Global Sustainability Newsletter

Issue 12 - July 2010

TRUE MEANING OF DEMOCRACY

'ECONOMIC RULES AND SOCIAL PRIORITIES

The United Nations Human Development Report 1998 reported that the world's 225 richest people have a combined wealth of over $1 trillion, or equal to the combined annual income of the poorest 2.5 billion people - 47 percent of the world. It also reported that less than 4 percent of the combined wealth of these 225 people ($40 billion) would not only provide adequate food, safe drinking water, and sanitation for all, but would also ensure basic health care for all, universal access to education, and reproductive health care for all women.

Once again, these figures aren't just statistics. They tell us about the unnecessary suffering of babies with empty, swollen bellies. They tell us about orphaned children whose malnourished mothers died in childbirth. They tell us about eight-year-old Manuel Ortega, whose family can't afford the medicines he needs to treat his tuberculosis. They tell us about homeless children roaming crowded city streets, of teenagers like Tome Kiburu, who crawls on her belly because in her African village, where women walk miles to fetch water and children have barely enough to eat, a wheelchair for her crippled body is an impossible dream.

Clearly there is something wrong with an economic system in which so few have so much more than they could ever spend and so many have so little that they barely survive and all too often die. But the problem isn't only the misdistribution of resources that results from the massive concentrations of wealth characteristic of dominator economics - be they ancient or modern, Western or Eastern. It is rooted in a fundamental imbalance: the fact that most present economic systems, whether tribal, feudal, capitalist, or communist, still give little or no value to the work of caring and caregiving - work that is foundational to the welfare of children, and hence to us all.

I bring us back to this matter because the economic devaluation of work traditionally considered women's work - such as caring for children and the elderly and maintaining a clean and healthy home environment - is a cornerstone of dominator economic rules. These rules are supported by bizarrely unrealistic systems of global bookkeeping that fail to include the most socially essential work - the work of caregiving - in calculations of economic productivity such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product). These measures don't even reflect the fact that it's women who do the farming, hauling of firewood, and bringing in water in many African nations, as this work is not part of the quantified market economy.

This omission of "women's work" from measurements of "productive work", together with the failure of economic development policies to support this work, in large part, accounts for the massive gap between haves and have-nots. Who are the have-nots? Women and children worldwide are the mass of the poor - 70 percent, according to U.N. figures. Women and children are also the poorest of the poor. Yet most people are unaware of these shocking facts. And because this knowledge is ignored by both our media and our policy-makers, current economic policies not only fail to effectively deal with poverty, but they often make things worse.'1

The foundations of the current socio-economic system were established a long time ago; male dominance in the society goes back at least 8000 years. The contemporary economic system began to emerge as a result of industrial revolution, which commenced two hundred and fifty years ago. Since that time our world has changed dramatically. Although national boundaries are still as rigid as before, communication between people living anywhere on the globe has improved immensely. With the advances in telecommunication we have become more connected, literally forming a global village. We can see much more events happening around the world. Today we can be informed about wars, terrorist attacks, environmental catastrophes and natural disasters 'live', that is, through the use of communication satellites, we can see those events while they are happening. And because of that, the plight of people who suffer in those catastrophes is more real - it is palpable.

Of course we soon realise that our safety is only relative, that we too can become victims of similar or different catastrophes, because whether we agree with this statement or not, the natural environmental balances have been destroyed and the planet is undergoing thermodynamic re-adjustments, balancing atmospheric pressure, water and temperature. We should always remember that Mother Nature is never cruel; let us not brand her with human character traits. Mother Nature is providing essential services to allow all organic life to develop, so in a real sense she is the Mother of all life on Earth and her processes are simply guided by science as they are prescribed by Cosmic Laws. It is not Nature's fault that we do not understand all her laws or are late in coming to this understanding.

The disasters that befall us unite the entire humanity in appreciating the fact that none of us is safe on our planet Earth in those times of re-adjustments of natural processes. Perhaps now the long awaited humility will descend on people, when they find out by experience that their own personal riches will not help here, and instead of having a future of living a frugal but safe existence they may perish together with the rest of humanity as a result of their past ignorance and greed.

Apart from the effects created by their technological advances, people themselves are also changing, because natural evolution of the species is accelerated by access to more education, new technology and all information available today. Our average citizen is less prejudiced, more educated, more knowledgeable and more empowered than his or her predecessor one hundred years ago. We must give a contemporary person more credit for a more intelligent approach to life's problems; we must stop treating people like uneducated simpletons, who can be manipulated and controlled. The whole neo-liberal thinking is based on hierarchical domination of those with less means and financial security, but the citizens of our civilisation are intelligent and they are not devoid of their own understanding and their own dreams of life on Earth - an understanding so different from what the neo-liberals would like to spoon-feed them.

Conservative forces have a legitimate role to play in development of social systems. They can always argue against suggestions which are too immature, wrong or incomplete to be of real benefit to society. But when conservative forces become so solidified and are not accepting necessity for any change and progress, as we see today, that is a sign of a dangerous arrogance. It is an evidence of corruption, greed and moral and spiritual degeneration of the financial elites of the world; the life they have created for themselves suits them very well, so they do not have any intention to be the agents for change.

We see the workings of solidified conservative forces in a form of stereotypes and dogmas in many areas of contemporary Western society. We need to break the silence about taking advantage of the poor, abuse of women and children at home, discrimination of women and minorities. There is a need to re-examine all solidified dogmas, which lead to pain and distress for so many people around the world. Dogmas, such as existing in the framework of current economy and nationalism, in resolving conflicts by military solutions, in systemic discrimination of women (half of humanity), of celibacy in Catholic church, which turns healthy young men into paedophiles toward the end of their lives, of superiority of one religion over another, and many others, need urgent re-evaluation and remedies, because they do hurt every citizen of our planet (if not directly today, sooner or later their disastrous impacts will be discovered).

When women are recognised as citizens with equal rights, they will then be given positions of power and they will be able to impress their own values on politics and international relationships. Our planet, our world, our society need the restoration of balance and the return of a woman: a mother, daughter, grandmother and a wise woman, from the position of an invisible nurturer, who is living and working behind 'the curtain', back to the fore, to share the main stage with the male - half of the human species, so that not only the needs of the female half of humanity are articulated and heard, but also the voice of women in regards to formulating future societal policies is as seriously taken into consideration as that of the male part of humanity. This will be an extremely important element of the new civilisation and true democracy.

Until such time as we achieve long lasting peace and prosperity on Earth, we cannot rest and we need to continue examining and removing all obstacles.

Danuta Nowak

  • 1 Riane Eisler, The Power of Partnerships, Seven Relationships That Will Change Your Life, New World Library, Novato, California, 2002.