Debt Over! A report from the Fourth CADTM Europe Summer University: Day One

For three days the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt, CADTM, is hosting its summer university. The theme is that the Debt economy needs to be investigated, as neoliberal leaders assert that debt governs society as a whole, proving that debt has become a key tool of the neoliberal economy. The goal of the conference is to look at multiple phenomena through the prism of the debt economy.

The conference is organized around several “itineraries”: debt in the South, debt in the North, environmental debt, audit, and feminist fights.

The first day started with a plenary session entitled “ La dette dans tous ses etats” (Debt in all its states), a play on words suggesting the multifaceted aspect of this neoliberal instrument.

The first speaker gave a snapshot of the cynicism of the situation that demands the scam that allowed the financial crisis of the patriarchal neoliberal to become the public debt crisis and the responsibility of the public. They play, we pay. In Europe, the offensive started seven years ago, taking aim at the social rights brought about by decades of social struggles. The recent financial reform Projet Barnier that was formed at the European Commission was influenced and largely designed by over 1000 financial lobbyists with a budget of 300 Million Euros.

The next speakers revealed the intricacy of finance and domination of the oligarchs in the form of debt in Ukraine that led to the current crisis that is still killing people.

After that, Gilbert Lieben, the Secretary General of the Centrale Générale des Services Publics, a Belgian union for public services employees, gave an overview of the work that unions have to do to debunk the traps of the debt system. He reminded the audience that, at first, the unions did not realize the importance of the formation of the concept of debt in social struggles.

Then, Olivier de Schutter, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, exposed the connection between debt and farming as small farmers have been under siege since the agriculture sector has been open to free market deregulation.

CADTM spokesperson Eric Toussaint set the stage of the past and future stakes for the South in the debt economy. After listing several positive initiatives such as in Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, and, to some extent, Argentina, he warned the audience of the possible devastating consequences for the South of a change by the FEDS of the interest rates in this intricate global debt system. He emphasized that alternative are not only possible but necessary if we want to break all forms of oppressions.

Amina Amzil, from Attac Morocco, delineated the feminist struggle. She explained the double burden on women in Morocco, where the debt economy devours 78% of the GDP. In Morocco between reductions in public social services and in public employment, women are particularly impacted. Austerity policies increase and intensify precariousness for women who are more likely to be illiterate, dependent and victims of domestic violence. Debt is another means of oppression for women.

The CADTM has been involved in organizing citizen audit of public debts everywhere in the world. Its latest involvement in the audit of the Greek debt under the aegis of Zoe Kostantopoulou, the President of the Greek Parliament, has brought attention to the importance of a transparent process in public policy.

The afternoon workshop, “Arming women against all forms of austerity”, addressed this lack of transparency as central to the exploitation of women. The workshop invited us to organize more effectively. As Sonia Mitralias said, we need new ways to imagine a different future.

Debt is gendered and the response must integrate women in their entirety and diversity. The group created a five-module educational kit, from austerity to what to do. One of the modules, “Exploitation of women knows no crisis”, helps participants understand that the few gains in women’s rights are again under attack. The audience was large and diverse and passionate. I met women from Cameroon, Tunisia, Morocco, and elsewhere.

Women in Belgium organized a feminist audit of the debt in which they account the number of services women provide for free, from reproduction and care work to cheap labor. Their conclusion is simple: the state incurs the huge debt, not the women! They called their project “La Facture” (the invoice, or the bill). The State plays, the women pay and pay and pay.

The fight against the debt economy is transnational and gendered.




(Photo Credit 1: CADTM)

The urgency of an independent women’s movement against debt and austerity measures

Why have an independent women’s movement against debt and austerity measures in Greece?
The debt crisis and the subsequent austerity measures affect us women first, in every aspect of our lives. If we women don’t organise ourselves to resist, no one else will do it for us.

Why do the debt crisis and the austerity measures affect women more?
Neo-liberal austerity during the debt crisis is aimed particularly at what is left of the welfare State and public services. By dismantling or privatising public services, the State disclaims the social responsibilities it had towards its citizens and shifts them – once again – onto the family. So that the care of children, sick people, old people and handicapped people, even young people in great difficulty and out of work, is no longer the State’s responsibility, but the family’s, provided free of charge into the bargain!

But the notion of family is general and abstract. In reality, it’s women who take on – practically all alone and without any remuneration whatever –all the basic social duties of the State. So the neo-liberal State kills two birds with one stone: it rids itself entirely of the social obligations that “widen the deficit and therefore, the public debt” and forces us women to shoulder them ourselves by working for absolutely nothing!

In other words, women are forced to do the job of, or rather replace, the welfare State?
Yes, but there’s more to it than that. There’s the other side of the coin, another reason that all these Memorandums are aimed at us: we are the first to be affected by the massive lay-offs that go with the dismantling or privatisation of public social services of every kind, because women make up the great majority of the workforce in these departments.

The result is simple and concerns thousands of female wage-earners in our country: not only are we the first to be laid off with absolutely no hope of being re-hired, especially if we are already mothers or of child-bearing age. Not only are there masses of us left unemployed, especially young people with no professional future to look forward to. Not only are we condemned to poverty and precarity, but they also burden us with the tasks that were the job of the State, with all that it brings in terms of fatigue, stress, premature ageing, unpaid work and additional expenses!

Some – such as the State, the Church and so-called well-meaning people – say that this way women can return to their real mission, which is to devote themselves to their home and family.
Of course they do! Not only do they say it, they shout it from the rooftops because the inhuman policy of the Memorandums has to come in an ideological wrapping! It’s just cheap propaganda that uses the most sexist of reactionary clichés to mask the ferocity of their neo-liberal policies. We are witnessing something apparently paradoxical: an alliance between the height of capitalist policy-making, as seen in the brutal austerity of the Memorandums, and the proponents of the most obscurantist theories of a bygone age who want to convince us that it is a woman’s “nature” to be shut up in the home with no other “tasks” than those of a mother and/or spouse. It’s the union between IMF Memorandums and the European Commission who say they want to “modernise” us, and the bastions of the most anachronistic and misogynous patriarchy embodied by the Church or the right and extreme right.

Is it only propaganda or are there practical consequences for women?
It’s not just theories and propaganda. The worst is the very tangible and disastrous effects on our daily lives. This return to a distant past is accompanied by measures designed to deprive women of the few rights and victories they’ve obtained through the struggles of the last few decades. The Holy Alliance of Capital and Patriarchy effectively abolishes our right to work, and with it, our right to economic independence. It forces us once again to a life of dependency, deprived of the right to free will. It treats us as slaves that have to shoulder the tasks and services formerly provided by the welfare State, because it is supposedly in the “nature” of women to do the work of a kindergarten, old people’s home, hospital, restaurant, laundry, psychiatric ward, extra schooling and even job centre for unemployed family members. And all totally free, with no payment, no recognition, because supposedly it’s in a woman’s blood to “sacrifice herself” for others. As a result, she never has time to take a break, look after herself or take an active part in public affairs.

All this must take a heavy toll on women.
It does. Not only because this daily stress means they age prematurely, that they get worn out, but also because all this sexism around the so-called “feminine nature” leads to the treatment of woman as an inferior being, whose body is considered to be always available and which any man can vent his frustrations on. It’s not a coincidence that the cases of violence against women, which were already numerous, are increasing in this period of capitalism and Memorandums.

For these reasons, and many others, the conclusion is simple: our resistance to this offensive against women by the Troika government and the Memorandums calls for us to organise ourselves and develop an independent and autonomous women’s movement against debt and austerity. Not only because no one can do it for us, but also because capitalism and patriarchy are so closely intertwined that any fight against one of these tyrants will be a shaky one if it is not also fought against the other.

(Photo Credit: encuentro5)

Women’s rights, labor rights did not cause the Greek mess

In Spain women’s right to a safe abortion is under attack. In Greece women fight for the right to have a safe delivery and for the right to have children.

In a conversation about recent developments in women rights in Greece, Sonia Mitralias reported that the birth rate has diminished by 15%. Furthermore, giving birth, once free of charge or a societal responsibility, now costs real money. Women without social security, citizen and immigrant alike, now pay as much as 10 times more than before. Isolated and more vulnerable women’s babies are kept in hospital until the mothers can pay for the delivery. Many wonder how many babies have been offered for adoption as a result of payment default. Syrian refugees have been targeted as well.

Women are being taken hostages. They are taken by the neoliberal assault on civil society that occurs through the institutionalization of a debt economy run by unelected and non-transparent bodies, such as the Troika. The Troika consists of “experts”, neoliberal trained economists, who only know how to apply twenty-first century versions of vicious, failed Structural Adjustment Programs. The principles are exactly the same: bypass all democratic processes; reduce any and all political and social resistance; target all public agencies and then claim they were responsible for the crisis. According to these `experts’, if they could only control “those women” and their reproductive uterus, the financial problems would be resolved.

The Troika proclaimed the reforms they demanded were “necessary and painful.” Necessary for what, painful for whom?

None of the Troika’s measures have helped the Greek people. The debt that was 129.3% of the GDP is expected to reach 200% in 2020. Only now, finally, has the European Parliament begun to officially question the Troika’s strategy and work. This moves comes late for a number of Greeks, especially women.

When the financial deregulation spree hit Europe in 2007, Greece was actually in pretty good shape. At that time, it had a good health care system and labor laws to protect the civil society. Then came the systematic attack on the social structures of `certain countries’, including Greece. Those who created the problem magically came up with solutions that blamed and attacked everyone but themselves. In fact, they profited and grew more powerful.

This absurd situation is developed to enslave women to unpaid work, which happens when public sectors are reduced and women’s reproductive rights threatened. Women and men know the offered solution is only more debt, more shackles, more targeted pain and suffering. Women and men are saying NO!, and organizing to defend women’s rights, labor rights , and human dignity.

(Photo Credit: Lefteris Piatarakis/AP)