The idea serves an ideological function as a unifying concept prefiguring the cooperative society that many are striving to create.
Nevertheless, ambiguities as well as significant differences remain in the interpretations of this concept, which we need to clarify if we want the principle of the commons to translate into a coherent political project. We have land, water, air commons, digital commons; our acquired entitlements, e.g., social security pensions, are often described as commons, and so are languages, libraries, and the collective products of past cultures.
More generally, the left has not posed the question of how to bring together the many proliferating commons that are being defended, developed and fought for so that they can form a cohesive whole and provide a foundation for a new mode of production.
It is in this context that a feminist perspective on the commons is important because it begins with the realization that, as the primary subjects of reproductive work, historically and in our time, women have depended on access to communal natural resources more than men and have been most penalized by their privatization and most committed to their defense.
The first lesson we can gain from these struggles is that the “commoning” of the material means of reproduction is the primary mechanism by which a collective interest and mutual bonds are created.
It is also the first line of resistance to a life of enslavement and the condition for the construction of autonomous spaces undermining from within the hold that capitalism has on our lives.
Not surprisingly, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the most violent attack on women in the history of the world: the persecution of women as witches.
Today, in the face of a new process of Primitive Accumulation, women are the main social force standing in the way of a complete commercialization of nature, supporting a non-capitalist use of land and a subsistence-oriented agriculture. In Africa, they produce 80 percent of the food people consume, despite the attempts made by the World Bank and other agencies to convince them to divert their activities to cash-cropping.
The gardens are far more than a source of food security.
They are centers of sociality, knowledge production, and cultural and intergenerational exchange.7 The most significant feature of urban gardens is that they produce for neighborhood consumption, rather than for commercial purposes.