Feminist Responses towards Fundamentalisms and Neo-liberal Economy

Kaberi Gayen's picture

This is the first installment of a six-part series, orignally posted at e-BangladeshThe next episode will be posted tomorrow.

Episode - One

This is the time of globalisation – globalisation of capital, thought processes through information technology and fundamentalisms. Women are the first victims of the globalisation of the ‘triumph of invested capital’ and they are the worst victims of religious fundamentalisms. But women issues are almost missing in the contemporary mainstream socio-economic, political and communicative discourses; the woman’s voice is scant in the ‘public sphere’. This paper presents a comparative analysis of eastern and western forms of fundamentalisms with an especial emphasis on the inbuilt male-centric components of hegemonic constructions of both the fundamentalisms and how the eastern and western feminisms are addressing these issues. The paper casts light on how in the era of overwhelming information revolution, the all-controlling, and patriarchal nature of fundamentalisms and capital wash away the marginal voices and widens the gap between hegemonic discourses and the participation of women as ‘others’ in that process. Unless the social control on the means of production as well as information can be established, this only being possible in a participatory democratic process, this marginalisation cannot be reduced. Therefore, this paper suggests that despite significant differences between various streams of feminisms in the eastern and western perspectives, women movements throughout the world demands a three-sided fight: against religious fundamentalisms, all powerful capital and for democracy .

Key words: fundamentalisms, feminisms, neo-liberal capital, communicative discourses, public sphere, participatory democracy


Today’s world is passing through “The Clash of Fundamentalisms” (Ali, 2002). Jensen (2006) argues that there are four fundamentalisms that interplay the threat to a sustainable democracy – religious, national, economic and technological. He mentioned these four types of fundamentalisms in the context of ‘threatened’ democracy of the USA. There might be differences of opinions regarding the taxonomy of fundamentalism, but there is hardly any confusion about two vigorous forces that are controlling the whole world right now (perhaps, they always did in different names): religious fundamentalisms and corporate capitalism or neo-liberalism, which is to some scholars “synonymous these days with economic fundamentalism, or market fundamentalism” (Jensen, 2006). While the threat of religious fundamentalisms is well discussed in public spheres and well documented and conveyed, a thought especially established in the readymade example of 9/11 and women’s position in the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the threat of corporate capital still seem like a concern issue only among leftists and at the best within academia.

Forms of exploitation of women are different from region to region – between the west and the east, within countries, and within the rich and the poor.  The simultaneous representation of the two-sided oppression of religious fundamentalisms and corporate capitalism has not been addressed very often.  Exploring these two fronts is important; equally important is to explore how today’s feminisms are addressing these threats. Therefore, the aim of this paper is a threefold.

First, to review the religious fundamentalisms and the oppression of women with the rise of various religious fundamentalisms;

Second, to explore the increasing threats of corporate capital on women and the relation of media in it;

Third, to review how these threats are being addressed by feminists throughout the world and share some recommendations to face the situation;

Defining Fundamentalisms

The term ‘fundamentalism’ originated in relation to 19th century Christianity to describe Protestant religious and political movements which attempted a literal or ‘fundamental’ interpretation of Biblical scripts, but it has acquired a much broader usage today. The term is currently used to describe a range of movements and tendencies in all regions of the world which aim to impose what they define as tradition – whether religious, national, cultural or ethnic – on societies they consider to be in danger of straying from the fundamental tenets that hold them together. The ‘fundamentalism’ of these politically motivated ideologies is that their adherents seek to raise them above the political on the basis of divine sanction or by appealing to supreme authorities, moral codes or philosophies that cannot be questioned.

Reed (2002) argues that religious fundamentalism is not a return to tradition. Rather, it is a post-modern conservative reinterpretation of tradition that glorifies an imagined past. As a specific form of religious absolutism, fundamentalism emerges in direct response to the threats of modernization, such as secularism, westernization, and dislocation, but freely uses any modern tools and tropes that serve it well. This understanding of fundamentalism is supported by specific histories of fundamentalist movements, and the historical development of fundamentalism world-wide.

When we talk about fundamentalism, we cannot ignore the fact that the roots of fundamentalist political behaviour are found in patriarchal interpretations of religious beliefs and values. Fundamentalists claim to be upholding orthodoxy (right belief) or orthopraxis (right practice). They claim that they are protecting and preserving religious culture, traditions, and established ways of life from secular erosion. In spite of their dedication to “the old way,” fundamentalists do this by crafting new methods of control, formulating new ideologies, and adopting the latest political processes and organisational structures for advancing their beliefs in the public domain, thereby making these religious movements quintessentially political. To counter assumptions that fundamentalism today equals Islam, many of those who are studying this phenomenon and responding to it as activists, for example, the international network Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) and Women against Fundamentalism (WAF) in England, pluralise the word, as a way of saying that there are many ‘fundamentalisms’ in the world today and not one cultural-religious-political tendency only.

For WAF, strict religious observance alone is not fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism may be linked with right-wing or other authoritarian politics in various ways. Nationalist and racist organisations and regimes have invoked religion to legitimise themselves. The Nazis called for ‘a new structuring of the German-Christian family’. Afrikaner nationalism was buttressed throughout the apartheid era by the Dutch Reformed Church. With this type of understanding one may find little difference between George Bush’s comments, “You’re either with us or against us in the fight against terror.” and Muslim fundamentalists’ desire to see the earth as “Either Darul Hurb or Darul Islam”.

Some scholars, for example Jensen (2006) use the term to describe any intellectual/political/theological position that asserts an absolute certainty in the truth and/or righteousness of a belief system. Such fundamentalism leads to an inclination to want to marginalise, or in some cases eliminate, alternative ways to understand and organise the world. In that way, fundamentalism is not unique to religious people but is instead a feature of a certain approach to the world.

In contemporary ‘market fundamentalism’, as Jensen (2006) defines and explains, it is assumed that most extensive use of markets possible will unleash maximal competition, resulting in the greater good … and all this is inherently just, no matter what the results. The reigning ideology of so-called “free trade” seeks to impose this neo-liberalism everywhere on the globe. In this fundamentalism, it is an article of faith that the “invisible hand” of the market always provides the preferred result, no matter how awful the consequences may be for real people. In other words, economic fundamentalism, the worship of markets combined with steadfast denial about how the system actually operates, leads to a world in which not only are facts irrelevant to the debate, but people learn to ignore their own experience.
Thus the fact is there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor, both worldwide and within most nations. According to U.N. statistics, about a quarter of the world’s population lives on less than $1 a day and nearly half live on less than $2.

In both cases, women are the worst victims of this inequality.        



Your rating: None Average: 5 (2 votes)
Syndicate content
Powered by Drupal, an open source content management system