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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #273 - interview, Françoise Vergès (political scientist): " How does capitalism manage the belly of racialized women ?" (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]
Mon, 19 Jun 2017 16:47:04 +0300
Françoise Vergès returns in this interview about the circumstances that culminated in the
writing of her book Le Ventre des femmes. Capitalism, racialization, feminism (Albin
Michel, 229 p., 20 euros). In the 1970s, thousands of young Reunion women suffered forced
abortions while in metropolitan France feminists were fighting for the right to abortion.
How do we explain this difference in treatment and how does it invite us to rethink
feminism ? What is the connection between the belly of women, the policies of
nation-states and the configuration of capitalism ? ---- AL: What led you to make this
book? ---- Françoise Vergès: Several questions have come to me. First, why overseas are
rarely present in postcolonial analyzes [ 1 ] in France ? They focus on the suburbs and
immigration and very rarely on the overseas territories that are, as territories of the
slave empire (Antilles, Guyana, Reunion) and post-slavery (New Caledonia, Mayotte, Pacific
lands), symptomatic of republican postcoloniality. What does this oversight tell us about
the relationship between the left and the extreme left to the overseas ?
Secondly, why is feminism in the 1970s-I'm talking about the Women's Liberation
Movement-ignore the issue of racialized women from overseas ? Why, in the history of
French feminism, are the struggles of women enslaved and colonized displaced ? If
feminism is tackled by including the struggles of slave, maroon, and colonized women, [ 2
] the periodicity and spatiality of the feminist narrative are completely changed.
To return to the " belly of women " from the XVI th century, European states are
interested in the management of the population and the number of children that women do,
what body and how much will be sent to The factory ? To war ? In the fields ? etc. The
most rigorous registers we have at our disposal being those of the plantations, the
management of bodies, and especially of the bodies of women, which takes place in the
colonies is therefore very important to analyze.
So the state chooses which women have the right to give birth.
Françoise Vergès: The starting point of the book is the following : in June 1970, a doctor
found a girl of 17 years in a comatose state following an abortion. The police are warned
and the investigation reveals that thousands of women have been aborted and sterilized
without consent, that is to say that after lying to them, they were asleep and in the
morning they were aborted , And this, in a clinic of the island that belongs to a powerful
man of the local right. The scandal is such that it is relayed by left-wing political
newspapers and organizations in France.
The trial verdict is in early March 1971, two months before the publication of the
Manifesto of the 343 women [ 3 ] in Le Nouvel Observateur who declare publicly having an
abortion. But the MLF will not say anything about what happened two months before in
Reunion, even though Le Nouvel Obs had covered the case. The fight for abortion and
contraception in France is conceived by the MLF as a struggle that concerns all women in
the same way. What the Reunion scandal shows us is that the state chooses which women have
the right to give birth (white metropolitan women), and which women do not (racialized
overseas women ).
At the trial, the doctors said they felt completely legitimate in their practice and they
were right. A whole system not only made their practice possible, it encouraged it. The
doctors and the clinic were also considerably enriched because the aborted and sterilized
women being poor, the act was reimbursed by the Social Security - under another name
obviously since abortion was always a crime - and most often overbilled.
It was a lucrative business, and on this subject a doctor, on the occasion of the
presentation of my book in Reunion, told me that he was told that he was studying medicine
in Lyon: " You want to make golden balls ? Then goes to Reunion and practices abortions.
The only convicts were a doctor of Moroccan origin and a Reunion nurse of Indian origin
(a malbar ). No white doctor was worried, nor of course the director of the clinic. A
profound racism inspired the doctors who had no qualms about mutilating the bodies of the
Reunion women, who could practice unsolicited abortions for more than seven months of
How does the state choose women who are to procreate and who should not ?
Françoise Vergès: To answer this, we must start with a fact: the millions of Africans
deported had all a mother. But the role of the " belly " of African women, punctured by
the slave trade for centuries, remains invisible, why ? Then, in the colonies, the
reproduction of slave labor takes many forms. In the United States, from the abolition of
slavery in 1808, settlers set up a " slave breeding industry ." Women slaves are raped,
give birth, raped again ... The state of Virginia will be at the forefront of this
industry. In the French slave colonies, if there is local breeding, the choice is first
and foremost to ensure reproduction by the slave trade. Hence the enormous imbalance
between men and women, since the settlers want men - the general ratio allowed was two
thirds of men, one third of women. It is therefore necessary to look at the management of
the belly of women in the Global South in the reproduction of a racialized labor,
sexualized, precarious, gendered and mobile play where predation, puncture, and
reproduction at the service of capital [ 4 ] .
It is a colonial situation that persists under other configurations.
Françoise Vergès: From this story, I turn to the more general question: how capitalism he
manages the belly of women and racialized women in particular [ 5 ] ? How does global
capitalism treat women in the South ?
And then I come to the period after the Second World War. France, which participates in
the creation of the United Nations and Unesco, must reconfigure its colonial empire while
preserving its interests, but in a context of universal condemnation of racism, the
reconstruction of France, the cold war, the construction of the Decolonization, workers'
struggles and the reconfiguration of French and world capitalism. The State, which needs
the resources of the colonies but can no longer call them colonies , proposes the French
Union (an asymmetrical construction which will last for some years), but declares that the
development of the overseas departments is " Impossible ".
Two policies are needed: emigration and birth control. Emigration, it will be the Bumidom:
tens of thousands of West Indians and West Indians, Guyanese and Reunionese are sent to
France to occupy the most proletarianized category C public services or work in the
factories. Women are recruited for Category C functions, for the health care industry or
for domestic workers. Rather than developing these territories, they will be condemned,
which is echoing today with the situation in Guyana, it is a colonial situation that
persists under other configurations. Birth control: forced abortions and sterilizations,
distribution of the pill,
Maternal and Child Health (PMI) and Family Planning encourage women to take the pill and
the IUD and send them to the clinic where they are aborted without consent. The propaganda
is intense, radios, newspapers, posters showing a woman bending under the children with
big letters " Enough ! ". In France, by contrast, the state affirms a policy that is
We will make the political choice to introduce birth control.
Françoise Vergès: In the 1960s and 1970s, the Gros Blancs (large landowners from Reunion
Island, often descendants of slave owners) began to sell their land to large
multinationals, factories closed and mechanization took root. Agriculture, factories and
ports. Unemployment is established on a long-term basis, it is contemporaneous with the
arrival of the consumer society and the creation of a middle class of civil servants with
a higher salary. The argument of " overpopulation " comes at a point: it justifies
emigration and birth control, removes the fear of decolonization - the anti-colonial
parties and movements are powerful. It also justifies the non-development,
This could not have been done without the active complicity of Reunion Islanders and
Yes, and it is very important to understand how consent to an ideology is fabricated,
because in order to develop dissent, should we not understand the strategies of consent ?
Why do the oppressed adopt the language of the oppressors ? Because if it is legitimate
for women to have access to contraception and abortion, how could abuse of power and
racist policies have been so massively deployed ? Which intermediaries ?
A State does not exercise its power solely by repression. In the French overseas
departments, the French State suppressed, bludgeoned - and it bludgeoned very strongly:
any strike, any social movement were considered insurrectional. From my childhood and
adolescence in Reunion I have never known a serene election. The state imprisons, censors,
but it also makes an offer. On the one hand, the Reunionese and the Reunionese become like
the " French " on condition of moving away from their own culture, language, history of
resistance ; On the other hand, the offer is no longer addressed only to the Big Whites,
but also to a new social class, the petit-bourgeois Reunionese who is no longer white, and
who is going to get rich a little while providing allié.es.
A part of this new social class, from which the social workers will emerge, is going to
take over from these policies, they take up on their account scornful and racist
statements towards the people (" these people make too many children " " They are
uneducated, " etc.) and adopt the hygienist ideology of state campaigns on what a good
father is, a good mother ... Of course there has been resistance. In the 1960s, children
were hidden when social workers arrived.
On the issue of emigration as a policy to alleviate the " labor market ", it must be
emphasized that while thousands of overseas workers are sent to France, thousands of
white, male civil servants arrive. When I was little, the doctors, the civil servants, the
professors were all whites. This will be accompanied by the imposition of a new way of
life, the local world is covered by the attractiveness of whiteness (the white man is "
courteous, polite, distinguished ", unlike the Reunionnais who would be " vulgar ").
New social norms are being established. For example, you should drink whiskey rather than
rum, because rum becomes a prolo thing. All this is part of an apparatus in place to
pacify a society. And the most racialized in Reunion are the Blacks.
The " impossible development " is accompanied by the reinforcement of the dependence on
France: the local products disappear, the imports of France increase. Small, I was eating
meat from Madagascar, today between 70 and 90 % of the products consumed in the overseas
Do you have any hard words in your book towards the MLF, saying that because he did not
know how to " provincialize ", he opened the way to a reactionary feminism ?
Françoise Vergès: Yes, it is a movement that could have become a great emancipation
movement and has totally missed this turning point. The MLF carried something because it
was attacking the state and patriarchy. But by forgetting the racization of patriarchy and
capital, imperialism and the politics of racialization, it could be gradually laundered. A
feminism obsessed with headscarves, secularism, etc., was born in the 2000s. We have seen
a " national feminism ", a civilizational feudalism. And many radical movements are now
facing their own racism.
Class and race are housed in the heart of patriarchy. The laundering of the struggles
makes today we can hear about feminism to the extreme right !
Islamophobia is the heart of these feminisms that have nothing to say about the
intervention in Mali, on the imperialist policies of the French state. The only thing on
which they have something to say is Islam. The word capitalism does not come out of their
Of course women's rights are essential but these rights can not be the horizon of women's
emancipation. That I have these rights does not free society because on the one hand all
women do not have access to it for questions of class and race. On the other hand, the
horizon of feminism is the emancipation of society as a whole. That is why I propose in my
book to decolonize and provincialize feminism, that is, to be attentive and attentive to
the different oppressions that women in the world experience. There is a patriarchy that
plagues women everywhere, but we must refine. To speak of a French feminism is totally
contradictory to the idea of feminism. Feminism should be anti-racist, anti-capitalist,
anti-imperialist and therefore internationalist.
Interview by Bernard Gougeon (AL Tarn)
[ 1 ] That is to say, analyzes which are concerned with the way colonization and slavery
have shaped modern societies.
[ 2 ] Marooning refers to the escape of slaves from plantations. They incurred death or
mutilation according to a jurisdiction codified by the Black Code (the legal system of
slavery in force in the French colonies).
[ 3 ] Written by Simone de Beauvoir's manifesto was signed by many personalities, then
exposing to criminal prosecution.
[ 4 ] See for example the works of Silvia Federici: Revueperiode.net, " Reproduction and
feminist struggle in the new international division of labor "
[ 5 ] That is to say, which has historically and socially constructed racial alterity
through a pseudo-scientific literature, a specific jurisdiction, propaganda
representations, and so on.
[ 6 ] Long-acting contraceptive.
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