of The Gift Economy
Many Voices discuss The Gift Economy
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Position Statement for a Peaceful World
Presented at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, January 2002
Feminists for a Gift Economy
From the dawn of time women’s gifts have been creating and sustaining com-
munity, and we have struggled to make the world a better place. In recent years
women have been articulating new forms of protest, refusing war and all forms
of violence, protecting the environment and all life, creating new multi-centred
and diverse political spaces and defining new politics of care, community, com-
passion, and connectedness.
Women, from both North and South especially from the margins of privilege and
power, are creating alternative visions. Over the last decades the growing feminist
movement has developed analyses, changed paradigms, built solidarity through
listening to each other. We are rethinking democracy, creating new imaginaries,
even reconceptualizing the foundations of political society.
The anti-globalization movement is grounded in the new political space women
have created. The global dialogue and networking among men, so celebrated today
as a new achievement, post-dates the growing global women’s movement by many
years. Yet this is rarely acknowledged and feminist leadership is seldom invited.
Feminist perspectives remain largely invisible in the struggle against globalization,
impoverishing not only women but the struggle as a whole.
We, women of many countries, believe that the death dealing elements of patriar-
chal capitalist colonial globalisation are rooted, not in unequal exchange alone but
in the mechanism of exchange itself. The creation of scarcity, the globalisation of
spiritual and material poverty, and the destruction of cultures and species are not
failures of a wealth creating system. They are essential expressions of a parasitical
centralizing system which denies the gift giving logic of mothering.
Traditional gift-giving societies integrated the logic of mothering into the wider
community in many ways. Now socio-economic systems based on the logic of
exchange degrade and deny gift giving while co-opting the gifts of most women
and many men, dominating the gift givers and destroying the remnants of tra-
ditional gift giving societies.
Nevertheless, mothering is a necessity for all societies. Because children are born
vulnerable, adults must practice unilateral gift giving towards them. Women are
socialized toward this practice which has a transitive logic of its own. Men are
socialized away from mothering behavior and towards a self-reflecting logic of
competition and domination. The gift logic, functional and complete in itself is
altered and distorted by the practice of exchange which requires quantification
and measurement, is adversarial, and instills the values of self interest and com-
petition for domination. Exchange, especially monetized exchange, the market,
and the capitalist and colonial economies that derive from them are formed in
the image of masculinist values and rewards. For this reason we can characterise
capitalism as patriarchal.
In the present stage of patriarchal capitalism, corporations have developed as
disembodied non-human entities made according to values of dominance, ac-
cumulation and control and without the mitigating rationality and emotional
capacity a real human being would presumeably have.
Corporations have an internal mandate to grow or die. However, even simple market
exchange superimposes itself on gift giving at all levels, cancelling and concealing
its value and appropriating its gifts, renaming them as its deserved profits.
Women’s free labour is gift labor and it has been estimated as adding some 40
percent or more to the GNP in even the most industrialized economies. The goods
and services provided by women to their families are qualitative gifts that create
the material and psychological basis of community. These gifts pass through the
family to the market, which could not survive without them.
Profit is a disguised and forced gift given by the worker to the capitalist. Indeed
the market itself functions as a parasite upon the gifts of the many. As capitalism
“evolves” and spreads, its market becomes needy for new gifts, commodifying free
goods which were previously held in common by the community or by human-
ity as a whole. The destructive methods of appropriation which feed the market
also create the scarcity necessary for the exchange-based parasite to maintain its
control. Since gift giving requires abundance, the parasite can only keep the gift
giving host from gaining power by creating artificial scarcity through the mo-
nopolization of wealth.
Northern patriarchal capitalism has grown exponentially by invading the econo-
mies of the South and extracting their gifts. In the past whole continents have
been appropriated, their territories and peoples divided into private property of
the colonizers, their gifts commodified. Today, in a new form of colonization,
traditional indigenous knowledge and plant species, as well as human, animal, and
plant genes are being patented and privatized so that the gifts of the planet and
humanity are passing again, at a new level into the hands and profits of the few.
The mechanisms of exploitation are often validated by the very institutions that
are established to protect the people. Laws are made in the service of the patriar-
chal parasite and justice itself is formed in the image of exchange, the payment
for crime. Apologists for patriarchal capitalism exist at every level of society from
academia to advertising. The very language they use has been stolen, the common
ground of its meanings distorted and co-opted in the service of the perpetrators of
economic violence. Thus “free trade” apes the language of the gift and liberation
while it is only short hand for more exploitation and dominance.
While fair trade seems to be better than unfair trade, it is not the liberating al-
ternative we seek. Exchange itself and not just unequal exchange must give way
to the gift. The answer to the injustice of the appropriation of the abundant gifts
of the many is not a fair return in cash for the theft but the creation of gift based
economies and cultures where life is not commodified.
While such a radical change may appear extremely difficult, it is more “realistic”
than simply continuing in our attempts to survive and care for one another in the
frighteningly destructive and increasingly toxic world we know today, for these
attempts are doomed to failure in the long term.
Women have worked to transform political spaces and have made important,
though fragile and highly contested gains in the last decades in affirming women’s
legal, sexual and reproductive rights, challenging fundamentalisms, opposing vio-
lence, and war, improving women’s education, health and economic conditions.
These struggles have broken new ground while remaining within the exchange
paradigm. Our successes and failures challenge and inspire us to seek new terrain,
recognizing that “the masters tools can never be used to dismantle the masters
house” (Audre Lorde).
we want a market-free society, not a free-market society
A world of abundance where bodies, hearts and minds are not dependent on
A world where gift-giving values of care are accepted as the most important, the
leading values of society at all levels.
A world where women and men enjoy taking care of children and each other.
A world where everyone is able to express their sexuality in life-loving ways, where
their spirituality is treasured and their materiality is honored.
A world where trust and love are the amniotic fluid in which all our children
learn to live.
A world where boys and girls are socialized without gender limits as gift-giving
humans from the very beginning.
A world where mother nature can be seen as the great gift giver, her ways under-
stood and her infinitely diverse gifts celebrated by all.
A world where humans and all species can reach their highest potential in relation-
ship rather than their lowest potential in parasitism and competetion.
A world where money does not define value nor legislate survival.
A world where all the categories and processes of parasitism and hate - racism,
classism, ageism, ablism, xenophobia, homophobia are regarded as belonging to
a shameful past.
A world where war is recognized as expressing unnecessary patriarchal syndromes
of dominance and submission in a ridiculously sexualized death ritual using phallic
technological instruments, guns and missiles of ever greater proportions.
A world where the psychosis of patriarchy is recognized, healed, and no longer
validated as the norm.
We will create the world we want while keeping intact our full humanity, humor
November 15, 2001
nb:This document is not patented, commodified or copyrighted. Anyone can use it.
Please respect its integrity.