Women and Globalization:
Toward an Economy of Caring
by Marcia Florkey
After two hours’ travel on a hilly dirt road in the Northwest Province of Cameroon, West Africa, the narrow valley opens on a vast hillside of young palm-oil trees. Women of all ages work together in this remote area, caring for their young children and babies among them and cultivating these trees that contain hope for their families’ future.
“Palm oil is a necessity of life here in Cameroon,” explains Maria Morfaw, the international coordinator of the Village Women’s Organization (VIWO) and founder and developer of the Palm Oil Plantation Project. “Palm oil is used every day in every household and yet is grown only in the southern areas of Cameroon.” VIWO, with help from the Cameroon Ministry of Agriculture, planted more than 7000 palm-oil trees on two sites. The General Board of Global Ministries, through grants from International Ministries with Women, Children, and Youth, has supported the project with funds for fertilizers, cultivation tools, and a basic oil press. The hope is that within the next two years, the mature trees will provide enough oil for the women to sell locally and regionally.
“It is much more expensive for families to purchase the oil that has to be shipped from other parts of the country,” Morfaw states, “so this will provide stability to the communities and a source of employment and revenue for the women and their children in the future.”
A Caring and Sharing Economy
Traditional roles of women in the developing world have changed little in the past 50 years. There is still a great need for improved living conditions, increased educational opportunities, adequate food, and medical services. In fact, women’s additional and multiple economic roles have led to increasingly difficult living situations. These economic roles include:
Yet the future can hold hope and promise, as the women of VIWO in Cameroon have discovered. What does an economic structure based on caring and sharing look like? A publication produced by the Justice, Peace, and Creation team of the World Council of Churches, A Caring Economy—Alternatives to Globalization Addressing People & Earth (AGAPE), says a caring economy at its core exemplifies the values of equity and justice but provides care that goes beyond equity and justice as defined by governments or civil society. In other languages, caring is actually defined as being present and attentive, one’s eyes to others needs, “worrying” about others. A caring economy would ensure the provision of basic needs for all and would value the essential care work created, affirmed, produced, and distributed equitably by women and men. It is an economy in which all human rights—including women’s economic, social, and cultural rights—are upheld and protected. A caring economy moves away from values of accumulation and profit to values of redistribution and reparation, where plurality and contextuality (rather than a universal homogeny) are celebrated. A caring economy includes caring for the earth for future generations and implies a move from free trade to a just and responsible trade that does not exploit marginalized people or the environment.
Women in Cameroon
This is evident on the streets of Yaounde, Cameroon, where hundreds of women have set up shop as vendors, selling everything from cell-phone voucher cards to cups of coffee and fast foods from portable carts. Some also own small sewing and tailoring shops. Creativity and ingenuity are not in short supply among the women, but the lack of capital, basic education, and small-business training often hinder the women’s ability to maintain and grow their businesses. A dream of Akale’s and the Office of Ministries with Women and Children would be to enable women of The United Methodist Church in this region of Africa to produce items that are needed, first of all, by their communities but that also could be exported for sale to women in other parts of the world, such as the United States, to complete the “circle of caring and sharing.”
Women in Papua New Guinea
Tess’ International Handicrafts
The women of the Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy (PODA) in rural Pakistan are some of the suppliers to Teresa’s shop. “Older girls and young women have little access to education beyond primary school and almost no opportunities for jobs in rural areas,” says PODA founder Sameena Nazir. “So in order to provide additional education and income, we created an informal education project on human-rights awareness and income-generating skills through recycling paper for paper-maché art products.” The young women have become skilled artisans and in addition to income have gained new dignity and respect for themselves and within their families. The boxes and ornamental items they have created provide a necessary link to tell the story of and learn about the lives of young women in Pakistan. Both Nazir and Rynkiewich see this as vital in building understanding among the cultures, in telling the story of Pakistani women and in creating a new economy—an economy of caring.
While the effects of globalization and economic conditions worldwide are complex, there is much to learn from women like Maria, Catherine, Teresa, and Sameena. Their collective thoughts and actions prove that an economy of caring is possible. Their work offers hope that a just, global economy could and already does exist where sharing, collaboration, and resources are distributed fairly. Our responsibility is continually to challenge our own actions so that “the one who has much doesn’t have too much and the one who has little doesn’t have too little.”
Marcia Florkey is the Executive Secretary for Ministries with Women and Children, Mission Contexts and Relationships. She recently visited Cameroon, where the Village Women’s Organization and GBGM missionary Catherine Akale are located.
Catherine Akale can be supported as a covenant missionary through Advance giving. Her missionary code is 13951Z.
Date posted: Mar 07, 2006