Globalization and Women: A Christian Response
Dr. W S Annie
Globalization is a totalitarian ideology affecting all the areas of life. It is characterized by the dominance of neo-liberal democracy, free market capitalism, western culture, the spiritual values of Western civilization and the leading role of American political and military power. Competition, efficiency, individualism, acquisitiveness, greed, false values, commodity fetishism and materialism are its values. Neo-liberalism is the economic theory which guides globalization. According to neo-liberalism labour must be rationalized – reduced to be cost effective. It believes in marketization of every labour activity, commodification of everything on universe, privatization of all public enterprises. Liberalization of all labour regulation. From here on, when the term globalization is mentioned in this paper, it refers to economic globalization, not the other aspects of globalization that happens to have positive effect on humanity.
India in Transition
India remained as a traditional society to a great extent in the early 19th century. Changes, came in 1858 A.D., after the proclamation of Queen Victoria (taking over Indian administration from East India Company), paved the way for constituting civil society in India. This paved the way for a political change in India. Today’s, advanced industrial Indian society, with the onslaught of modernity is different from the traditional agro-literate society. It’s new 'episteme" is different from that of the inter-webbed cosmology of the agricultural one. The latter was a society based on agriculture (including pastoralism). It was endowed with a fairly stable technology. The vision on which that society was based presupposed a stable partnership between nature and society, in which nature was not merely a source of raw materials, but an inter-webbed reality, which justifies the social order. What really matters for a member of such a society is that he/she be well placed on its hierarchical scale (caste in Indian society). The destiny of the individual went together with the destiny of the community. This has drastically changed in our age of globalization.
How Globalization affects poor Women?
In India, women do not constitute a homogeneous social category. The role that women play in the society depends to a considerable extent on the interplay of factors like patriarchy, caste, class and production relations. The effect of globalization would vary considerably according to the socio-cultural order it comes in contact with. The actual impact on different societies would depend in large part on the pre-existing economic, social, political and cultural order. In other words, when patriarchy gets appropriated and incorporated into the mechanism of globalization, it poses a greater threat to the weaker sections including women than anticipated. Following are few ill effects of globalization on women.
Less public spending: Over the last decade or so, banks and industries have become instruments of re-colonization. After the onset of the debt crisis in 1982 A.D., private banks refused to make any new loans until debtor countries signed agreements with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Meanwhile, control over the IMF and the WB policies have remained firmly in the hands of Northern Governments, voting power having been assigned according to each country's relative economic weight.
In the early 1980s, India's highly bureaucratized centralized economy changed from a closed, protected status into an open and free market with an open door policy. This has led to increasing imports resulting in foreign exchange being squandering away. In March 1991 India had no foreign exchange reserves, faced a huge debt default, which prompted Narasimha Rao to welcome the Structural Adjustment Programme. With it came the IMF conditionalities, devaluation of the rupees, privatization of key sectors and industries, cutting down of social spending such as on PDS, health and education. The whole aim was to service the debt. The SAP has had its most disastrous effects on women.
Public Distribution System (PDS): Poor women as a rule depend on the ration shop for their food grain; expect the once who got rice as their wages for their farm labour or who were not able to digest the ration rice. The subsidy cut on PDS has hit them very badly. The food intake is low which leads to anemia, malnutrition and ill health.
Health: Government hospitals were doing a wonderful job before liberalization of the Indian Economy. The Constitution of India guarantees that the State should raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living of its people and the improvement of public health (Article 47). But after the liberalization of the economy subsidies are cut on health services and medicines. There are no enough medicines, doctors, beds and paramedical staff in the government hospitals. Severe illness and hospitalization is a real problem for the poor. Sickness drains off all that the poor has. Nevertheless, the government hospitals are doing service to the poor. But SAP seriously curbs it.
Education: Education was, another field cared by the government. With that in focus Primary education was made compulsory. There were lots of incentives provided for the children to go to school. But primary education is a neglected field now. The poor, who find it difficult to feed themselves and their families, cannot afford to educate their children1. The children of poor families have their education in government aided schools. The Constitution of India guarantees that the State should promote with special care the education and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation (Article 46). But, the World Bank's condition to reduce public spending cannot be applied to education. If the subsidies on education are cut more children will drop out of schools and they will ultimately end up as child labourers. In cases where wage labour is scanty and wages are very low, children also are included in the labour market and their wages becomes inevitable for the survival of the family. This may be a reason for the existence of a large child labour force in India.
In the Indian context, given the existing gender inequalities, women require active governmental support for their social and economic advance. As they are not in a position to bear the relentless logic of the market forces on their own, any reduction in governmental expenditure involving the public distribution system, education, health care and other infra-structural supportive activities, is bound to have an adverse effect on the quality of their life. Many banks stopped issuing loans to the farmers. This lead to the shortage of food items in the market and inflation rouse as high as 44% in 2008 C.E.
These cuts in subsidies have to be seen in the large policies of the government. That means, while social welfare subsidies have been cut there is a hike in defense, government, military and police expenditure. The ideology of national security undermines the social security of the people. In the process the nation state threatens to alienate the people of the nation. The poor are alienated. Even when contrary to the popular perception, it is likely, that the poorer people actually pay out a larger share of their income in the form of taxes than the rich2. Bert Hoedemaker says, 'The core of the problem is, 'that the 'project' of modern nationalization seems to have reached its limits, at least the limits of its humanizing effects; it is widely experienced as dehumanizing3.
Caste system: Globalization really creates an impasse. It seems to provide liberation for women from casteism. It does provide space (malls, export companies, industries), a work place where caste is a non-issue. But in reality the poor dalit women’s labour is exploited. Liberalism talked of minimum wages, maximum hours of work, job security, unions etc., that were labour friendly. But in neo-liberalism hire and fire, labour flexibility, rationalisation is the jargons. In such situations poor women do not have any say. They have to stay in inhuman working conditions as long as possible. It seems, as such, globalization has empowered the dalit women. But, it is exploitation in a different form. Dalit women should have gained some social space. But the company, for a small wage squeezes all of their time, energy and talent. Again, they remain to stay in the exploited condition - earlier by the caste system and now by the International capital4. Caste, in its various guises, is deep and is embodied, forming a habitus which continues to be reproduced: caste is finally reproduced through the family, which continues to maintain and defend its borders5. Caste remains the modality through which class, in the modern Indian context, is lived6.
The Evil Marriage – Dowry Nexuses: Marriage is considered compulsory in Indian society. According to Hinduism marriage is a dharma. It is to perform the dharma of procreation, continuation of life. Married life is a fruit bearing life and unmarried life is a fruitless life. It is the responsibility of the parents to find a suitable protector for their daughters. These are the unwritten ideas, which rush parents to get their daughters married. More than young girls being prepared to face the different challenges of life, develop their skills and talents, they are more prepared to lead a married life as a subservient wife and responsible mother7. In remote villages where strict caste endogamy is followed parents fear that their daughter may elope with a man of different caste. This fear is one among the reason for early marriages. Also the idea of security is related with marriage. Children in a marriage are considered to be the security of the parents in their old age. Parents expect their children to care for them in their old age. The above reasons pressurize parents to get their daughters married as soon as possible.
Marriage is also for a pair of helping hands in the groom’s house. Marriage means the prospect of timely home cooked food. When women fail to do their household work they are coerced by force to perform the work that is expected from them8.
Half a century ago the much talked about dowry was strange to dalit, tribal communities. But this evil practice has made its in road in the past few decades. Dowry is a form of consumerism, which has caught up the subsistence communities. Gold ornaments, silver, brass utensils demanded during the marriage are also seen as assets that can be mortgaged during the hour of crises in the family (all the subsistence labour are seasonal and temporary. The practice of monthly salary in the organized, semi-organised sector is not relevant to these labourers.) The ideology of marriage – as –a – must is very well capitalized by the consumer culture in the form of dowry. Dowry is an easy exit mechanism forced on woman and her family.
One among the reason for dowry crimes is the desire of the bride’s family to get their daughters married into a well to do family or a highly qualified and earning groom. The groom’s family may aspire to improve their economic status by fetching money from the bride’s family. Unachieved aspirations leads to dowry violence.
Marriage an institution originally meant for the sharing of love, wealth and all of two individuals has certainly become a market. The wealth (dowry) package determines many marriages. Women are commodities in this transaction. These issues raise the questions; are marriages to be compulsory or optional ? Is marriage the only way of life? Is it also, not good for both men and women to stay unmarried? These issues rise in the background of this study. But they are unanswered because it is beyond the scope of this book.
Depiction of Women in Media: Mass Media has played a significant role in promoting the most regressive stereotypes of women as role models. Mass Media portrays women as home-based, submissive, sex objects, dependent on men and other roles given to them. Though there are more women joining the Mass Media today, there is less space for progressive reporting on gender justice9. Negative depiction of women in media results in more violence against women.
“And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” Romans 12: 2.
Biblically, people who belong to God’s new age, should live in a way suitable to the new age. Paul also used the word here translated ‘transformed’ in 2 Cor 3:18, to describe how believers are changed into the likeness of Christ. Christian believers are already been changed. The mind that God has renewed can recognize and discover God’s will. This process goes on throughout our lives and is part of the excitement of following Jesus Christ10.
The purpose of theology is, therefore, to influence and change the character of the public discourse in the society. It cannot be achieved through rejection; resistance and opposition alone. All the three are necessary, but not sufficient. What is required is the creation of a counter culture through constructive undertakings, which would alter the existing public discourse generated by globalisation, consumerism, communalism and patriarchy. This can be achieved only through the revitalisation of indigenous cultural, religious resources, remoulding them to face the contemporary challenges, at the same time without being obscurantist and revivalist. The formation of local communities with the ability to intimately intervene in the cultural, religious life of the people is the necessary beginning for the creation of a counter culture.
The term re-flectere means ‘to bend back’. Reflexivity is a term derived from re-flectere. Subjects or agents are said to be reflexive insofar as they are ‘concept-bearing animals’ that possess the capacity to ‘turn back upon’ and monitor their own actions. Reflexivity is to think of ones own actions and the way a persons self is constituted. This helps a person to situate him/herself in their specific context and examine the different factors, which contributes for the moulding of their ‘self’. This examining can help the person to reconstitute their ‘self’ and bring about transformation.
Reflexivity opens up the possibility of overcoming the opposition between the nihilistic relativism of postmodern ‘deconstruction’ and the scientific absolutism of modernism. Reflexivity can help the women to reflect on the social structures, ideas and values that keep them bonded and exploited. It is their responsibility to form a reflective society. The business of an agent and a theologian is to denaturalize and to defatalize the social world, that is, to destroy the myths that cloak the exercise of power and the perpetuation of domination. The theological presupposition of prophetic witness and critical participation is that there is nothing given (natural inferior status of women, fate) and God’s world has to be transformed into a better place for all to have an abundant life. There are many instance in the Biblical record, where women raised to work for social transformation and transformation of their own condition. Few instance where Women have transformed there condition by, transgression, subversion and critical reasoning are dealt with respectively.
Woman with a flow of blood (Lk. 8:40, 42b-48) transforms her condition by transgression. The taboo against women during pregnancy and menstruation was common among many nations in pre-Christian centuries. It was legislated for in the Hebrew code in Leviticus and carried through into Christian times, and it lasted over very many, centuries. Not only were women considered to be “impure” during these periods, but in danger of communicating their impurity to others. This factor, more than any other, has been the cause of the ostracizing of woman kind – impeding them from participating in social, political and religious meetings.
But in the story we learn that Jesus, instead of condemning the women for touching him when she was impure, Jesus goes on to appreciate her for her faith in Him. Further, He also heals her. This is strikingly in contrast to the Jewish culture. Thus, Jesus affirms that women who are created by God, are pure. The women in the story took the initiate for change that was affirmed by Jesus.
Secondly, here women transform their condition by subversion. Exodus 1: 15 – 22 talks about the Pharaoh’s power, which is anti–life. The king asks the mid wives Puah and Shiphrah to side with him and be a part of his adventure in killing life; the Israelite male children. The deep fear of the outcast (Hebrews) has evoked a policy of systematic murder of precisely the babies who might be the most productive workers in the state system. The new policy is indeed irrational, suggesting that fear and rage love produced a deep insanity in imperial policy11.
The women do not obey the Pharaoh. They exercised their life enhancing power to disobey the Pharaoh. They are more interested in saving the life of the children risking their life. May be if they obeyed the Pharaoh they should have got the favour of the Pharaoh. Instead they preferred Gods favour. Therefore they were blessed with families.
Thirdly, the accepted social norm of those days was 'Every man under his vine and under his fig tree' (I Kings 4:25). Thus the prophet Micah says, ' They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of Yahweh of hosts has spoken' (Micah 4;4). Zelophehad had five daughters and no sons. His daughters would not receive any portion of land in the Promised Land. The courageous five women go to the Tent of Meeting and are brought before Moses. They make known before God and amazingly, the daughters are granted their demand. (Numbers 27:1-11)12.
Moses transfers the inheritance of Zelophehad to his daughters, so that they are able to take possession of the land. Three theological foundations under gird the divine ruling. Firstly, God owns the land (lev 25:23). Secondly, divine ownership means that the status of Israel is that of a tenant of the land. No humans have an inherent right to any portion of the land, because all receive land as a divine gift. Thirdly, the social implication of this divine gift is that each Israelite’s right to a portion of land is inalienable. No parcel of land can be permanently sold or taken away from its clan of origin13. This means that every citizen should be left undisturbed to enjoy his/her rights in the society. Encroachment on others' rights naturally disturbs the community harmony and tampers one's commitment in severe terms, irrespective of the status of the person concerned. During the Old Testament times anything, which spoiled the community harmony or reduced people to paupers was prohibited. Zelophehad’s daughters’ critical reasoning helped them to have their fathers land, that would sustain them. The above, biblical examples are of women who brought transformation and they are good enough examples for women to imitate today.
Women as agents are co-workers with God who are endowed with the Spirit of transformation in them. Globalization denies agency to women. Transformation is a necessary step to be taken by all men and women from all walks of life. Civil society should be radicalized for the transformation of social consciousness. It should be challenged to perform its creative and critical functions. Women, who are traditionally taught to deny and be subjugated, should be empowered to critically reflect and participate in the transformation of society. Women as agents should reflexively participate as co-workers with God who destroys the myth of domination or anything that negates and destroys life and transform this world into a better place for all to live.
1 Even with, subsidies, parents find it difficult to send their children to school. The children themselves add their mite to parents’ income by working for daily wages. But with the stipulation of the WB to reduce public spending the government will be forced to do other wise, inspite of its constitutional guarantee according to article 46.
2 Frontline, 8 June 2001, 109.
3 M.M. Thomas, “Dialogue Among Religions and Ideologies on a Post-Modern Humanism,” in Prejudice: Issues in Third World Theologies, edited by Andreas Nehruing (Chennai: GLTC,1996), 322.
4 Fillipino Osella and Caroline Osella who studied the social mobility of the Izhava community in Valiagrammam in Kollam district in Kerala state record that Valiagrammam remains the same as ever. The mass of Izhavas stand clearly above the mass of Pulayas in terms of employment status and below the mass of Brahmans, Nayars and Christians. This is reflected in the brute fact of percentages of each major community working as unskilled manual labourers: 23.3 percent of Izhavas; 50.5 percent of Pulayas; o percent of Brahmans; 7 percent of Nayars and 7.1 percent of Christians.
5 Fillipino Osella, Op. Cit., 251.
6 Ibid., 256.
7 The writer is not against women being wives and mothers, but she considers that these roles need not determine women’s life.
8 Gabriele Dietrich, Women’s Movement in India: Conceptual and Religious Reflections (Bangalore: Breakthrough Publications, 1988), 100.
9 Media and Gender Justice (Bangalore: SCMI Publication, NY), 5.
10 Roger Bowen, A Guide to Romans ( Delhi: ISPCK, 1975), 157n.
11 Walter Brueggemann, “Exodus”, New Interpreters Bible, vol.1 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), 696.
12 Laivet Mami, “Claiming My Inheritance,” In God’s Image 19/2 (June 2000): 40.
13 Thomas B. Dozeman, “Leviticus”, New Interpreters Bible, vol.1, 217-218.