BRICS Feminist Watch and advancing feminist agenda in international development in the context of BRICS


BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa - both as a unit, as well as each separate country, has great influence and potential. These five countries make up 25% of the earth’s land mass, 40% of the world’s population and approximately 30% of global GDP. They contain a wealth of resources, including among others natural resources, knowledge and experience, and productive assets.

Despite their differences in culture, history, policies, and, in many cases, values, these five countries have an understanding among themselves for mutual benefit, equality and non-interference. One of the goals of the BRICS coalition has been to advocate for a reform and democratization of the international financial institutions (IFIs) and to create more space for developing countries. BRICS has already begun to work together in various ways, on bilateral levels such as trade, as well as in policy and with the creation of the New Development Bank (NDB). Together their collaborative power has the potential to shift the global narrative.

While the interaction between BRICS countries is most visible on the economic and geopolitical level, space has been opened up for partnerships between other actors among BRICS. It is from this that alliances between civil society within the BRICS country have sprung up, such as the birth of the BRICS Feminist Watch (BFW), opening the door for a south feminist perspective to be brought forward.

The BFW is a nascent collective of women’s rights organizations and feminist activists from BRICS which aims to bring the voices of women from global South to the development decision making fora. BFW works to challenge the mainstream economic development models based on extractivism and the exploitation of resources, including women’s bodies, labor and natural resources such as land, to shift the dominant development discourse towards an inclusive, sustainable, and just paradigm.

At the Commission on the Status of Women 62, held in New York in March 2018, a NGO event was dedicated to feminist perspectives in south-south cooperation. The panel, which looked specifically at the issues around gender and international development in the BRICS countries, was organized by the BRICS Feminist Watch in partnership with RESURJ, Oxfam Brasil, Femnet, Pwescr international, Action Aid India and Gender Action.

Moderated by Priti Darooka (PWESCR), the panelists, Cai Yiping (DAWN), Divita Shandilya (Action Aid India), Elaine Zuckerman (Gender Action), Memory Kachambwa (FEMNET), Marisa Viana (RESURJ), Govind Kelkar (Landesa), and Grace Wang (UNOSSC), touched upon a range of factors relating to IFI investments in BRICS countries and their gender impacts.

The gender pay gap, the lack of women in decision making positions, the high prevalence violence against women and of women’s concentration in the informal sector are all quite obvious, but how do development investments contribute to or address issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment? The panelists discussed that while trade and investments can have positive impacts of raising productive capacity, the questions to be posed are what jobs are created, who gets those jobs, and whether it improves the situation of families and communities. Further, unpaid care work spans every sector from transportation to food production, to utilities to human care, etc., yet analysis of IFI investments show that they undervalue women’s contributions.

Some of the challenges in general with development projects are the lack of sex disaggregated data, incentives to provide credit to women to productive assets, skill building and access to tech to reduce labor, market linkages for women have been enabled to be producers, and participation of women - specifically feminist women - in projects at all levels and within IFIs as well.

One example of a development investment which paints itself as a “green business” with positive social impacts is wind farms. However, wind farms lead to the commoditization and privatization of wind and also have great social and environmental costs. In Brazil these farms have a disproportionate impact on livelihoods coordinated and managed by women such as fishing, animal herding, and small farms. Meanwhile there is a disbalance between the impact on the communities where these farms are located - often in indigenous and black populations - and how much energy can actually be produced for the country. Detrimental effects of the farms include a phenomenon referred to as the “loss of night” due to the perpetually illuminated towers, noise pollution, which has been likened to “a plane that never lands” and health impacts which take the form of stress, anxiety, loss of hearing, and aggression. Yet another troubling trend is the noted increase in unwanted pregnancies and STIs in these communities. Such investments should be scrutinized more closely to prevent or at least mitigate such negative impacts.

The discussion among the panelists brought up the role of IFIs and governments in filling gaps to reduce poverty by increasing the productive capacity of rural economies as a whole as well as address the structural inequalities that allow for inequitable and unjust distribution of resources. For example, while women play producing roles in economies, they don’t necessarily have control over the productive resources; in India, more than 65% of the agricultural workers are women but more than 87% of women do not own their own land in India. 

Financial corruption and the inaccessibility of economic decisions remain a serious threat to sustainable development and perpetuate inequality. There is growing dominance IFIs in defining global economic policies, which has resulted in stealing power away from the people in the interest of global elites and big corporations. Meanwhile, when community leaders are consulted, systematic corporate bribing is used to get their approval for projects. What’s more, according to a report by the OECD, an estimated $50 billion within the African continent is lost annually through illicit financial flows. This money could be harnessed, for instance, for development. Even 5% of this 50 billion can increase a country’s GDP, or money lost through illicit flows can be invested in health care and in infrastructure such as electricity. Such investments can reduce the burden of care and the amount of time women spend collecting water, firewood and in turn allow them to be more productive.

South-south cooperation differs from north-south cooperation in that it emphases a mutual benefit approach and respects sovereignty while ensuring no conditionality. But we have yet to see how BRICS will be radically different. Due to the absence of any clear signs of such, the claim that BRICS and its New Development Bank reject the standard development narrative is contested. The BRICS Feminist Watch is working to integrate a feminist agenda of the South into the BRICS policies and institutions to help achieve a more just, democratic, and equal world.

Photo: BRICS Feminist Watch website 

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