Women stop GATS
Vandana Shiva, Women Stop GATS Conference in Cologne, 9th May 2003

Thank you Danute, thank you Maria, and all the sisters who worked to put together this amazing event, and have all of you here. Because I agree with Maude. It's precisely because they think we are so marginalized, we are so powerless, that we have the kind of power that takes them by surprise all the time. And we're going to take them by surprise...
Not only is the group that is here good activists. But I think some of us have really created the articulation of the worldview from where women resist. We resist privatization and the General Agreement on Trade and Services as the coercive instrument to impose privatization of the very vital sectors of our life. Sectors through which we meet our sustenance needs: for water, for energy. And sectors through which we make sure that health and education are provided to all of our societies.
These vital sectors are defined as 'service.' Now there is a very significant meaning to the word 'service'. Because 'to serve' is to give with love to the other. And privatization of service is just the opposite: to take by force from the other...
So I think our first step in the GATS campaign is to basically say it is not about service. Stop using the word when you appropriate our water, you appropriate our health, you appropriate our education. You are not serving society. You are wiping society out.
At the second ministerial meeting of the WTO this group of women — we are part of Diverse Women for Diversity — we said, "you know WTO doesn't just mean the World Trade Organization. It also can mean Women Take On the World Trade Organization." And we are going to take it on in the GATS, for sure. Because it is about the takeover of our sectors on our terms. Sectors in which we have not just met our needs, but have met the needs of society.
I think you know that the General Agreement on Trade and Services could be an agreement we work out together. Then the name would be legitimate. It would be general. It would be an agreement. It would be about trade in gift giving, in mutuality. And it would be about serving. What they have actually created is BAD: private deals for disservice. They are private deals, because nowhere is any privatization agreement a public, open document that parliaments and the public have seen. Never. They are totally secret.
Every water privatization project is a corrupt deal, involving kickbacks. There is data showing that 80% of the corruption in France is because of Suez and Vivendi, the two big water giants. And that is the situation in every case of privatization. Because you cannot take what belongs to the public without corruption. And you cannot take what belongs to the public in a transparent process, because ordinary people are going to come out (and protest). So you have to have secret deals.
Privatization is also based on the assumption that everything is property, everything is a commodity. But property rights over water are ecologically illegitimate, they are ethically wrong, because water belongs to nature, water belongs to the people. I will give you just two examples of that attitude of turning into private property that which belongs to the commons, to the public, as a shared resource. And why serving is the legitimate way in which we relate. Because when something is shared, when something is common, then you give and take, and there is mutuality. When something is private property, then you sell. But when private property is created by appropriation of the commons, it is that old primitive accumulation. And these are areas in which we, particularly women, are really fighting back, fighting hard.
The first example of this privatization is in a village in South India, in Kerala. Now the state of Kerala is interestingly one of the wettest states in the world; they have never had water scarcity. But two years ago Coca-Cola came in, and in a totally secret deal - so far nobody has seen the piece of paper through which they got the right — they started to suck out water, to bottle and sell it under the brandname Kinley: 1.5 million liters of water. I call it water theft. Because they never asked nature's permission. And they never asked the community's permission.
And in less than two months the water table started to go down. And the women came out, tribal women. Within the first month of their protest, 400 women were arrested. I was with them on Earth Day. They didn't know it was Earth Day. But it was the first anniversary of their struggle, right at the gates of the Coca-Cola plant, despite all the police violence. And after the celebration, as I was coming out and we started to move away, bus after bus of policemen came out of the Coca-Cola plant. I must have counted about 50 buses.
At this point there is not a drop of water left in a two-mile radius around that plant. Every well is dry, every tank is dry, every lake is dry. But the women are not going to give up. And I told them I would like to come back next Earth Day to celebrate a victory. Because actually we have had a victory at another river that was privatized - the river was privatized!
In India our rivers are our commons. I think for 98% of Indians, it is not the municipality supplying tapped water, it is the rivers that provide your water. Women wash their clothes, they get their buffaloes, they have their baths; everything revolves around the river.
Now the river called Shivnath was privatized. And the company that now 'owned' it had police security forces on motor bikes, running up and down the length of the river to make sure that women weren't washing their clothes, that they weren't using water from their own wells within a kilometer of the river. Because the river is linked to the wells, and if they took out just one bucket, the company said they were stealing the water. Just like when seeds are patented, and biodiversity is patented: when farmers save seed on their own land, through their own work, companies like Monsanto call if theft!
So once water or biodiversity is defined as private property, then nature's use and people's use gets redefined as theft. But we refuse to accept this criminalization of our vital needs. On January first this year (2003) we started a national movement, through two instruments. One is we are making water journeys across the length and the breadth of the country, to tell people that water is being privatized. And we will have a consensus that water is not for sale, it is a part of the commons. It belongs to us all. We will protect it, we will defend it, and part of our defense is defense against privatization. As a result of this opposition, privatization of this river was just cancelled, two weeks ago.
Now you could not imagine that anyone would even think of privatizing the sacred river Ganges. But I have pictures here of the first time in the history of our country that the Ganges was running dry, this summer. That is because there is a new privatization project of Suez, the big French multinational, to sell 635 million liters of water from the Ganges to people in Delhi.
There is a common argument used for privatization, and it goes for health, it goes for education, it goes for energy, it goes for water. This basic argument is, "Oh, there is all this cost in this, so there must be full cost recovery, and privatization is a way of making society pay the real cost." That is their favorite phrase.
Well, I will tell you that in the case of Suez, all they are doing is making a processing plant that is going to cost two billion rupees to build. And interestingly, the river water that we drink is sacred. We use it when babies are born. We use it when someone dies. But they have already redefined Ganges water as "raw water." It's raw. Just like our genes become "raw material" the moment they want to patent them. So it has been termed 'raw'. And then they are going to cook it. That is how they get rid of the entire heritage, the knowledge related to any vital natural resource. But two billion rupees will also be the cost paid by farmers annually for loss of their crops. Because even though they like to talk about creating water, all they are doing is stealing it!
The 635 million liters to be sold is half the capacity of the Ganges. And they are going to take it away from the richest, prime farmland of our country. Two billion will be just the loss of crops in the neighborhood of Delhi. But in addition, a hundred billion of public money has already been spent building the dam, from where the water will be tapped. A hundred thousand families have been displaced for this dam. It is called the Dehri dam.
When I was there a few weeks ago, only the widows were still sitting there and resisting. They have refused to move. The government has paid private contractors to pull their houses down. But they have put up shelters up and say, "We're not going to leave. We're not going to leave, because this is home. This is where we belong." All of them are over 50. It is amazing, they sit morning 'til evening, and every evening they march with lamps. In this town that has been reduced to a ghost town.
In the meantime, every water project — even tiny water projects costing a few thousand rupees — has been cancelled by government because they say (a) we have no money now, that we've invested 100 billion for subsidizing Suez, and (b) if you get the water yourself, then Suez doesn't have that much water to sell. So now we really cannot supply water to rural communities.
My team is up in those mountain villages, because we had a public hearing the other day, and one by one the women started to talk, saying, "So and so committed suicide in my village because the walk is now just too long, and has become unbearable." And in just one public hearing we got a sense that in the region, in the catchment of this dam, more than 100 women have committed suicide as the price for making water, all the water, available to a private company.
One of these women said to me, "The Ganges used to be our mother. Today she's become our graveyard. You know, the only use we have of this water is to jump into it to die. Because we can't use it for survival, and the government refuses to help."
I can't go into detail here about how the climate has changed, but there is no rain anymore, the springs have dried up. So these tiny water schemes of pumping have become absolutely crucial. And every one of them has been cancelled. Every public investment of the tiniest kind is cancelled so that one company, for one project, can suck out all the water.
We are in the process of mapping what these new projects are going to do. There is a new madness in India now — a $200 billion project to link every river through dams and canals. And make them move from rural areas to urban areas, from poor areas to rich areas, from agriculture to industry. Because if you have made water a commodity, you have to take it where the money is. And you have to take it away from where the money is not, even though that is where life is, in the ecosystems and the basins, etc.
So it is about a lie and a violence. The lie is that privatization is necessary because these companies make the investment. No. Nature has made the investment, we've made the investment, and all they are doing is hijacking that investment. And so we have actually started our own full cost recovery campaign. Because when they disconnect they say "full cost recovery, we've got to increase the price of energy, six times; the price of hospital tests, eight times; the price of education in universities, twenty times. Because there must be full cost recovery."
So for every privatization project we've started preparing a full cost recovery campaign through public hearings. And this full cost recovery is a way to get organized, to show how all these companies are doing through privatization is taking over social wealth, and natural wealth. Our full cost recovery campaign has two elements.
The first is a claim for recovery of the ecological debt. It is unpayable, we know that, but at least it shows the lie. What do these privatization systems cost? And especially in areas where natural resources are involved. Not only do they create unemployment for those who are in the public service, not only does it take the price of the service beyond the reach of the poor. For me the even more important issue is that it kills the very support base, the resource base, from which that service can be met. A privatization of water cannot last more than two to five years, anyway, on the kind of greed, of super-exploitation with which these projects are designed. So it is a sure way not to have water at all for anybody, including those who would be willing to pay. And that is why we have to fight it.
So the first element is the ecological debt, and the second element in the full cost recovery campaign is the social debt. That is why we are counting the suicides up in the Himalayas. We are going to take the families to Delhi and sit in front of the Suez office and ask, "How will you compensate for this cost that you have generated for our society?" Because it is an absolute twist to the entire structure of how rights are seen, how entitlements are seen, how democracy is seen.
Actually, the three most important shifts involved in privatization are first that a service is replaced by disservice, disservice to nature, disservice to society. Second, the commons is replaced by commodities, and finally, democratic governance is replaced by secret deals. The name of this in all the literature is called "private-public partnerships." But it should be called "private-private deals."
And you noticed yesterday that Mr. Berlusconi, having been caught in corruption, has announced that all politicians in Italy will now be immune. In any case, the U.S. government made itself immune by other means. They use the courts to first create a false election, and then they use the military to make their decisions. Interestingly, the war against Iraq was tragic enough, but I find the so-called reconstruction even more tragic.
The first thing that happened in the reconstruction is that the 7,000 year history of a civilization was allowed to be looted. And among those who were custodians of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Donald Rumsfeld, said, "Free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things." You know when I look at Rumsfeld and I look at Bush, I say, "These guys never grew up. They have some kind of emotional deficit somewhere, a serious emotional deficit."
The next thing they do is to give a contract for building the services that they first bombed out to their friends in Bechtel for $ 680 million, a straightforward market deal. Privatization is not privatization. Privatization is loot. Because they believe 'free people have a freedom to commit crimes, and do bad things.'
Now when all this is happening, they send this general to become head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, Jay Garner. And at his first press conference he said: " I am here to give birth to a new era." So not only do they think that freedom is the right to be a criminal, they actually think that generals give birth through bombs. I call this 'the illusion of creativity.' Deep illusion of creativity.
And I think that is why a women's movement is seriously needed. Both on GATS and WTO, because these are men living through amazing illusions. And economic rationality is not going to sort it out. Third World governments trying to have a little say at negotiations won't sort it out, because they've already told us in Doha, they've already told us, "Trade will now be negotiated under the threat of bombs." They've told every government in Doha, that if you were not with the United States on trade, you were with the terrorists.
And Iraq was not about Iraq, not about Saddam. Iraq was about telling the rest of the world: "You guys fall in line, otherwise we've got this military to create our markets. And we as women are going to tell them, "We have got our peace, and our non-violence, and our deep love for life, and our celebration of living, to create a more powerful force than you can ever, ever generate.
Thank you.

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