Skip to main content

Frauenland retten. Heißt Demokratie retten.

Frauenland retten. Heißt Demokratie retten.

At the end of 2017, three women's advice centers in Upper Austria were informed at short notice that 100% of their annual funding from the state's women's department would be discontinued.
The example of Upper Austria is one of many since the change of government in Austria in 2017 and the pan-European shift to the right since 2015 at the latest. However, it is a wonderful little lesson in the gradual disintegration of democracy.

July 20, 2018 by Katrin Köppert

The educational piece is based on an intensive exchange with Luzenir Caixeta, Managing Director of maiz, Oona Valarie Serbest, Managing Director of FIFTITU% and main organizer of the transcultural women's political alliance Feminismus & Krawall, and Gitti Vasicek, Professor of Time-Based Media at the University of Art and Design Linz, board member of FIFTITU% and activist at Feminismus & Krawall.

Saving Women's Land. This is the name of the joint campaign by the organizations maiz -autonomes zentrum von & für migrantinnen*, FIFTITU% -networking and advice centre for women* in art and culture in Upper Austria and Arge SIE -advice and housing for homeless women.
It is directed against the 100% removal of annual funding by the Women's Department of the Province of Upper Austria.
In a federal state where Riesling wine flows, the Danube rolls eastwards and the Mühlviertler "Bledlsuppen süffönt", shortly after the black-blue coalition was formed in Austria, the ÖVP state councillor Christine Haberlander, together with the team from the Women's Department of the state of Upper Austria, reached for the red pencil.

Contrary to the announced 10% cut in basic funding for all organizations, selected organizations were cut by 100% - namely those that care for migrants, artists and homeless women. This means that the 10% cut in the budget of the Upper Austrian Women's Department was passed on by the government exclusively to the three organizations maiz, FIFTITU% and Arge SIE.
The reason given was that the activities of the women's advice centers were no longer part of the core business of the Women's Department according to the "new funding criteria".
Neither the new funding criteria were communicated, nor was it made clear what the core business was or how the 'business' of women's counseling is shaped in times of migration, women's poverty and 'cultural meritocracy'. That sits.
The sun is clouding over - even over the prestige objects of Ars Electronica and the Lentos Kunstmusem in Linz, the provincial capital, which are so marketable in terms of urban politics.

This immediately raises the question of how the founding of the Valie Export Center can be politically reconciled with the decision to no longer support artists through the advisory services of the FIFTITU% organization.
The Valie Export Center is the international research center for media and performance art at the Lentos Art Museum, which - as the name suggests - revolves around the feminist performance artist Valie Export.
But what does such a center represent, if not just a monument and place of remembrance, if (feminist) artists are robbed of the opportunity to be empowered through advisory work as a result of the cuts? What is democracy if women* are still used to represent (feminist art), but cannot work as (feminist) artists in the 'cultural performance society'[1] or live from art as women*?
On what premises is democracy based if you, as a migrant, are implicitly denied your womanhood by the decision that the promotion of maiz no longer affects the core business of promoting women? Is it then still democracy at all if a wall of silence is built around the issue of "women's poverty" and the reality of many women* by cutting the organization Arge SIE? As if the disappearance of the organization would banish the consequences of capitalism.

Financial crisis, the demarcation line for politics from the right

Neither outrage nor polemics help to address these issues. Therefore, the background will be explained in more detail and the mechanisms of a democracy that is governed from the far right will be illuminated.
The aim is to provide a glimpse of what will happen if the AfD's inhumane policies become even more institutionalized in Germany - for example through its new party-affiliated foundation.

After lengthy conversations with Luzenir Caixeta, Oona Valarie Serbest and Gitti Vasicek, the first thing that comes to mind is that the cut in funding in such an existentially threatening way is not just due to the recent shift in political discourse to the right.
The funding cuts cannot be understood without the longer history of successive freezes in financial subsidies. The financial crisis of 2008/09 can be seen as the ultimate game changer.

The maiz organization has seen its support for sex workers cut by a total of 56% since 2009. This means that before the announcement of the 100% cut in this area at the end of February 2018, subsidies had been halved - a period that dates back to the participation in government of the Greens/Land and SPÖ/City of Linz.
The situation is similar at FIFTITU%. There, the counseling work at federal level was cut back on the grounds that they only wanted to concentrate on their core business - the protection against violence. Responsible for this: the SPÖ.
The current cuts must therefore be seen in the bigger picture of the recalibration of neoliberalism since the 2008 financial crisis. In the course of this, the parties have agreed across their ideological boundaries to marginalize already marginalized positions.

Against this backdrop, the question could be posed anew as to whether the shift to the right of the entire party spectrum only came about under the pressure of the FPÖ's participation in government. As a result of this (excerpt-based) observation, it seems more likely that the shift is economically motivated or can be traced back to the pressured structure of global economic systems in 2008/09 (see also the study by Funke/Schularick/Trebesch 2015[2]).
It does not help us to attribute the current precarious situation solely to the fact that a party based on racism, neoliberal nationalism and (hetero)sexism is in the coalition.
Rather, the FPÖ's government responsibility or even the election of the AfD to the German Bundestag is the result of an overall shift to the right in political discourse in response to the financial crash.

Women's liberation, the hard-shelled seed of the fruit of democracy.

This statement alone does not take away from the force with which the discourse is currently being reflected on the real political level. It is not only the fact that funding has been cut that is (epistemologically) interesting, but also the narrative that has been established to justify the decision.
For example, maiz and FIFTITU% report that after repeated requests, they were told that migration, homelessness and art/culture were no longer to be considered core tasks of the Women's Department.
They would therefore have to be taken over by the relevant specialist departments, if at all.
So if you, as a woman*, are particularly hard hit by migration because, unlike your male companions, you can only fall back on fields of work that exploit you in terms of health, psychologically and economically, then let me tell you: The funding of possible counseling services will be in great hands in the Integration Department, because women's health and sex work are centrally funded topics there. Logical.
If you are a homeless woman* who is exposed to sexual violence, you can of course expect to be supported by organizations that are aware of this situation.
The Department of Social Affairs has a clear understanding of the psychosocial difficulties that only women on the street are affected by in order to know exactly which counseling services need to be funded. But for sure.

I don't need to go any further to show what the "core business" narrative serves: it is about reproducing and securing a normative idea of women that is more than just gender-coded or, in other words, that is aggressively transferred back to the center of white bourgeois femininity by means of the categories race and class.
By using aspects of migration and poverty as an argument to point away from the advancement of women and towards the specialist departments, a degradation of racism and classism takes place alongside the exclusion of intersectionality (see also Dietze 2017).
One thing became clear in my conversations with the three organizations: the application deadlines for the specialist departments have passed and the project funds that can still be applied for there only correspond to a fraction of the previous funding. In addition, project-related funds cannot be spent on grassroots work. Women's liberation comes first and it comes in the form of bureaucratic violence against intersectional approaches to advising and supporting women*.

From anti-feminism to anti-genderism to culturalism

In addition to the realpolitik dimension of funding cuts and the socio-political paradigm of anti-intersectionality, which go hand in hand with the decision of the Women's Department, a third level is emerging.
I would like to understand this as the continuation of the claim of "pseudo" that began with anti-feminism and continued with anti-genderism. The accusation of the pseudo here refers to the concept of art and culture.

Antifeminism interprets feminism's political idea of equality as "pseudopolitics" because it 'actually' propagates the abolition of men and therefore does not enforce gender equality.
Anti-genderism accuses gender studies of "pseudoscience", i.e. the mere claim to establish a science of gender (see also Hark/Villa 2015).
The culturalism behind the decision of the Women's Department of the Province of Upper Austria highlights the art and cultural work promoted by the FIFTITU% organization, for example, as pseudo-art.
At least this is how the statements made to maiz and FIFTITU% by the Women's Department in many long discussions can be interpreted. Behind the accusation that what they support as organizations in an advisory capacity is not art, there is simply the assumption that there is real art.
This is where the alarm bells start ringing: The concept of art was blatantly misused under National Socialism as a lever for enforcing anti-Semitic and racist policies. To now use it again to argue for a policy of promoting women that focuses on the core business is a scandal. At the same time, it highlights the ambiguity of the right-wing populist and right-wing conservative discourse.
On the one hand, it uses the argument that gender is a pseudo-religious worldview to fend off post-essentialist gender concepts and return to a natural gender order.
On the other hand, he claims the concept of art for himself with the assertion that FIFITITU% only promotes pseudo-art. However, this is nothing more than an attempt to essentialize art and quasi-naturally assign it only to certain actors*.
The promotion of women or the negotiation of who is worthy of promotion thus becomes a vehicle of culturalism.
And since culturalism is just a variant of racism, it should be clear what kind of politics we are dealing with under the guise of "democracy".

Save the women's state of Upper Austria

Saving a women's state in response to the state's decision can mean nothing other than not letting the definition of feminism, equal opportunities and the advancement of women be taken out of our hands by the right.
The campaign to "Save the Women's Land of Upper Austria" is resisting the attempt to desolidarize women's groups along the lines of race and class. They deliberately focus on intersectionality.
They also refrain from applying for pitifully small sums that can be financed from project funds. They want to have their hands free to create publicity and mobilize protest.
Instead of having their energies tied up in costly project applications, they release these energies to enter the discourse on the basis of voluntary support and donations. Of course, this could be problematized as outsourcing state responsibility to volunteers.
However, temporary bridging seems to be key to remaining visible and, above all, controversial. There is a great danger of adapting to the right-wing style and changing requirements in order to survive as an organization.
Only if disobedience and rioting - two distinctive modes of politicization for the organizations - remain part of their (also epistemic) practice can it be ensured that the removal of basic funding is by no means the end of the organizations. That is not yet the case.

On the website you can find out about the various ways in which you can help.

First published on July 20 by


[1] Based on the concept of the service society, the terminology of the cultural performance society is used here. It is intended to express the fact that the arts and culture segment is increasingly developing into a gross domestic product-relevant service.

Cover picture: Feminist protest - Author: Violetta Wakolbinger
Illustration: Save women's land! - Author: Silke Müller