Originally published: 11.01.18
“The whole strategy is based on a patriarchal, sexist, racist ideology of women which defines women basically as housewives and sex objects.”
Maria Mies: Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale Women in the International Division of Labour
I have written previously about Maria Mies’ thesis on how the success of the accumulation of capitalism has been dependent on patriarchy and the oppression and exploitation of women.
In Chapter 3 (‘Colonization and Housewifization’) she outlined how wealth and growth in Western countries was based on exploitation of the colonies, where countries, dominated by colonial powers became the producers of consumer goods for rich countries. Rather than meeting their own needs, production in developing countries was promoted to meet the demands of markets in developed countries.
“Production and consumption are now divided by the world market to an unprecedented degree”. (p.114)
In Chapter Four, ‘Housewifization International: Women and the New International Division of Labour’ Mies examines how this process has continued in the post-colonial era.
One would have hoped that overthrowing colonialism and gaining independence would have changed this paradigm for developing countries. Unfortunately not. Global capitalism took over from the colonial history. The world continued to be divided between producers in the developing countries providing goods for the consumption of the West.
In the post-colonial era, international companies have rapidly moved their production of goods to make use of the cheaper, easier to manipulate labour of developing countries, thus lowering production costs.
This resulted in cheaper goods being sold to the West, increasing consumption, thus mobilising greater consumerism of the West.
Mies argues convincingly that this accumulation of capital has been, and continues to be dependent on the exploitation of women. As in colonial times this exploitation is based on the positioning of women within the social structure.
‘Third world’ women, like their counterparts in developed countries, became part of ‘housewifization’ process.
“In Europe the results of the witch hunts and what is described by Mies as the “housewifization” of women was in the process of becoming entrenched within western capitalism. Women had been separated from the public sphere; their work deemed unproductive and of no value to the production system. Women had become dis-empowered and subjugated into the privacy of the home. By the 19th century we have the “ideal woman” depicted as the weak Victorian woman with no power or autonomy.”http://mairivoice.femininebyte.org/?p=683
Defining women as housewives and not workers obscures the work of women. Their work is defined as income-generating and supplementary to labour done by males. This rationalises payment of lower wages and is important for the mobilisation of capital.
Thus women’s work becomes part of “informal, non-organised, non-protected production relations”. They are forced to do part time, contract, homeworking, and unpaid neighbourhood work.
Often working in isolation, this prevents women from organising. In their isolation their ability to take collective action is diminished.
From the point of view of capitalism, women are the ideal labour force. Mies cites figures that show that two-thirds of all labour in world is done by women. In S.E.Asia, Africa and Latin America, 70% of the labour force is female.
Mies gives detailed examples of how the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) has very specific strategies in propagating and universalising this model of the “classical capitalist couple”. Development programmes enhance inequality between women and men.
In the agricultural industry in India, ‘income generating’ projects were promoted to increase the production of milk. Milk cooperatives were developed in regional areas; farmers were provided with bank loans for the purchase of high-breed buffalo. The milk produced was sold to the dairy cooperative society with all the milk being delivered to the city. Half of cost of all milk delivered was taken as repayment of the loan.
Mies explores how this has provided little benefit to women, whilst increasing their work load.
A study by Manosha Mitra (p.131) in India shows how the introduction of dairying among landless and poor peasants has increased women’s workload. But they do not benefit from this extra work. In many cases they are unable to participate in dairy cooperatives – this is reserved for men. Whilst women do the work, which is considered supplementary work, it is men who control the income from dairying.
The products that women work for previously would go to the community. Now these products are destined for international markets.
“Moreover women from landless and poor peasant families producing milk hardly consumed any milk themselves. The little milk these women kept for their families was consumed by the men or male children, girl children got hardly any.”p.131
Indian cities do get more milk but at prices that the poor cannot afford. Surplus milk is converted into luxury surplus – ice cream, sweets or baby food. It is therefore middle class housewives who benefit
“The integration of poor and landless peasant women into the OF (Operation Flood) has created an objective link between the poor women as producers who cannot afford to consume milk, and middle-class housewives in the Indian cities and in Europe who are supposed to buy ever more and more sophisticated milk products. Unrecognised between two sets of women are the big multinational food and cattle feed concerns, the governments, and a whole host of firms which profit from this arrangement.”p.133
The irony of this is that such projects are promoted as being a positive move for poor women in developing countries.
Examples are also given of sugar cane cooperatives in Venezuela. Men could only become members of cooperatives if they had a family thus ensuring their ability to substitute their labour with that of wives and children.
Women could not become members in their own right.
“A woman, therefore, had to be ready and able to do all the work her husband had to do, but without his rights and even without any right to monetary income.” 9p133
Another example of the exploitation of women is through the tourist industry. Mies describes governments promoting the idea of female prostitution as an attractive tourist option for Western men.
Tourism has been promoted to a major industry in developing countries.
“Particularly the Thai and Philippino governments are offering their women as part of the tourism package.” P.138
Women’s work in tourist and sex industries in Asia and Africa, involves the servicing of European, American and Japanese men.
“One gets the impression that the governments, like pimps, offer their young women to foreign capital. As a matter of fact, prostitution is not only part of the tourist industry, but also of the planning of business enterprises in third world countries.” (p.117)
Asian countries have also become a marriage market. Mies describes private companies as openly advertising “submissive, non-emancipated, docile Asian women.” 139
There is evidence that women brought to western countries for marriage purposes are often forced into prostitution.
Inevitably in the context of patriarchal capitalism, most of the profits from international sex tourism does not remain in ‘third world’ countries but is controlled by international corporations.
Once again Mies shows how the treatment of women in developed and developing countries is linked; how the housewifization ideology sets up women in developing countries to provide cheap labour for the production of consumer goods for housewifized women in the West. The ideal of Westernised women is one who focuses her work and energy on family, is encouraged to have children, buy more goods and commodities for their families, children and households, and for themselves as sex objects.
“To mobilize women to fulfil their duty as consumers has become one of the main strategies of capital in the industrialised countries.” (p.125)
Conversely women in the ‘third world’, as producers of goods, are discouraged from reproduction; producing children is promulgated as one of the great threats to capitalist accumulation. Therefore family planning is promoted widely in developing countries with women being particularly targeted.
Mies however provides a warning for women in developed countries. The process of international capital focusing their production in the developing countries has increased unemployment in industrialized countries and it is women who are most at risk. Already we see that more women in developed countries are being forced into part-time, contract, home-based labour under the label of ‘flexibilization of labour’.
“The future has already begun for many women in USA and Europe who are ‘integrated into development’ in the same manner and by the same methods which were applied to their Third World sisters, namely, to work ‘invisibly’ in the new formal sector, and to prostitute themselves in a variety of ways in order to make a living.” p.143
“if we look at the new international division of labour from the point of view of women, of women’s liberation, we can now say that it is always necessary to look at both sides of the coin, to understand how women at both ends of the globe are divided and factually linked to each other by the world market, and by international and national capital.” p.142
MairiVoice : I am an Australian radical feminist. I have had my blog for over a year now and write mostly about feminist political issues in Australia.I also run a feminist facebook page giving voice to radical feminism by sharing articles and interesting news. I have been a feminist for over 30 years and have been an activist around issues such as child sexual abuse, domestic violence and family law issues. I also love to read women’s books – both fiction and non-fiction – interested in feminist theory – and sometimes write about the books I am reading on my blog