VAWG Illustrations 13 (1)

Politics of Money in Feminist Activism: A Pan-African Feminist, Lesbian Exploration

Part I. 

The Coalition of African lesbians 2019 to 2023 strategy, begins with a quote by Audre Lorde, 

while we fortify ourselves with visions of the future, we must arm ourselves with accurate perceptions of the barriers between us and that future… where does our power lie and how do we school ourselves to use it in the service of what we believe.” 

CAL’s work both in the present and in the future, is and will not possible without the resources that facilitate various interconnected activities which together actualise our commitment to co-creating (with women) a world where feminist values of freedom, dignity and social justice are reflected in our lives. 

The opening quote in CAL’s strategic plan captures the spirit of this document, our articulation of CAL’s politics of money is an attempt to arm ourselves with accurate perceptions of the possible barriers between us and the future we are working towards. Such a document may not have previously existed in CAL’s history, but CAL Secretariat has had several conversations about our perceptions of and contentions with  money within the context of its facilitation of our work. In addition to arming ourselves with accurate perceptions of barriers between us and the future we seek, this document is also a reflection of CAL’s growing understanding of intersectionality in our work. We have, for over a decade, understood that power lies at the heart of the multiple systems of oppression within and under which women live. Power, whether viewed through a feminist or a Marxist perspective, can not be adequately understood without grappling with and understanding the role and manifestation of money in our feminist activism. 

This is the beginning of a series of articles that have been developed as a result of CAL’s ongoing process of shaping an organisational standpoint of money in feminist activism. Some of the questions we grapple with include: 

  • What is our perspective of money? Its use, generation, distribution, its relationship to power.
  • What is our contention about money in the context of feminist activism and human rights advocacy? 
  • Who should we be getting money from?
  • Who should we not be getting money from?

The history of money dates back thousands of years before the common era when people first used objects found in nature, such as cowrie shells, as a currency to facilitate trade. Money has evolved to take several shapes since cowrie shells: coins, leather money, paper money, and most recently digital currencies. The long rich history of money however is beyond the scope of this paper. Nonetheless, to contextualise the organisation’s perspective of money, it is important to understand that the value of money is based on its universal symbolic value derived from its functions. Money has no intrinsic value, it is valuable because we have said it is valuable. 

For a long time, [western] feminists were neither keenly nor explicitly interested in the global monetary and financial order. Instead, their focus, particularly second wave feminists,  was on the distribution of money, particularly the unequal distribution of money (Adkins, 2018). Post world war policies that existed in many of the western countries supported gender norms which perpetuated heteronormative standards and norms where men were breadwinners and women were relegated to domesticity and financial dependency (Adkins, 2018).  Some of these policies denied women several employment, wealth and property rights because they could depend on the male breadwinners of their households. 

Meanwhile, a few decades in post-colonial Africa, women in Africa were concerned about the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) that were implicated in the rise of poverty in Africa which particularly affected women (Karademir, 2016). The SAPs were designed by the two Bretton Woods Institutions to purportedly provide support to countries experiencing economic crises by providing them with conditional low interest loans. The conditions, and the loans, were meant to ‘adjust’ the economic structures in  poor countries and improve their competitiveness in the global economy. Policies that the developing countries had to implement in order to be granted loans were concentrated on liberalising trade and increasing privatisation or divestiture of state run institutes. These policies severely affected the development and growth of social sectors in African countries. When one recalls that one of the influences in the design of the Bretton Woods SAP policies was the USA’s interest in countering the spread of socialist ideology from the Cold War, the increasingly decrepit social sector in developing countries that have been recipients of structural adjustment loans is unsurprising. Even closer to home where feminism in Africa draws heavily from anti-colonial and anti-imperial struggles which were informed by revolutionary socialism, SAPs and Structural Adjustment Loans (SALs) are a direct antithesis of the pursuit of liberation by African women.

Feminists are now increasingly interested in money beyond its unequal distribution, perhaps due to a recognition of the expansion of finance as well as the expansion of neoliberal, social and economic conditions. Feminists now are also interested in the unequal distribution of wealth, access to capital, debt, and taxes. A major interest for feminists in discourses on money is the question of funding for feminist activism. 

Next: We will explore Money in Feminist Activism. 

Share with us your thoughts about money in feminist activism. 


Lisa Adkins (2018) Money: A Feminist Issue, Australian Feminist Studies, 33:96, 167-171, DOI: 10.1080/08164649.2018.1517253 

Alper Karademir, 2016. “The Effects of Structural Adjustment Programs on Women in Developing Countries,” Proceedings of International Academic Conferences 4006460, International Institute of Social and Economic Sciences