The Remaking of Social Contracts: Feminists in a Fierce New World edited by Gita Sen and Marina Durano


Reviewed by Wilma Garvin.

This book has been produced on behalf of DAWN (Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era) which is a group of women from South Asia and was started in Bangalore, India in 1984. The edited book aims to address some of the challenges of the 21st century such as economic, ecological, political and social which have resulted in a series of crises.

The book is divided into five parts. Part I is the introduction with one chapter on social  contracts revisited: the promise of human rights. Part II has four chapters and relates to governing globalization: critiquing the reproduction of inequality. Part III has three chapters and covers political ecology and climate justice: tackling sustainability and climate change. Part IV has three chapters that relate to secularism and biopolitics: confronting fundamentalism and deciphering biopolitics. Then Part V comprises four chapters related to frontier challenges: building nation-states and social movements.

In Part 1, the editors of the book have discussed how the book is a product of the attempt by DAWN to understand complexities, to challenge webs of power and to spell out what it will take to resist the might of globalization and reaction (p3). They explain that the term ‘social contract’ is taken  to mean that social processes move in fits and starts with turmoil and transformation being interspersed by long periods of stability (p5). It outlines the subordination of women to the power in ownership or control over assets, incomes, tools, knowledge and access as well as the control over women’s bodies (p15).

Part II relates to the global financial system and presents a critique of the gendered nature of inequality. Chapter 1 looks at how inequality has contributed to the most recent global crisis and the increase in size and importance of an unregulated financial sector (p33). It discusses the role that neoliberal policies have played.

Climate injustice is the focus for Part III and Chapter 6 looks at geoengineering as a gender issue as it looks at how modern scientific enterprise subjugates both women and nature. It explains the ways in which technology has been used to manage the natural environment and resources, such as managing the sun, burying carbon dioxide and controlling the weather. It also discusses why the geoengineering discourse is gendered. Chapter 7 in this section, Land grabs, food security and climate justice: a focus on sub-Saharan Africa, relates to the ways in which food security is a gendered issue since it makes the point that women make up at least 75% of agricultural workers (p143). Randriamaro further discusses the feminist perspective of the causes and effects of food insecurity and hunger and how entitlement is shaped by patriarchal norms and practices (p144). Again, in this chapter, the point is made that there is the effect of power between those who have and those who are the have nots as well as emphasising that women do not benefit as equally as men. She also links the local i.e. what is happening in Africa to the global.

Moving on to Part IV where the focus is sexuality with links to sexual health and human rights. It also relates to the relationship between religion, culture and government and how people’s lives are affected by these such as abortion in Latin America and Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law. Abortion is a criminal offence in several Latin American countries even in the case of incest or life threatening situations. In Uganda, homosexuality was already illegal but a new bill looked at imposing prison sentences or even the death penalty. There is a lot of discrimination towards the LGBT community. So here are just two examples of how women and the LGBT community in certain countries are discriminated against.

The final section now looks at a range of issues that relate to the building of nation states and social movements. One issue which is looked at briefly is the role of ICTs. As we know from the use of social media in the West, it can be a great tool for women to organise themselves and to communicate their views but it is also a locus of misogyny. In the final chapter, Francisco and Antrobus look at women’s movements and feminist activists and urge women to get involved in global events and platforms.

The contributors to The Remaking of Social Contracts take a wide perspective on what is happening to women and sometimes the LGBT community. It provides an engaging and thought provoking read and it provides a different perspective since it looks at the impact of globalisation, feminist activism and power.

This review has been written by Wilma Garvin who is a Senior Lecturer at the University of East London. She lectures on the global management of people. Her research interests relate to gender and she is currently researching aspects of women’s networking.