses

But opportunities for change, emerging movements, and alternatives exist and are being created by women at different levels every day.  Though economies are more volatile and inequality deeper, women are also emerging as the majority of the world’s consumers, a growing presence and influence in the workforce, an increasing voice as shareholders, and more. The untapped potential of women’s economic collective power at all levels hold great promise for feminist and economic justice agendas.     

Today, many social justice activists and movements are also pushing back against the one-size-fits-all economic policies and the inequality they have aggravated. From Occupy Wall Street’s reminder that “We are the 99%” to the reclaiming of “the commons” and the food sovereignty movement, women are on the forefront of efforts to create alternatives and confront economic exploitation.  From savings and loan clubs to workers cooperatives, women are developing economic alternatives.  Organizing informal sector and part-time workers to defend their rights and carrying out grassroots campaigns against corporate land grabs and the unchecked exploitation of natural resources, women are demanding a bigger say in economic development.

Through this initiative, JASS works with organizers to document and publicize their innovations, and supports the frontline activists with training, accompaniment and other resources for protection and influence.