Women and the Global Food System pt 2

Dan Moshenberg, who has done a previous guest post on the anniversary of Katrina, is a regular sender of Things That Appear on this Blog. He writes far too rarely at Women In and Beyond the Global, and it was his idea to write the letter to the New York Times that has been a minor hit, republished as far away as Kenya.

Recently, Dan’s been tying some threads together, first here and, below, his latest thoughts on what it means, and how unusual it is, when “women bear the brunt”, whether of hunger or of insecurity.

Want peace and security? Try brunt and normal

Dan Moshenberg

The United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, UN-INSTRAW, has been conducting a seminar entitled Identifying Gaps in Gender, Peace and Security Research. It went from 13 to 31 October 2008. Yes, it ended on Halloween, and so you know gender, peace and security must be a scary topic. In some ways, you’re right. Let’s talk about representations of peace and security.

Earlier this week, an article entitled “Real National Security Begins at Home, Say Women Leaders”, by Adele Stan, appeared in Alternet and Media Consortium. It’s a fine article, worth reading. I’m interested in the phrase “real national security”. Real national security participates in a race (to where?) against other forms security, unreal national security, real national insecurity, and so on. But what if real national security begins by focusing on something other than security (or sovereignty), something other than (and less destructive than and less inimical to women’s well being than) the national? The point is where it begins, and at home and between homes is fine as long as home is amply defined (patriarchal households? homeless? this could be another version of the secret of primitive accumulation, couldn’t it?), but somewhere it would be nice to know what the endpoints might be. Women are described as great at creating stakeholder constituencies and at keeping neighborhoods together. But what of those who fall outside, or under, the stakeholder rubric, what of those excluded from the neighborhood and, even more those criminalized within it?

The article focuses on Iraq and Afghanistan, but what if any African nation, and what if Africom, were brought into the picture? Then we would have to take on the treatment of African and African descendent women, of Black women, in the world of security that is the so-called global war against terror. In “Domestic Enemies and Carceral Circles: African Women and Criminalization in Italy”, in Julia Sudbury’s Global Lockdown: Race, Gender, and the Prison-Industrial Complex (Routledge, 2005), the author Asale Angel-Ajani notes: “…it is not uncommon to hear `Nigerian’ substitute for `prostitute,’ and popular representations of prostitution are exhibited through (black) African female bodies. . . .All immigrant women are subjected to negative representations, but it is striking to note that in most representations, the sex worker is depicted as specifically Nigerian or at least African in the media and in popular discourse”. (8)

What does the coding and inscription of African women’s bodies, of Black women’s bodies, in Italy, in the United States, in Spain, and elsewhere, mean for security and peace? First, it occurs in the everyday, not in the event of Badiou nor in the evental of Foucault. Rather, every day, around the world, elisions of race and gender produce the ordinary and provide alibis for structural and physical violence, first against Black women. The criminalization of the Black woman’s body in Europe, in the United States, in the world, is then resolved by the multinational militarization, the peace keeping operational forces, of Africom.

The everyday and the ordinary would change the processes of peace-and-security gender analysis and action. First, it would change the real and symbolic gift political economies of the rescue industry (cf Laura Agustín’s Sex at the Margins for a trenchant critique). Those engaged in peace and security would finally have to answer the critical question, “What’s in it for you? What are you getting out of this?” Terms of accountability would change; subject positions, too. Local community based organizations would sit with social movements and with even more informal groups, many of which don’t have names, and yet deserve to be heard and engaged with. The justification of urgency, which is often the calculus of acceptable collateral damage, would be dispensed with. Every moment is an urgent moment, or not.

I imagine this sounds like high romance, and perhaps it is. But it’s also about popular education, where the understanding has been that the program must emerge from at least an invitation from a sufficient number of people within the given zone or community. It emerges as well from readings of sovereignty, such as Derrida’s Politics of Friendship, that argue for a thorough and open reading of the metaphysical assumptions built into mutual and negotiated settlements between sovereign nation-states and the real violence that emerges `naturally’ from those. Likewise, it speaks to writings on democracy, such as Ranciére’s Dis-agreement, that argue that a democracy of peace would be one in which foundational, radical, disagreement would not be seen as a potential security threat, as an invitation to disappearance and silence. Lastly, it emerges from people who have looked at and lived with the continual reiterations of the borderlands (Kathleen Staudt, Melissa Wright, and of course Gloria Anzaldua come to mind).

From a gendered perspective, peace and security must address, emerge from, and participate in the “normal”. In this week’s Pambazuka, Astrid von Kotze opens a piece, The world food crisis: a ‘silent tsunami’? as follows “World Food Day (16 October) has come and gone, completely overshadowed by the global financial crisis. Banks crashing are a priority over escalating food prices and hunger. Only the banks got the 700 billion cash injection to get bailed out; the World Food Programme is still appealing for an extra 700 million to feed the poor and starving. This does not include all those ‘normally’ underweight children and malnourished anaemic young women. Both cash and food crises are blamed on the poor: there are too many of them, and they can’t pay their debts.” When do the normal, the normally underweight children and malnourished anaemic young women, enter into the conversation?

Women’s peace and security begins and ends with the phrase, “bearing the brunt”. In a recent essay, The Demand for the Export of Agrofuels Threatens Livelihoods in Southern Africa, Michelle Pressend writes: “More than 80 percent of the population is still dependent on biomass for energy in the Southern African region, particularly, wood, cow dung and coal. It is mainly women and children in rural areas that bear the brunt of lack of access to modern, safe and affordable energy. They are the ones that collect wood and search for coal in and around operating and abandoned mines.”

It’s not in crisis and conflict that women and children bear the brunt. It’s in the everyday and the everywhere, and women and children who bear the brunt do not live in lack, They inhabit the normal, they are the normal.