Global Studies Association Conference Notes - Part 4 - Poto Mitan
Cross-posted from The Global Sociology Blog.
The highlight of the session "Women Confront Globalization" was the screening of a rough cut of the film Poto Mitan - Haitian Women, Pillars of the World Economy, directed by Renee Bergan (she is also the founder of Renegade Pictures) and she co-presented it with anthropologist Mark Schuller of UC Santa Barbara, co-director of the film.
Poto Mitan means "central pillars" in Kreyo (Haitian Creole) and it is clear that this is in reference to the women presented in this film. These are women who struggle with the familiar problems women face in the Global South: poverty, raising kids alone, working in factories for global brands for low wages (roughly $1.80 per day) and horrific working conditions. Add to that the sexual violence and harassment that these women experience when they try to fight back and organize through unions or other structures.
As bad as it is, it becomes even worse when the factories close their doors for good, leaving these women with no sources of income. Why do the factories close? Because global capitalists do not like unstable countries. They much prefer authoritarian regimes who can keep people (that is their generally feminine workforce) in line and Haiti has had its share of political turmoil and violence in recent history, including brutal food riots a few months ago. Also, since China gained greater access to the world through the World Trade Organization, a lot of other, albeit, poor countries cannot compete with cheap workforce and cheap exports (and again, a stable country managed by a regime that cares very little for human and workers rights).
So, the women of Haiti, especially those who live in the Cite Soleil, a slum on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, try to figure out how to survive. It is this struggle that the movie powerfully conveys.
Even though we were presented a rough cut, the film already looked incredibly professional. The interviews with the women were very powerful even though it seems that we have heard these stories the world over as the problems these women face seem universal. I guess that is one of the characteristics of globalization: to create common problems for certain categories of people who then have to dig and tap into their national and cultural resources to solve them. Especially considering the fact that globalization presents a basic survival problem for women and their children in many parts of the Global South.
The film also illustrates several other dilemmas of globalization:
The fact that as bad as factory jobs are, they are often better than ekeing out a living in environmentally stressed rural areas, as is especially the case in Haiti.
Also, the fact that one major relationship of power in the global era is between highly mobile capital and fixed labor: these women have nowhere to go whereas factories are easily open and closed pretty much anywhere in the world depending on which places owners find desirable locations. And right now, Haiti is not desirable at all. This is one of the major imbalance of power that clearly puts labor at a massive disadvantage.
But the women in the film, like so many women around the world, have no choice but to fight to find imperfect solutions to problems not of their own making.
This film is a lesson in courage.