The massive women's strikes and marches which have taken place all over the world in recent years are fostering new forms of social movements. The immense scale of women’s mobilizations with their constitutive class, anti-racist and LGBT+ dimensions developed in response to post-crisis measures that made many women’s lives more difficult, tightening restrictions on reproductive rights as well as leading to the rise of the populist far-right. These struggles have opened up spaces for reflection on and the reorganization of left feminist politics.
The 2018 feminist summer school held at the beginning of October in Belgrade provided this much-needed space and an opportunity to theorize concepts, exchange different experiences of organizing and of the peculiarities of local contexts, address common goals, and develop strategies to further weaken structures of exploitation and oppression. Organized by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung’s feminist project group and the Southeast Europe regional office under the title “Feminist Class Politics: Exchanging Theory and Practice”, the school gathered 90 participants from Spain, Greece, Ukraine, Russia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Albania, Germany, Northern Ireland, Belgium, Latin America and the United States.
The first day was reserved for discussing the feminist class perspective. Unlike old leftist approaches emphasizing the matrix of production, wage labour and class analysis, the new feminist class approach considers the wider framework of the capitalist structure: the sphere of reproduction and unwaged, subsistence, caregiving and other forms of labour which are not typically capitalist in nature, but are crucial to undergirding capitalism itself, as well as gender and other relations of domination and oppression that are co-constitutive aspects of capitalist relations.
From this perspective domination is expressed intersectionally, i.e. through class, gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability and other stratifications. If we do not consider race, for example, we cannot explain why black women in Brazil are murdered at a rate 71% higher than white women, or why black women often do not receive needed anaesthetic treatments because of the stereotyped assumption that they are tough and resilient (a racist form of obstetric violence). This intersectional approach seeks to link identity and class politics, as was further elaborated in the school workshops that ran as parallel groups.
The day devoted to the topic of labour continued with debates on recently published studies in the series titled “Austerity, Gender Inequality and Feminism after the Crisis”. Eight studies have been conducted on the following countries so far: Greece, Spain, Ireland, Ukraine, Russia, Germany, Croatia and Lithuania. Other publications are still pending, but the series may also come to include research on other countries. Notwithstanding the different regional contexts and post-crisis reforms, public services in all countries are increasingly being scaled back and diverted to the private sector, which in turn churns out profits. Although austerity measures negatively affect the subordinated classes and radically transform the lives of the majority of the population, they have proven particularly damaging to women and other underprivileged groups and generated a crisis of care. The austerity regime has gendered, racialized, sexual orientation-, age-, ethnic- and ability-based aspects.
Bearing these in mind, some of the crucial issues relating to organizing women in activist practices discussed included: what could a left-feminist approach to organizing women into trade unions look like? How can we organize the unorganized (such as female precarious and part-time workers, migrant workers, care workers, migrant live-in caregivers, domestic workers, etc.)? How can we increase the impact of the feminist strike at the international level, and consolidate disconnected forms of revolt into more coherent, unified and lasting organizations? At the end of the second day, a public debate titled “The Leftist Feminization of Politics” was held at the Centre for Cultural Decontamination.
On the third day of the school participants discussed the most relevant practices and actions relating to reproductive justice. These included fighting violence against women, struggles over abortion rights, care work, emancipatory family politics, and queer organizing beyond identity politics. Developed by black feminists in the 1990s, the concept of reproductive justice extended rights beyond the framework of individual choice to address questions of access (to abortion, contraception, pregnancy care, etc.) and the material basis of social inequalities more generally. Therefore, the perspective of reproductive justice broadens the battlefield to encompass various social justice struggles.
Besides lectures and workshops, the feminist summer school also included the important dimension of self-care, so that those attending the school could take part in afternoon training sessions on self-health, self-defence, safe sex for women, and poetry slams.
Common ground between these manifold oppressions and exploitations began to emerge as we worked through the questions and dilemmas raised at the school: namely, regardless of how much these forms differ they are all inextricably intertwined with capitalism. The task remains tying together political struggles (against the rise of the far-right and neo-fascism) and economic struggles (over unemployment, wages and better working conditions) to all the various social reproduction struggles (over food, housing, socialized child care services and public schools, socialized care for the elderly and infirm, free abortion, health care services, affordable and ecological transportation, public libraries, parks and green space, sports and recreational facilities, de-growth struggles over clean water, land, natural resources, and so on) under the left-feminist banner.
Women of the world unite!
First International Feminist Summerschool 2018 by Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung in Belgrad, September 30 to October 4.