Feminist political economy peacebuilding alternatives

Ideally, feminist peace, as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has advocated for over a century, involves an economically, socially, and gender-just world that addresses the eradication of poverty, enables people’s rights and access to resources and political participation, their protection from violence and insecurities, as well as respect for, and protection of, the natural environment and planet. Gender justice is “the ending of—and if necessary, the provisions of redress for—inequalities between women and men that result in women’s subordination to men” (Goetz, 2007, pp. 30—31). It requires a minimum standard of enjoyment of rights and access to resources by women because inequalities in the distribution of resources and opportunities prevent subordinated individuals from building human, social, economic, and political capital (Goetz, 2007, pp. 27, 31). Where resources are scarce, basic welfare, and social infrastructure including education, health care, social security, and childcare are undermined (Goetz, 2007; UNSG, 2018).

There is growing evidence that suggests investment in social infrastructure (such as state- and community-provisioned health care, education, childcare, transportation) is critical for economic growth (Rai et al., 2019; Coulombe and Tremblay, 2006). Investment in social infrastructure has been shown to have a positive effect on addressing inequalities between groups, including between women and men, as well as economy-wide benefits. It is vital in supporting social reproduction. It improves individual and community living standards and quality of life by developing people’s capabilities in areas like education, health, and community engagement (Seguino, 2016, p. 7). In states transitioning from conflict, it is the responsibility of the international community, including IFIs, to help ensure this social infrastructure. However, often state provisioning of social infrastructure via macroeconomic and social reform policies does not reflect the gender-specific impacts of these policies, particularly on women’s labour and wellbeing in households in conflict-affected and displacement contexts.

Ipek llkkaracan (2015) proposes a radical feminist alternative economy, “the Purple Economy”, stemming from ideas around “the Green Economy” which suggests a new economic order in response to environmental crises: we depend upon the Earth’s natural resources, thus we need an economic system that sustains our environmental ecosystems. Similarly, recognising the crisis of care as societies become less able to provide social reproduction as more women move into the formal economy, the Purple Economy proposes a reordering of priorities. It places the care for humans at the economic centre and provides equal access to decent work in doing so (llkkaracan, 2015, p. 33; Tronto, 1993). Such an economy would entail economic and social policies that recognise and redistribute the reproductive care burdens overwhelmingly held by women through public social care infrastructure. Access to care would be a basic human right and henceforth a state obligation. The Purple Economy acknowledges that women’s unpaid reproductive labour is not infinite and that macroeconomic policy, particularly in fragile and conflict-affected settings, increases women’s burdens via reductions in social welfare and provisioning (llkkaracan, 2015, p. 36). llkkaracan (2015, p. 36) highlights the need for comprehensive social care infrastructure in rural communities, many of which depend on rural subsistence farming and women’s informal labour. Furthermore, llkkaracan (2015, p. 35) suggests that to financially achieve this military spending would be reallocated to a purple care fund, alongside purple care taxation and finance schemes.

In fragile and conflict-affected contexts, the purpose is to prevent the recurrence of violent conflict as well as to bring economic recovery (and growth). In the past decade, 90 per cent of the civil wars occurred in countries that had already experienced a civil war in the last 30 years (World Bank, 2011, p. 2). We know that conflict has a long-term adverse impact on economic development (World Bank, 2011) and that conflict-affected developing states experience major lags in growth compared to other developing states.1 The cost of fighting is expensive, and it is a significant burden on the economies of conflict-affected countries. Governments and aid agencies, according to some estimates, spend 40 times more responding to crises as they do try to prevent them (Levenson and Madsbjerg, 2016). The Institute for Economics and Peace (2015) estimates that total cost of conflict is equivalent to 13.4 per cent of global GDP.” Moreover, we know that defence spending has lesser spill over effects on the economy than spending on education and health (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2016). By contrast, a high degree of positive peace operationalised as stable institutions and governance and greater social and economic equality is associated with less grievances and more nonviolent (rather than violent) movements. As well, since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the United States has spent 5.9 trillion US dollars on wars (Crawford, 2018). Transferring global military spending and investing in social care provisioning would be revolutionary, contributing to a less violent and a more gender-equal world. Some countries come close to this already. For example, Costa Rica outlawed the military in 1948 during its democratic transition and has adopted many procare, pro-environmental sustainability, and pro-gender equity measures (futurepolicy.org, 2019; Diplomat Magazine, 2010).

Given this evidence, rather than engaging in deep cuts in public spending after conflict to create a good investment climate, I FIs and donors could support post-conflict states to reinvest in public services and value. This investment would increase people’s capacities and opportunities, such as good roads, schools, and health care systems, which in turn lead to stability and development. Investing is the devotion of resources (especially time and money) to an activity or purchase intended to generate future benefits, not just immediate gains. Sustainable investment in post-conflict development can address efficiency in the use of public resources while also promoting human rights and social equity. It should be gender and conflict sensitive to enable explicit consideration of how policy choices affect groups of people differently and potential costs for recurring conflict. It by no means diminishes the relevance of a human rights approach. If better economic outcomes can be achieved while conserving government expenditures, then society has the potential to allocate resources to the truly disadvantaged, for example, civilian victims of war.

Redistributing productive and reproductive labour would contribute to dismantling structural gender hierarchies that currently hinder the achievement of positive peace. As feminist economists have long argued, the non-recognition and under-valuing of gender-specific roles in household production and care labour by society and by state and IFls that direct economic policy and planning affects directly and indirectly the policy and development strategies that could reverse this depletion (Chant, 1997; Elson, 1991, 2000). This FPE analysis is essential as more women move into public political and economic spaces and must shape the agenda for feminist peace.

Women’s participation and influence in post-conflict governance is vital for gender-sensitive political economy reform within the context of local ownership and the sustainability of peace transitions. Participation in governance is supported by women’s access to key social and economic rights (True and Hewitt, 2019, p. 182). This includes transitional processes that are linked with wider economic redistribution and development initiatives benefiting the whole community (Davies and True, 2017, p. 2; True and Hewitt, 2019, p. 186).

As increasing dismay continues with current neoliberal economic models characterised by repetitive financial crises, violence, and environmental degradation, feminist economic alternatives are proliferating. These alternatives are grounded in collaboration, equality, and respect such as community-based commons, sustainable livelihoods, and social and solidarity economics (Bergeron and Healy, 2015; Harcourt, 2012). But how do we integrate such alternatives in post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding? Once such avenue is through the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda to bridge the international with the local and cement a feminist agenda that embodies economic and gender justice in the UN Security Council.

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