The most recent edition of openDemocracy’s 50/50 quarterly features an interview with Dr. Yakin Erturk, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, on how the global economic crisis is affecting women. Dr. Erturk also notes the import of ‘political economy’ in the pursuit of women’s rights, especially during a time of financial upheaval.
We refer to human rights as if they were confined to civil and political rights; this is also reflected in the twin covenants which have divided rights into civil and political on the one hand, and economic and social on the other. The latter is generally seen as inspirational and the first one as the real thing. But we know from women’s lives that unless we have a holistic approach to women’s rights, whereby women can achieve economic independence or are at least empowered socially and politically, the rights they may read about in books do not reach them. So my final report to the council this year is taking up this challenge: I have argued that underneath the surface of many of the things that we talk about as being cultural, there is a solid, material basis which feeds certain concrete interests and relationships; and that unless we dig down into that base we are talking at a very abstract level. Culture can take on a life of its own, so that we assume that that is the reality, when half the time nobody really understands its true impact.
We are all cultural beings: it is very hard to attack cultures. What I wanted to do in my culture report was to connect this to a more profound analysis of concrete interests, real power – hence political economy. Particularly in the neo-liberal era, it is political economy which is creating new challenges for women’s rights, while at the same time, of course, creating some new opportunities.
As they say, read the whole damn thing.