Solidarity: the antidote to inequality
Globalisation, militarism and fundamentalism are driving global inequality argues Kate Lappin.
“Capital is not held in the hands of women,” Kate Lappin, a leading women’s rights activist, told this year’s NSWNMA annual conference. She noted that half of the world’s wealth is owned by just eight men, as a recent report from Oxfam found.
Lappin is the regional coordinator for the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), an organisation that represents 200 women’s rights organisations. She spoke at this year’s annual conference about the links between neoliberalism and inequality.
In recent decades, neoliberal ideology has seen the “barriers to foreign corporations and foreign investment moving across borders progressively dismantled”. The process has occurred in both developed and developing countries, she noted, resulting in “unchecked economic exploitation that has allowed inequality to prosper”.
As Lappin explained, neoliberalism has allowed companies to source cheap labour around the world. And this process has not only increased inequality between developed and developing countries; it has also led to increased inequality within countries.
Lappin noted that “in 1965 the ratio of a CEO salary in Australia was 20 times that of an average worker, now it is 113 times. In the US it is 345 times”.
The economic changes introduced by neoliberalism means the wealth of Amancio Ortega, the founder of the clothing chain Zara, is “82 million times more” than what a Bangladeshi garment worker who makes clothes for his company can make in a year, she said.
Wealth concentrated in the hands of corporations
Recent decades have seen global wealth concentrated in corporations: now 69 of the world’s largest economies are corporations, Lappin told NSWNMA annual conference. And 10 of the world’s wealthiest corporations together have more wealth than 180 countries combined.
This concentration of capital in corporations has given business disproportionate power in the political and social decision making of individual countries. “Capital gives you power – democratic power, economic power or personal power,” observed Lappin.
Lappin pointed to corporations using legal action to protect profits in developing countries. A French company suing Egypt for raising the minimum wage, and Chevron suing Ecuador for a bill of $9.5 billion to clean up environmental contamination are just two examples of corporations trying to exert power over nations.
Unfettered by national boundaries and restrictions on investment and employment, land in developing countries has also increasingly been purchased by big agri-business, she said.
This “land grab” has disproportionately affected women, who’ve previously made a living out of local plots. Now these workers are being “pushed into the production chain for low wages”.
With so much capital in the hands of large corporations, governments have become indebted to powerful interests. Big corporations seeking low tax havens have successfully pushed for advantageous tax systems in developing countries, Lappin said. The low tax ratios of Asian countries average 14.8 per cent, compared to Australia’s tax ratio of 27.8 per cent and an OECD average 34.2 per cent.
Relatively low taxation means less money for basic health and education services, which disproportionately impacts women. And as the gender pay gap widens, families focus more of their money and resources on boys, who are seen to have a greater earning potential.
Lappin said the APWLD has estimated that a truly sustainable future requires a major investment in services. The APWLD is calling for “663 million more health care workers and 340 million child care workers globally”.
Neoliberalism drives inequality
With women overrepresented amongst the world’s poorest, the links between capitalism and patriarchy are clear to her member organisations, Lappin said. The APWLD sees a link between neoliberalism, growing inequality and issues such as a rise in women being trafficked.
In thinking about systems that “drive inequality”, Lappin said APWLD member organisations “have identified a nexus of three global structures that work with patriarchy to drive inequality, and that is globalisation, militarism and fundamentalism”.
Together, these trends are leading us not just to a crisis of gender inequality, but to an environmental crisis, Lappin said. “When we organise the global economy through GDP only, and consumption is the only way we can imagine that we can increase living standards, we will end up with both the climate itself changing and people increasingly pushed off their land.”
Encouragingly, Lappin said the feminist movement in the Asia Pacific is organising with other social movements to challenge globalisation on behalf of women in the region. She said the way forward can be found in the history of solidarity strikes that changed the world.
Lappin pointed to the Australian maritime workers who boycotted Dutch vessels between 1945 and 1949 in support of Indonesia independence, the international strikes against apartheid, the Sydney Green Bans in the 1970s and, more recently, the Polish women’s strike against abortion bans.
“If patriarchy is the system that uses fear and threats to create a kind of global economic political and social order, what is the opposite of patriarchy?” Lappin asked.
“For us, it is solidarity.”