Basque feminism and independence: #IWD interview with Jule Goikoetxea

Having lived in the Basque Country for a year and a half now (albeit mainly while locked down), it is very easy to see that there is a strong feminist movement here. You see it in the graffiti in towns and cities, in the slogans on strikes, in the regular demonstrations, and in the words of politicians.

Indeed, on Thursday [4 March] a day of strike action for a “public community care system” in the Basque Country saw a “Feminist Picket” make its presence felt in Basque cities and at the Basque Parliament. International Women’s Day is always marked by significant mobilisations.

What has been called the fourth-wave feminist movement has brought radical thinkers and activists to a wider audience, including Jule Goikoetxea, a Basque feminist who is professor of political theory at the University of the Basque Country and author of ‘Privatizing Democracy’ (2018) and co-author of ‘Basque Patriarchal Democracy’, published last year. She is also one of the lead organisers of a major international marxist-feminist conference set to take place in Bilbao this November.

Goikoetxea’s ideas on democracy combine a strong critique of the liberal vision for a globalised, post-national democracy, with a radical feminist conception of what democratisation should look like at the local and national level. As such, they are highly relevant to those interested in how independence could help forge a fundamentally different type of democracy and society.

In this podcast to mark International Women’s Day, I asked Goikoetxea about:

– What does patriarchal power look like in Europe today? (1:07);

– The pandemic crisis and it’s impact on women (15:47);

– What’s the future of democracy in a globalised world? (23:35)

– The feminist movement in the Basque Country and its impact on the independence movement (38:22)

Bella Caledonia · Interview with Jule Goikoetxea



Bella Caledonia: The book you co-authored last year, ‘Basque Patriarchal Democracy’, analyses the structure of patriarchal power in the Basque Country. How did you go about doing that and what conclusions did you come to?

Jule Goikoetxea: First of all, this is a book about European neoliberal patriarchy. Even if most of the figures and interviews are from the Basque Country, our research can be applied in Spain, Germany, Scotland, wherever, because the structure of neoliberal patriarchy is the same.

We had two main objectives with the book. The first one was to give people an easy conceptual device to think about patriarchy as a male system of material domination. The second objective was to explain how neoliberal patriarchy reproduces itself decade by decade, century by century.

We analyse patriarchy in six dimensions, and in this book we look specifically at four: the sphere of paid jobs, non-paid jobs, the state and the public-socio-political space. There are two other dimensions – sexuality and male violence against women – which we didn’t analyse, but we have a lot of figures anyway on these two dimensions.

The differences between countries is dependent on the dimensions of the state, most importantly the welfare regime. Depending on the state, women will work more or less, and will have more or less economic, social, cultural and symbolic capital. And by capital I mean: power. One of our hypotheses is that the difference between men and women is actually a difference of power. We have analysed this in the Basque Country, the Spanish state and at the level of the European Union. We have the data of every European country on the welfare regimes, paid and unpaid working hours, etc.

One of the main findings we come to is that women everywhere work much more than men and everywhere they have less power. In this sense it is like slaves in the slavery system where the slaves worked much more than the non-slaves but had much less power. This can similarly be applied to capitalism, and also colonialism. There are common features within these three main domination systems.

Finally, we have introduced four proposals. The first is to create a feminist federal state. You have probably heard about this idea from Catalonia where there was demands for a feminist independent republic. This idea came from the Basque Country where we demanded almost ten years ago the creation of a federal feminist state.

For me, it is very important to underline the need to decentralise power. If power is not decentralised, in this case territorially, women will never get power. In those centres where power and capital accumulates, it is dominated by men, and the places which are furthest from power centres and closest to citizens, we find much more women. So in our proposal for feminist statehood the first level of government would be at the neighbourhood, one level below the municipalities.

Secondly, we propose feminist consociationalism, which to sum up means every decision making process would be made up by at least 50% women, and a co-president – woman and men. The veto power of women would have to be ensured during the entire depatriarchalisation process. This is a veto power that currently men and business associations have, and this veto power would go to women, and we should remember when we talk of women we are talking 95 per cent are working class, so when I speak of women I am generally speaking of working class women.

The third proposal would be the organisation of women groups alongside every mixed group. So if we have a mixed parliament, we also have a women-only parliament. I think this is a proposal that Cat Boyd in the Scottish independence movement also proposed. And this would have to be from the bottom to the top – starting from the neighbourhoods.

Finally, the fourth proposal is about how we put life at the centre. When we speak about life versus capital, and about how to put life at the centre, we usually speak about how to organise caring. What we propose is that economic value will be according to necessities and work will be done to fulfil those necessities. To go forward with this de-commodification process, paid work and unpaid work will both be valued by time, and no one will be allowed to do more paid work than non-paid work. In this sense, caring work has to be compulsory and rotatory, so everyone would be compelled to do caring. This would continue until paid and non-paid work disappear into a new organisation where life and not capital is at the centre.

Bella Caledonia: The pandemic crisis has shone a spotlight on the reality of exploitation of working class women, in terms of paid work like social care but also unpaid care work. Do you think the necessity of the radical ideas you are proposing has been evidenced over the past year?

Jule Goikoetxea: I wrote in an article during the first lockdown that we call the structured exploitation of women ‘democratic normality’, and on the other hand we call the loss of profits ‘a crisis’. We call the privatisation of resources and healthcare and the mass murder of refugees ‘democratic normality’, but we call it a ‘world crisis’ when Europeans start to die, especially if those who die are men and white. When the androcentric myth of personal self-sufficiency in which you live collapses, it is a crisis!

The fact that the heads of states said that the grandparents could look after the children perfectly well if the schools are closed and parents have to go to work, this is a clear indication of the extent to which slavery is normalised. This is not a product of coronavirus, it was there before.

40% of GDP comes from the unpaid work of women. This is before the pandemic. 95% of care was provided by women. Before the pandemic. The closure of schools predominantly affects women, who constitute a majority of workers in that sector, as well as in the healthcare sector. These are structural issues, nothing to do with the virus. Women are poorer and are the first to be laid off. This adds to the problem of the pandemic.

Feminists have been proposing for years other ways of governing, of building community and public affairs (‘res publica’). These are ideas that democratic rulers refuse to consider.

Of course a consequence of these proposals would be to eliminate the possibility of accumulating capital and that men would have to work more in order to equalise with women’s work, which is around 400 hours per year more on average.

It is true that a lot more people have gone through the experimentation of what is patriarchal capitalism over the past year, but it was there before. It confirms what we have been saying in our research. But why were people not asking until this past year: why is 40% of all work non-commodified? It is not capitalism which produces most of the things we need to fulfil our necessities, it is the non-paid work of women across the entire world which produces what we need. And we saw in the lockdown what are the important jobs that fulfil our necessities and make possible our life.

This is why I am, in a sense, happy. Even if this is a catastrophic phase of history, we have been saying for a long time that these are structural problems, but no one was listening until this catastrophic event happened.

Bella Caledonia: In your book ‘Privatizing Democracy’ you criticise cosmopolitan liberal proposals for global democracy, and argue that the multi-level liberal governance institutions that have developed with globalisation is not democratisation, because there has been no collective self-empowerment. Can you explain this view?

Jule Goikoetxea: Everyone sees the democratic deficit in globalisation, and in response we have seen an expansion of cosmopolitan proposals for global democracy. These proposals seek to solve this deficit while attacking sovereignty, nationalism and so on.

This is not new. Ever since we have had neoliberal globalisation we have had claims that the nation-state is at an end, and as such cosmopolitan discourses are post-sovereign, post-national proposals.

My response to this focuses on local and national communities. On the one hand the question is: what happened with national identity? If we are in a globalised world where the nation-state has no importance and national communities are not going to be political subjects, you will have to demonstrate that most of the European people are already non-national, but the fact is that 91% of Europeans identify with their nation. So the nation is still one of the main political identities even if we are in a globalised world. Why? Because what is truly globalised is capital, but the cosmopolitans can’t admit that in order to speak of this post-national, post-sovereign global democracy.

The second issue is that they seek to bring the world into line with the norms implicit in our commitments to humanity and equality. They say that our moral and political ideas are outdated and we have to translate these ideas into cosmopolitan conditions of existence. So they argue that our current democratic deficit is not a result of privatisation but of primitive instincts, which lead people to seek “perverse artefacts”, as I say in the book, like welfare states and organising into nations and not into lobbies, as they would like.

The problem with this view is that for something to first be global it must be local, and there is nothing in our political history which leads us to think that global problems neutralise local ones, or the fact that being connected across the entire world means we must give priority to the global over the local, or that we must get rid of local mechanisms of self-government to face global problems. They are speaking about global democracy without knowing how local democracy can work.

The words “post-national regime” or “post-sovereign democracy” are used to suggest that a non-national, non-state, non-sovereign yet still democratic governance regime can exist in our global world and that this regime will be put in place by the economic rationality of free trade and competition, as if the persistent absence of global democratic political structures over the last forty years had been an accidental lapse, or as if the lack of power of the European Parliament had been a mistake. The European Union was constructed with a very weak parliament, with already a neoliberal political architecture.

To be clear, there are no mechanisms in post-national, post-sovereign multilevel governance systems for the population to make political decisions and govern themselves according to these political decisions. They are not democratic in the historic or political sense of the word, precisely because they prevent a correlation between the state, that is, the institutionalised political capacity of a concrete people, and the people, from taking place. As a consequence, there is no transference of popular sovereignty and decision-making into any complex of public institutions able to carry out these decisions.

Bella Caledonia: Independence movements constantly face criticism, including from the left, of being backwards and retrograde because they look to the nation in a globalising world. But you are arguing the opposite, that the future of democracy lies at the local and national level?

Jule Goikoetxea: Most of the left thinks in the same logic as philosophical and political liberalism, even if they are socialists or social democrats. Their thinking about the state is deterritorialised. You could say that they do not touch ground.

If you think about the democracy we have been living in the last two centuries, under industrial capitalism and now neoliberal capitalism, democratic societies are now institutionalised societies. Much of the democratisation that has happened came through the publification of the state – healthcare, education and so on. All of these public services are tied to the territory. Why? Because we are territorial beings; no matter where in the world you are, you are tied to a territory. In the same way you are always tied to your body.

These liberal discourses, whether from the left or the right, they do not touch ground – that’s why we need these materialist feminist proposals, because we start from the body and from the territory. If you do not have the wellbeing of your body and your territory secure, it will be impossible to have a democracy. That means that any type of democratic system has to be rooted in a territory. Democratisation processes always go alongside specific territorialisation processes.

Bella Caledonia:  The feminist movement in the Basque Country and Spain has been very strong in recent years. Has this had an impact on the independence movement?

Jule Goikoetxea: The independence movement in the Basque Country as well as Catalonia is taking ideas from feminism. Why? Because the feminist movement is the biggest social movement we have here nowadays.

We are a small country and the feminist movement is very organised, so we press to make sure our ideas have influence. We have around 200 feminist associations in the Basque Country. The biggest associations, organised nation-wide, are pro-independence. Social movements here have been traditionally pro-independence, even if we have here only one party which is pro-independence, which is EH Bildu. The feminist movement has a lot of influence in those parties from the left even if they are not pro-independence, such as Podemos. Some women in the governing party in the Basque Autonomous Community, the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV), are also being influenced by the feminist movement.

So feminists have much more influence in Basque politics than, say, 15 years ago – much, much more.

Comments (2)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published.

  1. SleepingDog says:

    It would seem that fourth-wave feminism is as limited by its humanism as all other humanist ideologies. The biosphere is global, so you cannot put life first by prioritising the local, as local ecosystems are dependent on the biosphere. And the climate crises are predicted to shift a lot of people from a lot of territories, so your ideologies, to be planetary-realistic, are going to have to cope with that case. Who is more grounded here? I suppose this is an inevitable focus of the Basque perspective.

    When I checked Wikipedia’s entry for fourth-wave feminism, I found that one of the criticisms was its reliance on technology and social media, not exactly grounded and territorial:
    and I suspect it may at times not be strongly rooted in biology.

    Rather than have additional women-only parliaments, my suggestion would be to represent non-human life in parliamentary structures.

    I realise that you can only cover so much in an interview, and I only read the summary, so perhaps the real analysis is in the book.

  2. Graham Ennis says:

    This is absolutely the best situation I have seen expressed on the issue. It brings a powerful shame on the Scottish Parliament as to the situation in Scotland. I do not know the intricvacies in Scotland, as to law and constitution, but the issue needs a major bill in Parliament, an omnibus bill, that either gets into law, or becomes a powerful argument for nationalism if it is stopped or undermined by London. It also brings on board wavering feminists. Plus radical Males. Discussion please.
    We are in a situation in Caledonia where the ancient kilt, to express male values, etc, but Women get ignored. Hmmm….

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.