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A Woman's Place: Mary Romero argues that fundamentalist misogyny is not the only thing oppressing women globally. (Books).

While the U.S. bombarded Afghanistan, its campaign for continued support at home increasingly framed the aggression as countering "the Taliban's war against women." Carefully disguised as the universal voice of feminism, Laura Bush appropriated the president's weekly radio address to claim that "the brutal oppression of women is a central goal of the terrorists." Of course, this ignores the fact that the U.S. was perfectly comfortable with the fundamentalist Islamic oppressors of women while they fought as our proxies against that other "evil empire," and in May 2001 Laura's husband rewarded the Taliban with $40 million dollars for their anti-drug policies--even as Afghani women were being denied medical care. Still tiptoeing around the global oppression of women, the administration waxes righteous about the "evil ones" while ignoring the prohibitions against women voting or initiating divorce proceedings in Kuwait, or working and driving in Saudi Arabia. Oil dependency and global markets mute criticism of the misogynistic practices of the matawain (religious police) in Saudi Arabia, female genital mutilation in North and sub-Saharan Africa, or the plight of Sri Lankan and Filipina domestic workers imported to work in the Gulf States.

Bush's state feminism draws xenophobic lines between "the people" and "the ethnics," "us" and "them," primitives and moderns, the very same distinctions that western empires have traditionally used to define so-called civilized from noncivilized people. The noncivilized are in this way pronounced less than human. Bush's state feminism comfortably blurs the privilege gained by economic policies that assure U.S. capitalist interests. This form of feminism retains western cultural supremacy and denies any global responsibility or obligation. The Manichaestic approach to feminism assures the stability of capitalist patriarchy by erasing the links and connections between the First and the Third World. It also obscures the inequalities and oppression between women both in our own communities and between countries. Meanwhile, back in the homeland, the Supreme Court turns a blind eye to the under-representation of women physicians, judges, and scientists, as well as the disproportionate number of poor women and chil dren impacted by the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act--aka the "end of welfare as we know it."

While religious fundamentalism is indeed misogynistic, the kind of state feminism that fixates on only that issue for the sake of political opportunism misses the larger framework of women's oppression globally. Miriam Ching Louie's Women's Education in the Global Economy (WEdGE) is one tool in understanding those critical connections. This workbook could not be a more timely publication for "activists, organizers, rebels and hell raisers."

Although written and published in 2000, prior to the State Department's newfound concern with the oppression of women, WEdGE confronts simplistic explanations for terrorism and examines women's oppression through an exploration of the global economy and global economic restructuring. Locating ourselves in the globalization of production, markets, finance, communications, and the labor force is essential if we are to even comprehend the current crisis, much less develop strategies to organize for social and economic justice. Recognizing the connections between state, corporate and WTO (World Trade Organization) polices favoring unequal economic development, elimination of social services, and the destruction of natural resources shatters Bush's state feminism and the underlying binaries of "us" and "them." WEdGE constructs a pedagogy that assists women in identifying their lived experiences as social and economic relations within the larger framework of the global economy.

WEdGE is published and distributed by the Women of Color Resource Center in Berkeley. Initiated after their participation at the Fourth World Conference on Women/NGO Forum in Beijing, the workbook avoids the western tendency to separate the plight of women in the U.S. and Europe from women in Afghanistan, Thailand, Algeria, Guatemala, or the Philippines.

Using popular education methods, Miriam Ching Louie (with Linda Burnham) designed this workbook around a series of topics on the global economy that are demonstrated through innovative activities, games, and skits. Activities build on participants' personal experiences by identifying shared patterns among women in the community and globally, and incorporating new information and ideas that will assist in developing organizing skills and creating plans for action. Beginning with the corporate logo on clothes and children's toys, one activity traces the garment industry from the manufacturer and retailer to the underpaid sweatshop workers and cash register clerks for Wal-Mart, J Crew, OshKosh, and Sears. In another activity, women identify the impact of structural adjustment programs in their communities, asking "What's a woman to do when government health programs are cut?" and identifying economic policies that erode their quality of life. Collectively planning a monthly welfare budget challenges the myths t hat welfare recipients have babies to get more money, are lazy freeloaders unwilling to work, or that the welfare grant combined with Food Stamps and Medicaid provide an adequate income. Topics are framed around understanding links and connections in the global economy, and identifying the impact of global economic restructuring on the lives of women. Throughout the workbook, the accounts of women's struggles-such as La Mujer Obrera in El Paso organizing for quality job traning and placement for NAFTA-affected workers or the Kenyan women in the Green Belt Movement engaged in a community-based tree-planning campaign to stop deforestation-serve to highlight the wide range of strategies for change.

WEdGE is divided into eight modules which cover the global assembly line, welfare and low-wage work, and abuse of migrant women workers, among other topics. The introductory module presents key points on the globalization of the economy and identifies personal, family, and community relationships to the economy. Beginning with it is essential for presenting basic understandings and directing inquiries to pursue, such as the point that "Economics are not neutral and in unequal societies we should raise critical questions like "for whose benefit?" and "At whose expense?" The introduction also sets expectations for the classroom, which is significant because some adults may not be familiar with the methodology of popular education. In addition, the introductory module immediately challenges the work/family division that maintains the distinctions between paid work and the unpaid labor that women contribute to society.

The workbook weaves familiar feminist critiques throughout activities taking basic themes such as motherhood, sexual oppression, and gender inequality, and applying them to a national and international context. For instance, in the module "Don't Get SAPped! Women and Structural Adjustment Programs," one of the activities is designed around the TV game show, "The Dating Game." Recalling the ways that women were commodified in order to compete against each other for a "dream date," the exercise makes an analogy to structural adjustment programs (SAP). It critiques the harsh economic policies imposed on Third World countries by international financial institutions to obtain loans and better terms for loan payment, such as opening the national economy to the labor market and foreign investors, cutting government spending on health, housing, education, and nutrition programs, freezing and slashing wages, suppressing workers' rights to organize, selling publicly owned property and assets to private interests, deva luing local currency, and so on. The SAP Dating Game requires contestants to implement SAP policies to win loans from Mr. World Bank and the transnational corporations. The exercise makes the invisible labor and oppression of women in SAP policies quite visible. As each team takes turns representing Mr. World Bank and transnational corporations, the competitiveness of each country falls on the backs of women: Mexico pimps women's labor in the maquiladoras for Sanyo, Fisher-Price, General Motors, Liz Claiborne and others; as the second largest exporter of labor, the Philippines sends abroad one-tenth of its population, 60 percent of whom are women; the Sri Lankan government trains women to work as domestic labor in households all over the world even though the literary rates for women was 82.8 percent in 1981; Nigeria and Chile have drastically cut their social services, pushing more women into the informal economy.

The clarity with which Miriam Ching Louie and Linda Burnham diagram the links between women in the global economy is best exemplified in their module "Are My Clothes Clean? Women and the Global Assembly Line." They developed an activity that takes participants to "tour stops along the assembly line to introduce them to the corporate and government policies that maintain low wages and unsafe environments for women throughout the world. Tour brochures at each stop illustrate the tie between producers and consumers of products and services in the global assembly line. Each destination asks participants to connect the transnational corporations in their regions with the women in different communities who are growing, spinning and weaving cotton and those women who are selling, buying and recycling garments.

The tour begins in rural Tanzania where women struggle to produce food for their families while the World Bank and International Monetary Fund encourages the government to increase the production of fiber export crops. Unable to compete with men for land ownership, tools and resources, women are forced to work as vendors, cooks, maids, and sell home brew or engage in prostitution to survive. The next two tour stops take participants to export processing zones in Thailand and the Carribean. Tour Stop #4 arrives at the sweatshops in El Monte, California. Before leaving this stop, we learn about the coalition between Thai Community Development Corporation, Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates, the Retailer Accountability Campaign and the labor attorneys from a number of organizations that assisted Thai and Latina workers to win more that $2 million from five companies in 1997. Tour Stop #5 is the malls in our own neighborhoods where female retail workers are paid little more than minimum wage with few benefits and are viewed by employers as part-time, seasonal, or temporary labor. At the same stop, we not only find low-waged women in our own communities shopping at Goodwill, Salvation Army and other thrift stories "to make ends meet," but we learn that th e U.S. exported $235 million worth of secondhand clothes. The last three tour stops feature a number of women organizing for their rights, including teenagers in Central America, and women workers in El Salvador, San Antonio, El Paso, and Oakland.

In these times of increasing nationalism, we need to think about ways to engage our students, colleagues, and neighbors in exercises that emphasize the link among women workers engaged in paid and unpaid labor in the global economy. Instead of Bush's facile state feminism, which co-opts a women's rights agenda as part of the legitimation for war, real commitment to the equality of women requires understanding the material conditions of global economic restructuring.

Mary Romero teaches in the School of Justice Studies at Arizona State University and is the author of Maid in the USA.

Mary Romero, "A Woman's Place." Mary teaches in the School of Justice Studies at Arizona State University and is the author of Maid in the USA.
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Title Annotation:'Women's Education in the Global Economy'
Author:Romero, Mary
Publication:Colorlines Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2002
Words:1806
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