Justice and Sustainability

Seeking justice, fueled by righteous rage and joy

Justice for many people continues to be an illusion, a chimera, but also something that is built from below and with the soil. This is how women defenders in Central America.

By FCAM | August 29, 2023

Justice for many people continues to be an illusion, a chimera, but also something that is built from below and with the soil. This is how women defenders in Central America understand and experience justice. Justice for our region’s feminists isn’t merely a legal and punitive necessity, but an economic and social one.

In this post, we’ll walk you through the steps necessary to rebuild justice as conceived by three feminist panelists who led the virtual conversation “Feminist Justice,” which was promoted by FCAM as part of the activities planned for its twentieth anniversary.

Feminist researcher and popular educator Carmen Aliaga (Bolivia) spoke with Evelyn Martínez (decolonial teacher and researcher) and Adriana Ramírez (ecofeminist), both from El Salvador, and also with the Guatemalan anthropologist and therapist Yolanda Aguilar. They argue that it is imperative to transform unequal power relations within dominant economic systems but also to heal individually and collectively, as a form of justice.

Economic Justice for Transformation

Economic inequality generates violence and injustice, but seeking justice from a feminist perspective not only involves reacting to consequences but also analyzing causes.

“Currently, we have an unfair economic system that concentrates wealth in the hands of twenty-six billionaires: property-owning white men, who get to make life and death decisions that affect the rest of the world. One billionaire can be as wealthy as entire countries,” said Evelyn.

Environmental women defenders understand that wealth and gender inequalities are the main cause behind these injustices, which is why they believe climate and gender justice are not possible under capitalism or patriarchy. However, they assert that every time organizations and movements carry out transformative actions they undermine these systems little by little.

Feminist economics critiques these systems and suggests concrete actions to gradually transform the current paradigm into that of the world we all deserve. They point out that feminist movements are building a type of social movement that women may exercise their right full life. From this perspective, Evelyn argues that it is essential to reconceptualize what economy means so it focuses on living rather than money and markets. According to Evelyn, this new economy must center needs beyond subsistence and the material, such as affection, care, protection, [political] participation, identity [recognition], and freedom.

Another key element for building justice via feminist economics is to recover ancestral economies that were based on relationships of reciprocity, solidarity and respect for nature. Moreover, coming up with new economies also involves thinking about new kinds of policies that are more participatory, direct, and assembly and community centered. We must build from the bottom up, seeking complementarity, reciprocity, sisterhood, and solidarity in connection to trade and consumption relations at the local and community levels.

Evelyn states that new economies must originate in organized communities, and they must build creative and transformative power to confront capitalist and patriarchal power relations, which are exercised through economic power in alliance with the political power of the Nation-State.

Heal in order to seek justice for ourselves

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” this quote by womanist and philosopher Audre Lorde was rescued by one of the panelists who remarked on the need to conduct deeper analyses of the kinds of justice we’re seeking.

For feminists, seeking justice implies thinking beyond punitivism, which is a way of repeating the violence of the colonizer, the oppressor. Oppressed groups must become aware of their place within the neocolonial scheme and breakaway from it. Consequently, feminists propose we look for new forms of justice that aren’t necessarily punitive or patriarchal.

“Deep justice implies repairing damaged bonds; it implies the active presence of memory; it implies carrying out a thoughtful critique of our reality, rescuing those ways of cracking the walls or snipping the fibers of racist, capitalist, and patriarchal powers. We must begin small; we must begin with resistance experiences where existential care of the damaged bond is rescued,” said Evelyn.

Central American women defenders are working on healing, memory, and awareness as a personal and collective path. They emphasize that the search for justice implies healing to remove all pain and recover their vital power.

Yolanda firmly believes in the need to introspect and observe how we have internalized this many-headed system. Likewise, the search for deep justice, true justice, also implies “emptying our stomachs by throwing up all the filth and garbage we’ve absorbed.” She warns, based on her own experience, that this is a painful process, which may take a long time, but it is a good way to heal and be healed.

The reflections yielded during the conversation revealed we must not wait for justice to come from the top. We must build them at the personal, individual, and collective level, so we can achieve together those changes and transformations we so desire.

Feminist hopes for a fairer future

As regards their hopes, the panelists emphasize the need to decolonize ourselves. They state that it’s also necessary to acknowledge that some Global South feminists have introjected a white, modern desire for progress, which they have been sold by outsiders

Evelyn emphasized that this dream of modernity has brought about crises, pandemics, and climate change, and it has produced people who, despite having their material needs covered, feel alone and isolated. She proposes that we rebuild our communities, the network of life, to recover that vital power that we all carry within.

Adriana shared her organization’s slogan: from below and with the soil. She believes this phrase is crucial for materializing our hopes and reminds us that we must continue accompanying our struggles from a place of righteous rage and joy. We must not remain silent; we must not lower our heads or see socio-environmental conflicts as something negative but rather as something transformative that builds justice.

These women defenders invite us to collectively build vital energy as well as new economies. In addition, they urge us to seek justice from our ancestral worldviews, being mindful of our genuine aspirations, what we need to be happy. We seek justice for our bodies and for biodiversity and nature. Before concluding, the panelists invite us to reflect on the following question: Where does life come from? And what do we need to sustain it?