Getting Our Act Together: Gender, Globalization, and the State

There is general agreement on the Left that ‘globalization’ is causing devastating consequences including rising inequality, poverty, polarization, and militarization. There is equal agreement that globalization poses a strategic dilemma to those interested in a progressive and socially just alternative to these processes. But there is little agreement on what this alternative strategy should look like. Many (feminists or otherwise) argue that because capitalism has become globalized, forms of resistance must follow suit. Calls for global civil society or global feminism are common in this regard. Others disagree with such prescriptions, pointing out that ignoring or bypassing the nation-state is not the answer. They insist that nation-states are actively engaged in processes of globalization, and therefore strategic attention should be placed on how to transform, or democratize, national states.

In this article, I will provide an overview of this debate, demonstrating that one of the few points of convergence in the globalization literature between many feminists and others is around a problematic understanding of globalization and the place of nation-states in it. I will use two examples of feminist organizing, Beijing + 5 in 2000, and the 2002 forum of the Association on Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), to illustrate this point. In response, I will argue that social and political movements must continue to focus on the nation-state. I will argue further, however, that discussions of democratization of the nation-state and, more specifically, of democratic administration, remain largely separate from feminist interventions around democracy. I conclude by suggesting how they might be brought together more effectively in Canada in the form of ‘femocratic administration,’ and take the 2000 World March of Women as an example of a feminist democratization that is nationally based, but is still linked internationally.

Globalization and the State

Activists and academics have struggled to understand globalization, and the role of nation-states in it. In this section, I will briefly review the idea that globalization is a force beyond the control of nation-states, and the corresponding assertion that civil society either already has, or must, become globalized. I will then turn to responses that challenge such assumptions, insisting that rather than bringing about the demise of the nation-state, globalization is precisely about restructuring the state to serve the global economy.

Globalization as Beyond the State

The idea that the nation-state has been replaced by the market is celebrated by the Right, but it is not uncommon to hear about the decline of the state from the Left as well. For many analysts, states are losing power to the market and multinational corporations and financial institutions, and also to sub-and supra-national levels of governance and popular movements. Further, it is believed that technology has challenged the state’s ability to control its own national boundaries (McBride 15). David Held submits that “changes in the international order are compromising the possibility of an independent democratic nation-state” (138). He goes on to say:

The modern theory of the sovereign state presupposes the idea of a ‘national community of fate’—a community which rightly governs itself and determines its own future. This idea is challenged fundamentally by the nature of the pattern of global interconnections and the issues that have to be confronted by a modern state (142).

For Held, the viability of the nation-state is threatened by a number of factors including: a reduction in the number of policy tools available to states, the increasing need for international cooperation and political integration, and the expansion of institutions of global governance (146). Although he does not assume the end of the nation-state, Held concludes that in the face of globalization, we must develop a theory of democracy that goes beyond the nation-state (143).

Conceptualizing globalization as an “epochal shift” beyond the nation-state, Burbach and Robinson similarly argue that “[t]he whole set of nation-state institutions is becoming superseded by transna- tional institutions” (30). In their view, this “epochal shift” is marked by technology, or the “information age,” and by the collapse of socialism (11). The shift, which they trace to the 1970s, “was the transition from the nation-state phase of world capitalism with its distinct institutional, organizational, political and regulatory structures to a new, still emerging, transnational phase” (12). The transnationalization of production and the rise of a transnational bourgeoisie (and especially the transnational financial fraction) are the main forces of globalization (15, 22). For them, “[t]he determinant feature of the current epoch is the supersession of the nation-state as the organizing principle of capitalism, and with it, of the inter-state system as the framework of capitalist development” (30). This transition, therefore, requires strategic reconsideration.

Global Civil Society

Given the view that globalization has usurped the state, the strategic orientation that follows is towards global or transnational forms of organizing. Burbach and Robinson contend that “[w]hat is occurring now is a process of transnational class formation. Social classes are no longer tied to national territories in the same way as they once were” (32). They maintain that “[i]n this period of extra- ordinary conflict, upheaval, and uncertainty, the role of popular classes will be crucial. But their struggles must take on a transnational perspective and engage in transnational organizing” (10).1 Robinson therefore predicts “the transnationalization of civil society and global processes” (564). Hirsch also believes that[r]estricted to the national state level, social movements fail not merely because of this reduced sphere of action, but also because a nationally oriented politics runs the risk of embroiling itself in spatial competition which threatens to deepen inequalities between regions (289).

Held et al. maintain that “[t]he idea of a political community of fate—of a self-determining collectivity—can no longer meaningfully be located within the boundaries of a single nation-state,” and thus advocate “civilizing and democratizing globalization” (447). Finally, in the Canadian case, Glen Williams argues that political progressives would do well to adjust to current realities and map out their own alternative policy directions within the existing NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] framework… Since capital has internationalized itself, so inevitably must the site of popular control of capital’s activities become supranational if democracy is to be sustained (183f).

He advances the “European Community Model” of trade or a “Community of the Americas” that combines trade with a social and environmental charter, and suggests the creation of “democratic supranational executive and legislative institutions” (183).

Globalization as a State Project

Some take issue with these prescriptions, because they disagree with the basic understanding of globalization that they rest upon. Leo Panitch’s article “Globalisation and the State” (2003) lays the groundwork for studying the relationship between globalization and the state. His appeal to ‘bring the state back in’ has been important in re-directing attention back to the nation-state. Declaring that “globalization begins at home,” Panitch challenges the claim that globalization is something beyond the nation-state, emphasizing that states are actively engaged in these processes. He states that “globalization is a process which also takes place in, through, and under the aegis of states” (1994: 64). States, after all, are needed, for the market to function—to protect property rights, to provide infrastructure and education, security and defense, and so on (2003: 17, 20). Kagarlitsky adds that “[d]espite the fact that international financial institutions have acquired enormous influence, they cannot pursue their policies except through the agency of states,” maintaining that de-regulation is itself a form of state intervention (297, 299).2 Janine Brodie also disputes claims about the powerless state, referring to nation-states as the “midwives of globalization” (Brodie 1995: 16).

In his book, Paradigm Shift: Globalization and the Canadian State, Stephen McBride elaborates this argument with particular reference to Canada. He insists that “[s]tates have been the authors of the globalization textbook” (15). McBride argues that in those cases where states have given up some of their previous functions, they have made conscious choices to do so. He points out that in the Canadian case, the state vigorously pursued a policy of continentalism with the U.S. It has happily signed onto the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and continues to push on toward the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA): “The Canadian State has been extraordinarily enthusiastic about globalization” (17). McBride concludes that “[s]tates have had choices, and they have exercised that capacity for choice to construct neo-liberal globalization” (18), in response to domestic social forces. He does not deny that external factors exist, but he emphasizes that globalization is “embedded in national societies, relying on and susceptible to political processes rather than beyond the control of states or any other entity… [and therefore] action at the nation-state level remains an essential part of political strategy” (16).

Thus, the advocates of supranationalism are suggesting a wrong-headed strategy. First, it bypasses the state, and seeks only to moderate capitalism and its contradictions rather than to move beyond it. As David McNally asserts, “if the best we can do is restrain capitalism, then another world, a world organized to satisfy human needs not corporate profit, is clearly not possible” (231). Panitch further elaborates:

It has become quite commonplace to recognise that some fundamental rethinking is required by the Left. But all too often such rethinking is still cast in terms of grabbing hold of the bourgeoisie’s hand and trying to run faster and faster to match the pace of change set by contemporary capitalism. This involves a fundamental strategic misconception. If effective forms of movement ever are to reemerge on the Left, they will have to be less about keeping up with or adapting to capitalist change, but rather more about developing the capacity to mobilise more broadly and effectively against the logic of competitiveness and profit in order eventually to get somewhere else, that is, to an egalitarian, cooperative and democratic social order beyond capitalism (1994: 61).

Besides accepting global capitalism, advocates of global civil society posit that popular movements should simply give up on the products of their historic struggles, namely, their national democratic institutions. Kagarlitsky stresses that [t]he question at issue is the very survival of democracy. There are no democratic institutions on the global level. Capital is being globalised, not the people… National society and the state remain the level on which social change is really possible and necessary (302).

Globalization Constitutes an Attack on Democracy at the National Level.

Drawing from McBride, we cannot think of globalization and neoliberalism separately. Thus I define globalization as the attempt at universalizing the norms and values of neoliberalism world-wide.3 The basic tenet of neoliberalism is to prevent states from interfering in their domestic economies through nationalization, regulation, redistribution, etc. As McBride notes, “[n]eoliberalism denies the possibility or desirability of national economic strategies” (13f). Globalization (or more accurately, whoever desires it) seeks to put similar restraints on all national states. This is why trade and investment agreements, such as NAFTA, have been called “economic constitutions,” “corporate charters,” or “conditioning frameworks,”4 since they serve to concretize, consolidate, or constitutionalize, neoliberalism at the national level (McBride 17, 29, 103).

Much of the globalization literature does not acknowledge the gendered underpinnings of these processes. There is, however, one significant field of overlap between feminist and non-feminist work in the area: this questionable understanding of globalization and its relationship to the nation-state.

Gender and Globalization

Feminists have been quite successful in expanding conceptions of the political beyond the state to other arenas such as interpersonal relationships, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and social movements. While this is a crucial contribution, it has also meant, unfortunately, that the state is largely absent from much of the gender and globalization literature. In this section, I will outline the perspectives of transnational feminism, with specific attention to the politics of Beijing + 5 and AWID. I will then highlight two particular problems with this approach, namely a tendency toward universalism, and the exaggeration of the strength and impact of global/ transnational feminism.

Global/Transnational Feminism

Much feminist work is understandably influenced by an aversion to the patriarchal (as well as capitalist, racist, heterosexist) state. But generally, the feminist work on globalization is less influenced by feminist state theory than by globalization theory. The dominant strain in the gender and globalization community shares the same understanding of globalization as the ‘global civil society school,’ discussed above. In fact, very similar sentiments are echoed in feminist goals of a ‘global sisterhood.’ In the introduction to her book, Isabella Bakker, for example, wonders whether “the state has largely been displaced as the site of struggle for the women’s movement” (24). Gabriel and MacDonald refer to a ‘feminist internationality’ aimed at building “cross-cultural and cross-national feminist solidarity and organizing” (1996: 166). MacDonald also describes the “trinational coalition” of labour unions, environmentalists, women’s groups and farmers’ unions from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico that lobbied for the labour and environmental side agreements in NAFTA (188). She asserts that “the assumptions that the nation-state is necessarily the major tool for progressive change, and that democratic struggles must centre on the state, must be re-evaluated” (190). Joanna Kerr adds that the changes brought about by restructuring are changing the terrain on which struggle for women’s equality should be fought. Feminist activists in alliance with other social movements, academics, and policy makers must now pursue women’s equality beyond the parameters of the nation-state, since transnational dynamics are having such a profound impact on women’s lives (260).5

The general problems with the underlying conceptualization of globalization as beyond the state have been identified above. Here, I will elaborate on some of the specifically gendered questions that are raised by this approach.

This view of globalization ignores points made by Marjorie Cohen and Janine Brodie about how these trade agreements have changed the institutions of liberal democracy upon which the women’s movement (at least in Canada) has traditionally relied. There has been a lively debate over the relationship between women and the state within feminism among not only liberal, radical, socialist and Marxist feminists, but also postmodern, post-colonial, anti-racist, lesbian and eco-feminists. Many call for a rejection of the state as patriarchal, capitalist, racist, heterosexist, or any combination of the above. In Canada though, all strains of feminism, at one time or another, have acknowledged the utility of the state, regardless of its many glaring weaknesses. Alexandra Dobrowolsky (2000) eloquently refers to this as “the politics of pragmatism.” Feminists have used various state institutions including women’s policy machinery, funding for women’s groups and projects through the Women’s Program, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, political parties, and the welfare state to advance gender equality. While globalization and neoliberalism have not reduced the power of states, they have definitely shrunk these (already inadequate) spaces for democratic participation through restructuring, downsizing, privatization, and the slashing of social programs, and discourses delegitimizing organized oppositional groups as ‘special interests.’ Aware of the strategic dilemma that the Canadian women’s movement is facing, Brodie notes that “[a]fter a decade of ‘restructuring,’ with its attendant shifts in discourse and state forms, it has become increasingly apparent that the very political spaces within which the contemporary women’s movement found much of its cohesion and empowerment are disappearing” (1996: 47). Instead of resisting this restriction of political space, many feminists seem resigned to it, and/or advocate some attempt to resurrect weakened national democratic structures at a supranational level.

Given this reality, the ‘solution’ is almost always seen as some sort of ‘social democratic globalization.’ This proposal was seen above with the work of Glen Williams. Likewise, Kerr suggests the implementation of regulations for casual and part-time workers, and international labour standards (collective bargaining, minimum wages, health and safety, equal pay for work of equal value etc.) and social programs (249-56). The First Tri-National Working Women’s Conference on Free Trade and Economic Integration advocated the development of standards for health, housing, and labour (Gabriel & MacDonald 165). In discussing women’s policy and the EU, Catherine Hoskyns argues that…

While they are normally deeply rooted in local and national societies (though in a multitude of different ways), some at least are willing to look outside because, on the whole, existing national political systems have not met their needs. A potential has existed, therefore, for different kind of women and women’s organizations to bridge the gap between the national and the EU levels of political activity (79f).

She refers to “a women’s European policy network” (80).6

Evident in all of the global civil society/global sisterhood visions, is an implicit or explicit acceptance of globalization. But globalization is not a natural or inevitable phenomenon. It is an interest-led process, filled with internal contradictions. Jenson shows how these contradictions are demonstrated in “the ways in which globalization both generates challenges to existing practices of, inter alia, states and nationalist movements and opens spaces for new political practice” (98).7

Regrettably, however, there is a strong inclination toward stressing the strategic ‘opportunities’ presented by globalization. Saskia Sassen’s work is a prime example. She argues that globalization presents the opportunity to “unbundle” sovereignty from the nation-state and confer it on non-state actors such as “transnational legal regimes and regulatory institutions” and “international civil society.” Sassen claims that due to globalization, the state is losing sovereignty, so feminists should shift their focus elsewhere. Influenced by feminist geographers, she emphasizes new spaces of struggle and new spaces of production, such as the Global City. She thinks that strategically, feminists should move their struggles to the arenas of international law and international NGOs. This, she believes, bypasses nation-states, challenges their sovereignty, and paves the way for new forms of political representation and participation (94ff).8

Such optimism can be demonstrated more clearly by looking in greater detail at two cases: Beijing + 5 and the Association on Women’s Rights in Development (AWID).

June 2000 marked the fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. The UN hosted various activities around “Beijing + 5.” There was also a conference at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Centre entitled “Beijing Plus Five Global Feminist Symposia, Feminisms and Globalization: Women 2000.” A major focus of the conference was on “action strategies,” “new directions,” and “coalition building,” but given the level of discussion there, the strategic prospects do not look promising.

The tone of the conference was set when the opening plenary began with the well-known American feminist Charlotte Bunch declaring that globalization is a reality, “it’s here to stay.” Feminists must, therefore, look into the ways in which globalization might be ‘tamed’ to make it work to women’s advantage. Likewise, while raising doubts as to whether globalization actually exists, Devaka Jain focussed on the possibilities for regulation. She maintained that “there is scope for broadening the cracks in the system by paying attention to the need for regulation, i.e. laws, political and administrative systems, the building of public opinion, and most of all broadening the basis of the international alliances on a feminist platform.” This regulation, according to Jain, is necessary in order to “tame the wild horse of globalization.” The Progress of the World’s Women 2000 UNIFEM Biennial Report also cites Jain as arguing that “there are new opportunities for women to intervene and negotiate globalization in order to enable information and communication technology to be used in equitable ways and markets to be used to serve human needs” (UNIFEM 130).

The prioritization of global struggle, and the downplaying of local or national struggle was a common theme at the CUNY Conference. At a workshop on “Transnationalisms, Feminisms, and NGOs,” Jane Baynes, from the Center on Globalization, Gender, and Democracy, spoke of women organizing globally to “promote norm implementation.” She used the example of the activities of American women (working with the Feminist Majority group) who made cross-border connections with Afghani women in an effort to draw attention to the oppression imposed by the Taliban. Missing from her talk was any discussion of the criticisms of the Feminist Majority, of U.S. imperialism, or of the ways in which Afghani women had been engaged in their own local resistance strategies, all of which would have emphasized the importance of national context. Likewise, Jennifer Disney gave an interesting presentation on women’s struggles in socialist revolutions in Nicaragua and Mozambique. Again, however, rather than stressing the contextual nature of women’s struggles, her talk ended with vague pleas for “international social movements,” “global resistance” and “global feminist civil society.”

One of the most intriguing talks was given by fellow York student, and member of the Japan Preparatory Committee for the conference, Seiko Hanochi. She argued that the “patriarchal alliance” that is the global political economy must be fought, pointing to a lack of gender equality, human security and environmental respect that globalization entails. Her call for “global feminist hegemony,” to make the links between global politics and global economics, was one of the most radical agendas elaborated at the conference. The Gramscian orientation of her project,9 which takes the international level as its starting point, however, means that global dialogue10 and counter-alliances take precedence over national organization.

While few of the speakers challenged the widespread resignation to globalization, Preggs Govender was a refreshing change. Aware of women’s massive poverty, landlessness, un/under-employment and experiences of violence in South Africa, Govender suggested that the discussion turn to thinking of ways that globalization might be turned around. Nimalka Fernando was most forceful in responding to talk of surrender to globalization. The experiences of women in Asia and Africa reinforce for her the conviction that globalization must be resisted. Fernando reminded the conference that women around the world are dying from the poverty, violence, and racism that globalization is intensifying, and so one cannot, she reasoned, be a women’s rights activist if one accepts globalization. ‘Globalization,’ which she preferred to call global capitalism, or re-colonization, is something that feminists must “confront, challenge, and change.” These dissenters reinforced the argument that globalization may create some opportunities for women, but that these are still accompanied by serious threats to democracy.

Unfortunately, it was the dominant global optimism, rather than the serious caveats, that was replicated by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). From October 3-6, 2002, AWID held their 9th International Forum on Women’s Rights in Development in Guadalajara, Mexico. The theme of the conference was “Re-inventing Globalization.” The conference published a newsletter summing up its proceedings, and summaries of the presentations can be found on the Association’s web site ( The newsletter begins with an article by Alison Symington, who asserts that “globalization is currently the greatest influence on, and threat to, women’s human rights and development” (4). She then identifies two options: “Will we reclaim, reinvent and/or recreate globalization? Or will we oppose, resist, ignore and/or deny globalization?” For those who would choose any variant of the latter option, she has little patience:

Many would argue that the processes and structures of globalization cannot possibly bring about human rights, sustainable human development or a peaceful and democratic world. They would argue that we should oppose globalization in all its manifestations and strive to create a system that is fundamentally distinct and disconnected from the international institutions, technological developments and economic systems associated with globalization. But in this key moment, can we really afford to be nostalgic about romanticized visions of the past or wax poetic about alternate realities?… (4).

Symington prefers to see globalization as an opportunity to “reinvent global feminism” by “using the openings created by globalization and responding to the realities of the modern, globalized world” (6). Later in the newsletter, Zhanna Zhanabekova urges “[u]tilizing the benefits of globalization, including international communication networks, and new employment and educational opportunities” to advance social justice for women (13). Another participant claims that “[g]lobalization can be seen as a blessing in that it has presented the women’s movement with a chance to reinvent itself in a comprehensive fashion” (17).

Frustrated with the level of discussion at the conference, one young woman’s intervention questioned why the parameters had been set as narrowly as simply “reinventing” globalization, rather than reversing it. Needless to say, she did not receive an adequate response. Also unsatisfied with the parameters of the conference, we called our panel, “Reinventing or Resisting? Gender, Globalization and Governance,” and focussed on how women in Canada, Sweden, and Austria were resisting, and trying to reverse, globalization through nationally-based strategies. Our panel (like many others) was not mentioned in the newsletter (the panelists were Kimberly Earles, Maya Eichler, and myself). Another panel, “Globalization & Resis- tance: From Guadalajara to Cuba,” which also did not make it into the newsletter, concentrated on women’s struggles against neoliberalism and imperialism in Cuba. It fit uncomfortably with the conference theme, with one speaker, Cindy Domingo, emphasizing the persis- tence of national conditions: “we cannot transmit recipes because it depends on the context of each country.”

There were many excellent presentations at the conference. For instance, one panel discussed the “Stop Impunity: No More Murders of Women” campaign of a group of Mexican activists organizing in response to the murder and disappearance of hundreds of female workers in the Maquiladoras along the U.S.-Mexican border (“Globalizing Actions” 24). Another problematized the idea that international financial institutions can be made accountable (“Markets” 41). Many speakers challenged the optimistic view of globalization that the conference subscribed to. Nevertheless, this is not evident in the newsletter, which presents a false sense of agreement among the conference participants.

Clearly, the general thrust of the conference was the idea that globalization is unavoidable, and so we had best move on to making it more palatable: “We can have globalization on our own terms… Our strategies must respond to the realities of this historic moment” (Symington 11). Yet this resignation to the inevitable was characterized either as pragmatism or as radicalism. The same article stressed the need for “fair globalization,” but in the very next sentence declared that “we must take radical action” (10). The incongruity continued, acknowledging that globalization is about capitalism and neoliberalism, and yet insisting it can be made “fair,” or can be “re-invented.”

The inability to move beyond a liberal notion of human rights and ‘development’12 was evident at the AWID forum. Furthermore, the belief that education about the harmful, gendered, effects of globalization would bring about transformation, was persistent. It was stated that we “need to have sound evidence for our positions”; this despite the countless studies that have already demonstrated the gendered nature of globalization.13 Related, there was the idea that we simply lack knowledge of appropriate solutions: “we need to determine what trade, investment and tax policies support women’s rights and implement them” (Symington 11). Educating and enlightening international institutions, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Trade Organization (WTO) through gender mainstreaming, etc., was also a recurring recommendation (11, 26, 36, 46).

It is worth repeating that globalization is neither natural, nor inevitable. There are ways to resist and reverse it. Beyond the apparent acquiescence to globalization, though, plans for a tamer form of globalization, are invariably associated with aims of ‘global feminism.’ This brings with it its own problems, namely, universalizing tenden- cies, and the exaggeration of global feminism as a political force.

Universalizing Tendencies

A famous slogan from the second wave of the women’s movement was “Sisterhood is Global.” This concept was heavily criticized for falsely generalizing about women, but has now been resurrected, in only slightly altered, and still problematic, form. The idea of “global feminism,” global sisterhood,” or a “feminist internationality” assumes a shared commonality among women that is unrealistic. For example, Gabriel and MacDonald argue that NAFTA provides a common context of struggles, and as such it is a valuable point of encounter between women from the North and from the South. Initial organizing links do demonstrate the potential for the creation of a new form of internationality based on respect for difference (1996: 183).

They stress that “NAFTA makes visible the common links that exist between Third World women in Mexico and their counterparts in Canada, within a post-colonial, global economy” (166). While aware of the criticisms by Third World Women of the universalizing assumptions underlying “sisterhood is global” (Gabriel & MacDonald 1994: 535),14 they are not sufficiently careful to avoid trivializing the relative privilege of women in the North. MacDonald realizes that there is little unity of condition between Canadian and Mexican citizens in terms of race, gender, class, and ethnicity (188, 190), yet advocates a strategy that requires the opposite to be true.

The prospects for unity among women and other workers in developed and developing countries are slim when there is wide variation in conditions and goals. Gabriel and Macdonald note that there are significant “material and ideological power differences between women in the North and South” (1994: 539). In the struggle over NAFTA, the Action Canada Network “focused on demands for abrogation of the FTA and NAFTA,” while the Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC) sought regional trade that incorporated human rights and environmental concerns (Gabriel & MacDonald 1996: 183). The contradictions of capitalism, which mean that “policies to protect female textile workers in Canada through trade restrictions may work against the interests of textile workers in Bangladesh” (Kerr 244), produce conflicting material interests among women that cannot be easily overcome.

Finally, while links between movements may be increasing, women’s movements are still national in nature. Social relations, including gender relations, differ in each national formation. Gabriel and Macdonald concede that “the specific dynamics of women’s subordination varies across nations and within them” (1994: 536). Michael Mann believes that identities based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc., rather than challenging the nation-state, actually act to reinforce it (491). Manuel Castells also makes the essential point that “while feminism is present in many countries, and women’s struggles/organizations are exploding all over the world, the feminist movement displays very different shapes and orientations, depending upon the cultural, institutional, and political contexts where it arises” (198; italics his). Similarly, Joyce Gelb’s work on comparative feminism (1989) points to the differing opportunity structures that shape women’s movements in various countries. One need look no further than the fragmented women’s movement in Canada to see that feminism is filtered through a national, or local, lens. The Canadian women’s movement, like Canada’s social formation generally, is multinational. There are deeply ingrained national identities through which Canadian feminism has developed. It took a long (and continuing) struggle in Canada, through various constitutional battles, for many in the movement to acknowledge this reality. The National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), Canada’s umbrella women’s organization, now recommends a “Three Nations Framework” of asymmetrical federalism to accommodate a Québec, an Aboriginal,15 and an ‘English-Canadian’ component to the feminist movements in Canada.16 These particular social relations mean that political strategies must be uniquely suited to this landscape.

Canada, like all ‘national’17 contexts, also has a trajectory of development that has resulted in a certain configuration of gender, race, and class relations. A dependent industrial structure and uneven development mean that ‘gender relations,’ for example, take on various expressions within Canada. Marilyn Porter has shown how an economic structure highly dependent on the fisheries in Atlantic Canada, and the resulting strict gendered division of labour, means that gender relations take on definite regional manifestations (72). Others have studied the specific historical political economy of aboriginal women in Canada.18 Gender relations, and thus women’s movements, must be seen in national historical context. Global feminism effaces this contextual reality.

Global Feminism Exaggerated

One of the effects of the universalizing discourse noted above is that the extent of global feminism becomes exaggerated. Burbach and Robinson make the grand declaration that “most of the new social movements, from women’s rights and gay movements to the environmental and indigenous movements, have a transnational perspective and can even be characterized in many ways as transnational movements or ideologies” (37). But is this actually true? There is a tendency to overestimate the ‘global’ nature of global feminism. What is frequently seen as global feminism, upon closer examination, looks not so global after all.

United Nations (UN) feminism might be said to be a clear example of global feminism. After all, it involves women from around the world using UN instruments such as the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to forge a common standard of gender equality. These conventions are overseen by a supranational body supposedly beyond the scope of individual nation states. Prügl and Meyer refer to “a global women’s movement characterized by diverse organizational structures, political strategies, and feminist voices focused on one common goal: the empowerment and advancement of the world’s women” (3).

The reality however, is that these instruments have been used to pressure national states. The UN Treaty Body system functions around six committees which include the three named above (CEDAW, CERD, and CRC) as well as the Committee on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and the Committee Against Torture (CAT). These committees correspond to six international Covenants. After countries (or State Parties, as they are called by the committees) adopt and ratify these treaties, they are required to prepare periodic reports for the committees. The committees respond with “Concluding Observations” that indicate where State Parties are in violation of a particular treaty provision.19

It is becoming an increasingly common strategy for Canadian NGOs (feminist or other) to make potential violations of these conventions by the Canadian state known to the committees. Aboriginal women have used the ICCPR to challenge the racism and sexism of the Indian Act.20 In direct response to globalization, cuts made to social services have also been brought to the attention of various UN bodies. Low Income Families Together (LIFT) submitted a report to CESCR over cuts to social welfare and the introduction of workfare in Ontario. The Ontario Association of Interval and Transition Houses (OAITH) appealed to the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women regarding cuts to housing for abused women, and (Bazilli 67-69). In recent years, women in British Columbia, facing a hostile provincial government, have also turned to the UN over the issue of cuts to women’s shelters and centres, as well as drastic cuts to welfare and other social services. The BC Coalition of Women’s Centres, along with a group of NGOs, has delivered a submission to the CESCR on these issues (BC Coalition 2000).

It is not clear, however, that this constitutes ‘global feminism.’ Embarrassing the Canadian state (or various provincial states) for its violation of international human rights obligations is a strategy that is expressly aimed at effecting public policy change at the national level. Rather than bypassing the national state, Prügl and Meyer show that the work of “internationally oriented feminist activism” is often aimed at facilitating the struggles at the local, grassroots, or national level through networking, information sharing and political and financial support (9). Further, the 2000 UNIFEM report states that “with globalization, non-state institutions now increasingly affect the ability of governments to promote or hinder women’s progress” (UNIFEM 108). Yet the Report acknowledges that [t]here is a vigorous debate about the extent to which modern nation-states have in fact been ‘hollowed out’ and lost their power, and the extent to which state power is simply being redeployed in new ways to facilitate the operation of international markets and investments (109).

Therefore, “governments remain a vital focus… as they are frequently the enforcers of policies derived from global governance structures” (109).21 With this in mind, it is difficult to disagree with Kagarlitsky when he submits that “‘global civil society,’ if it exists anywhere except in the imagination of theoreticians, is not representative of real society” (304). What is needed, then, is a strategy that combines an analysis of gender, globalization, and the state.

Gender, Globalization, and the State Democratic Administration

While Panitch certainly does not make gender central to his analyses, his ‘solutions’ nonetheless have relevance for the type of feminist project I will describe in this section. He advocates attempting to “reorient strategic discussions on the Left towards the transformation of the state rather than towards transcending the state or trying to fashion a progressive competitive state” (1994: 87). Accordingly, MacDonald’s criticism that Panitch downplays the importance of international mobilization (187) misses the point. The problem, for Panitch, is not international alliances, but rather what he sees as the complete rejection of the nation-state as a field of struggle. In his view, “international solidarity movements cannot be taken for alternatives, rather than as critical supplements, to the struggles that must take place on the terrain of each state” (1994: 91). In the same way, Kagarlitsky asserts:

It is clear that the left needs to have its own international economic strategy, and to act in a coordinated way on a regional scale, but the instrument and starting-point of this new cooperation can only be a national state (294).

This national strategy must focus on democratizing state institutions. Greg Albo also does not preclude international modes of regulation, but he stresses that “the political compromises at the international level necessary for long-term stability must be built around the principle of maximizing the capacity of ‘national collectivities’ to democratically choose alternate development paths” (163). In other words, the centrality of national forms of organization must be maintained.22

This is what democratic administration seeks to do. Democratic (or later ‘femocratic’) administration is a set of academic ideas, drawn in large part from the demands and practices of popular democratic movements. It grew out of efforts by the Department of Political Science at York University (in Toronto) to approach the teaching and research of public administration in a way that places democratization and citizen empowerment at the forefront. These ideas were further developed at a conference held at York in 1991 where academics, state officials, and activists began to explore what democratic administration would look like.

Democratic administration entails a reconfiguration of the relationship between state and society. It emerged as a critique of traditional Weberian bureaucracy based on hierarchy, secrecy, expertise, and neutrality. It is also a reply to neoliberalism, positing that only more democratic and participatory governance can challenge the growing inequality and polarization in Canada. As Isabella Bakker notes, one of the main threats of neoliberalism and globalization is that “[s]uch a sweeping homogenization and privileging of market forces over democratically organized decision making obscures the historically specific form of the state in different countries” (1999: 50). So not only is democratic administration intended to challenge the forces of neoliberalism, it also seeks to do so in a way that is suited to national specificities.23

While none of the democratic (and femocratic) administration recommendations are entirely revolutionary on their own, they will help to create the conditions needed in Canada to pave the way for a socially just alternative to global capitalism. Just as Panitch and Gindin refer to ‘concrete utopias’ (2), Judy Rebick emphasizes the necessity of having clear alternatives on the Left (Rebick 3, 8; Rebick & Roach 31), and democratic administration begins to provide some. This means, among other things, that public sector workers have closer contact with citizens and social movement organizations (Findlay 1995: 111); that positions are elected whenever possible (Panitch 1993: 10) and represent the full diversity of Canadian citizens in terms of race, gender, class, sexuality, nationality and ability;24 that the use of referenda on major policy decisions (such as free trade) is encouraged (Rebick & Roach 29; Rebick 91); that our electoral system more effectively reflects the democratic will of citizens (Rebick 111, 213);25 and that a decentralization of power and a leveling of hierarchies is pursued (Albo 28-29; Ferguson 85). Of course, as Panitch has pointed out, democratic administration “still leaves a private sector in which the corporations that control our economy and culture are not democratically structured at all” (1993: 5); hence, democratization of the state must be combined with, and will eventually contribute to, democratization of the market.26

Despite the widespread aversion to ‘protectionism’ today, many still understand the dissonance between free trade and democracy. For Grinspun and Kreklewich, the “[k]ey to a progressive vision of economic development is active, genuine democratization,” and an abrogation or re-negotiation of CUFTA (54, 55). Panitch asks for “a shift towards a more inwardly oriented economy rather than one driven by external trade considerations” (1994: 89). Albo clarifies further that an “inward-oriented strategy does not imply closing the economy from trade, but rather a planned expansion of domestic services and production to expand employment and increased control over the international economy to reinforce stable and divergent national macroeconomic conditions” (1994: 164).27 Jackson argues that “a progressive economic agenda will certainly have to challenge the constraints of NAFTA but it will involve much more than undoing (or re-doing) free trade” (159), and thus, several other areas must be highlighted.

An end to free trade alone will not change the labour conditions for workers, and so, as Albo states, “[t]here is no intellectually honest response from the left to the economic crisis … that does not involve political restraint on the power of capital and a substantial redistribution of work and resources” (1994: 163). A more democratic workplace is needed. Albo proposes a “redistribution of work” that includes a shorter work-week, increased vacation time, restrictions on overtime, jobsharing, ongoing education and training time, and more unpaid leave (165). This is in contrast with what he describes as defensive flexibility [which] includes: reducing trade union power; minimizing the welfare disincentives to work; improving information flows and labour mobility; leaving investment in training to individual decisions on their ‘human capital’ needs; and eliminating market restraints, such as minimum wages and unemployment insurance, which limit downward flexibility (147).

Workplace democracy aims to increase flexibility for the worker rather than the employer. It also advances femocratization, as will be shown later.

Femocratic Administration

Various feminist contributions have also called for a sustained (or renewed) focus on the national state.28 As noted earlier, Brodie is aware of the strategic dilemma for feminists, but she does not advocate the embracing of globalization. Instead, she asks…

do we not risk too much when we choose to ignore or dismiss, in theory or in practice, the relevance of the state, especially during a period of fundamental restructuring? Although many feminist theories of the state appear fatally flawed, the fact remains that most feminist concerns—whether they relate to health, equity, or security—are necessarily state-centred. Can we really give up on the important project of coming to a better understanding of the relationship between public policy and feminist goals of equality? When we stand on the outside looking in, don’t we simply confirm the identities that the state imposes on us, including invisibility, rather than challenge them? (1996: 11)

Arscott and Trimble add that “[i]n contemporary society, it is essential that women’s many voices be heard in the policy-making process because restructuring, deficit reduction, cutbacks, privatization, and deregulation threaten women’s gains in the public sphere” (5). And Cohen concurs that “[t]he power of nation states, although constrained, is still strong, and the government is the primary avenue people within a nation have for addressing their interests at the international level” (45). This power, she argues, must be democratically responsive.

Obviously, as already stated, democratization of both the state and the market are necessary. It must be pointed out, though, that writers who urge efforts at developing democratic administration and a democratic workplace consistently fail to consider specific issues of gender, race, class, nationality, sexuality, ability and age.29 A feminist30 democratization, or a ‘femocratization’ of the state and the market must be the focus of political struggles at the national level. Feminist scholars have been building a body of literature that seeks to ‘feminize’ this movement, which I am calling here ‘femocratic’ administration.

Femocratic administration31 expands on democratic administration, making explicit the ways in which the state, and democracy, are gendered and racialized. It is also heavily influenced by the Australian femocrat experiment, where the state, and more specifically, the bureaucracy, through a complex web of women’s policy machinery, has been a main strategic focus of feminist politics. Femocratic administration, while concerned with women’s relationship to bureau- cracy (a largely neglected area of research), also explores how an integrative feminist project of democratization would link the state (the bureaucracy, electoral and constitutional politics) to non-state forms (the women’s movement and other social movements, communities). Femocratic administration is an incomplete but growing project. Much of this work is scattered, with individual feminists concentrating on specific aspects of democratization of the state. While there is not room here to provide a comprehensive review of this research, there are several main areas that are beginning to form what can be referred to as ‘femocratic administration.’

There are a number of areas in which attention has been focussed in Canada. Dobrowolsky argues that “the input of femocrats (i.e., feminists within the bureaucracy) is a significant, if underacknowledged, aspect of the women’s movement in this country.” (9). Sue Findlay has been charting this territory by analyzing and problematizing the experiences of feminists working in women’s policy machinery (federal, provincial and municipal) in Canada and their interactions with the women’s movement. Others are beginning to explore this terrain as well.32 Work is also being done around the need for reinstating federal funding of women’s groups to strengthen these ‘inside/outside’ ties.33 Efforts have been aimed at pushing for feminist policy analysis and for gendering budgets34—a technique for analyzing the gender impact of all government allocations, from education to the military. Feminist concern around representation is beginning to filter into calls for a more representative bureaucracy.35 Finally, the onslaught of neoliberal ‘restructuring’ of the public sector, including downsizing, privatization, and managerialism has been problematized for its devastating impact on women’s labour (both paid and unpaid) and their working conditions.36

Of particular interest is the work that has been done to show how current public bureaucracies and structures of representation are organized in defiance of ‘intersectionality’ (the idea that citizens have overlapping experiences of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, and age). Gabriel has shown that within the Ontario Women’s Directorate (OWD) and the Race Relations Department (RRD) “racism and sexism were … largely conceptualized as separate and distinct,” and so “women of colour … often fall between the mandates of those advocacy offices promoting gender and racial equality” (185, 191). Similarly, Tobin found that in Britain’s Greater London Council (GLC), “formal support for gay rights often ended up coming from either the Women’s Committee which encompassed lesbianism within its remit or from the Ethnic Minorities Unit which employed gay rights workers” (60). The Women’s Committee did not encompass the existence of a lesbian who is also a woman of colour and a worker. The Ethnic Minorities Unit took for granted a unity of interest between lesbians and gay men. In neither case was there much room for women with disabilities; a situation outlined by Sue Findlay. Findlay gives an example from the municipal administration of the Mayor’s Committee on Community and Race Relations and the Interdepartmental Action Committee on People with Disabilities in Toronto. The operation of the two separate entities demonstrated to Findlay that categorization is obviously not a solution that ‘makes sense’ for the representation of ‘women with special needs.’ Their lived realities visibly challenge the separation of race, gender, abilities—and obscure class differences… ‘women’ is a highly differentiated category that can be defined only in terms of the interrelationships of class, race, gender, abilities, and sexual orientation in the everyday lives of women (1993: 159f).

More Work of This Sort Needs to be Done to Create a Truly Femocratic Administration

In keeping with the caution seen earlier, about the need to link the democratization of the state with that of the market, femocratization of the market is also important. For women, a shorter workweek (or workday), as advocated earlier by Albo, not only reduces the ‘double-burden’ of paid and unpaid work,37 but also contributes to workplace democracy, by leaving women more time to engage in union activities and providing a more equitable distribution of unionized jobs for women (White 94).38 This corresponds to Panitch’s observation that a shorter working day allows more time for democracy, both in the workplace and in the state (1994: 88).

The need to pay sufficient attention to the market and the family in order to fashion a truly femocratic administration is further reinforced when the reality of women’s complicated relationship to the public and private is recognized. Panitch, while providing useful suggestions for a more participatory state, does not acknowledge many of the gendered barriers to this participation. The persistent gendered division of labour in the family, in which women’s unpaid work interferes with full political participation, is often not scrutinized. Phillips has identified the “tyranny of domestic commitments” (38) as one of the largest obstacles to this type of democracy.

Feminist work on valuing women’s unpaid labour is essential in this regard. Many are beginning to identify new ways in which this unpaid work could be valued. Waring calls the persistent undervaluing of voluntary and unpaid work “patently pathological.” Efforts at placing a value on unpaid labour range from calculating the loss of leisure time to figuring out what it would cost to purchase similar services in the market. Most try to place a market value on this labour. Even though she often finds calculations of the monetary value of unpaid work to be “perversely useful,”39 Waring voices concern over the commodification of women’s unpaid labour that is inherent in such measures that treat everything as a mere transaction (2000a). Waring seeks to avoid the commodification of this labour by employing time-use studies such as those being tested in a pilot study in Nova Scotia called the Genuine Progress Index (GPI).40 So far, the GPI (which measures three factors: voluntary/community labour, household labour, and unpaid overtime and under-employment) indicates that the time spent doing the first two is equivalent to 571,000 full year, full time jobs (2000a). Waring’s conclusion is that devolution to the ‘community,’ therefore, raises important policy questions since “these time-use studies demonstrate that there aren’t a large bank of human resources sitting about in the community with time on their hands just desperate to take over the devolution of services” (2000b).

This dovetails nicely with the work that Bakker has done. In a report for Status of Women Canada, Bakker argues that “[p]olicy makers are rarely explicit about how such assumptions [of unpaid work] guide their decision-making. Yet, policy development in Canada is ignored by implicit models of the macro-economy as well as the family” (1998: viii). The downloading of social services to the family and/or voluntary sector does not consider the costs in terms of women’s unpaid work, and thus Bakker suggests that “policy makers must make explicit their assumptions which underpin macro-economic policies … When governments choose to forego lost revenues in exchange for savings on health expenditures partly realized through unpaid activities in households and communities, such a policy decision should be stated clearly” (1998: x, 4). That it seems radical for both Waring and Bakker to emphasize that policies should be aimed at reducing the burden of women’s unpaid work, not increasing it, is a testament to the extent to which gender inequality is entrenched in society.41 This type of research is fundamental to any effort at femocratizing the market and the family.

Women’s paid work is also central to this project of democratization. Globalization has brought increasingly precarious employment, especially for women. This includes part-time, temporary, contract, and homework. Almost all of this work is non-unionized, and it is only recently that unions in Canada have shown any interest in organizing such workers. Ross and Martin identify the need for “appealing to ‘outsiders,’” such as women and youth, as one of the greatest challenges to the success of unionism in Europe (376), and Carchedi & Carchedi extend the argument to immigrant workers (143). Organizing marginalized workers is essential to any strategy aimed at reversing and resisting globalization.42 New recruiting is needed to strengthen the power of unions against capital. Beyond this, the growing polarization among workers by gender, class and race means that solidarity is all the more important. Panitch argues that even before thinking about how to democratize the state and market, there has to be a “refounding, reorganizing and democratizing [of] the labour movement itself,” in order to “‘reinvent solidarity’ in this era of globalization” (2001: 383, 389).

To this end, Julie White calls for a “fourth wave of unionization” in Canada to follow the first three (craft unions, industrial unions, public sector unions), which incorporates the precariously employed (51), but this is not an easy task. As both Warskett (2001) and Huws (1999) demonstrate, there is a history of union sexism that must be overcome. Further, Ursula Huws identifies the complicated class identity of the growing ‘cybertariat,’ drawing attention to the gender, race and class dimension of these workers (1999, 2003). However, the unionization of retail, hotel, and telemarketing workers has begun, by the Canadian Auto Workers and the Steelworkers, and creative ways of organizing some of the most vulnerable homeworkers in Toronto are being explored by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) (Yalnizyan 293-95). This must become a more concerted effort. These national efforts must then be supplemented internationally.

Linking the National and the International: The World March of Women 2000

A nationally-based strategy does not mean that international struggles are ignored. Panitch submits that…

building alternatives to globalization also must begin at home. Of course, there will need to be extensive international cooperation among such forces. While located on the terrain of each state, such movements and parties will have to inspire one another across state borders (1998: 22).

Is it possible to have a national focus that is internationally linked? What would this look like in practice? The October 2000 World March of Women, involving thousands of women in 157 countries, is a good example. The World March was inspired by the Bread and Roses march against poverty and violence against women that Quebec feminists organized in 1995 (David 149). Various local events were planned around the world starting on International Women’s Day, and running until Oct. 17, 2000. The events ended in New York City with a March on the United Nations (Miles 8).

In Canada, despite wild under-estimations in the major newspapers, over 20,000 women gathered at the Parliament buildings in Ottawa on Oct. 15, 2000. The Canadian Women’s March Committee explained that…

[i]n solidarity with women from 157 countries, Canadian women are marching to demand that our federal government adopt immediate and effective measures to end poverty and violence against women in the year 2000. Across Canada, in all languages, communities, cultures, races, and sectors, women are calling on the government to radically change its way of governing, and to actively promote the public interest and adopt specific measures that will move us forward in the progressive realization of women’s rights (Canadian Women’s March Committee, 21).

These specific measures were compiled in a short document entitled “It’s Time for Change: Demands to the Federal Government to End Poverty and Violence Against Women,” published by the Canadian Women’s March Committee, composed of twenty-four women’s organizations (5). The Committee highlighted sixty-eight areas, which were summarized into thirteen demands called “The Feminist Dozen” (8f):

1. Restore federal funding to health care and enforce the rules against the privatization of our health care, beginning with Alberta

2. Spend an additional 1% of the budget on social housing

3. Set up the promised national childcare, starting with an immediate contribution of $2 billion

4. Increase Old Age Security payments to provide older women with a decent standard of living

5. Use surplus from the Employment Insurance Fund to increase benefits, provide longer payment periods and improve access, as well as improve maternity and family benefits

6. Support women’s organizing for equality and democracy by:
a. allocating $50 million to front-line, independent, feminist, women-controlled groups committed to ending violence against women, such as women’s centres, rape crisis centres and women’s shelters;
b. recognizing and funding the three autonomous national Aboriginal women’s organizations to ensure full participation in all significant public policy decisions as well as provide adequate funding to Aboriginal women’s services, including shelters, in all rural, remote and urban Aboriginal communities;
c. funding a national meeting of lesbians to discuss and prioritize areas for legislative and public policy reform;
d.providing $30 million in core funding for equality-seeking women’s organizations, which represents only $2 for every woman and girl child in Canada—our Fair Share.

7. Fund consultations with a wide range of women’s equality-seeking organizations prior to all legislative reform of relevance to women’s security and equality rights, beginning with the Criminal Code, and ensure access for women from marginalized communities.

8. Implement progressive immigration reform to: provide domestic workers with full immigration status on arrival; abolish the ‘head tax’ on all immigrants; include persecution on the basis of gender and sexual orientation as grounds for claiming refugee status.

9. Contribute to the elimination of poverty around the world by: supporting the cancellation of the debts of the 53 poorest countries; increasing Canada’s international development aid to 0.7% of the Gross National Product.

10. Adopt national standards which guarantee the right to welfare for everyone in need and ban workfare.

11. Recognize the ongoing exclusion of women with disabilities from economic, political and social life and take the essential step of ensuring and funding full access for women with disabilities to all consultations on issues of relevance to women.

12. Establish a national system of grants based on need, not merit, to enable access to post-secondary education and reduce student debt.

13. Adopt proactive pay equity legislation.

There are at least three striking things about these demands. The first is their close relationship to the femocratic administration project. Funding of women’s groups to increase participation in the policy process, increasing funding to social programs, including childcare, to reduce the burden of unpaid labour, and reforms to Employment Insurance, immigration policy and pay equity to improve women’s paid employment situation are all good starts.

The second notable feature is the extent to which these demands correspond to Canada’s particular social formation. Major cleavages in the Canadian women’s movement based on nation (aboriginal peoples and Quebec), race, sexuality and ability are addressed in these demands. If there is any doubt about the persistent importance of national concerns, one need only look at the disclaimer that appears in the text of “The Feminist Dozen.” It says the following:

When you see an asterisk (*) beside a demand, it indicates that the Canadian Women’s March demand is made to the Federal Government of Canada with the understanding that Québec has the right to determine its own standards, programs and policies in this area.

This caveat makes it clear that in Canada, a ‘national’ women’s movement is actually multinational in character. Recognition of Quebec was even structured into the March itself. The March involved three separate ‘wings,’ which eventually merged into one. When the ‘Quebec wing’ merged with the other two just before reaching Parliament Hill, it was a powerful statement of the complications and contradictions of feminist solidarity in Canada.

The final point of interest is the way in which these largely national concerns are interwoven with international expressions of solidarity, with attention to immigration issues, developing country debt, and foreign aid. This again shows how a national strategy may be supplemented with an international one.

The Fall 2000 edition of Canadian Woman Studies is dedicated to the World March. In the introductory essay, Angela Miles, at first glance, appears to belong to the ‘global feminist’ school. She says:

All over the world women are engaged in feminist environmental, economic, health, shelter, food security, social-justice, human rights, peace, anti-debt, anti-globalization, pro-democracy, anti-violence, and anti-fundamentalist struggles of major proportions (6).

Despite references to “feminist internationalism” and “sisterhood feminism” (6, 9), though, she quickly makes clear that the World March is an example of a nationally-based strategy. She dubs the activities around the World March “feminist local globalism,” to describe a feminism that begins at the local level, but is linked globally (7). Miles is careful to note that…

Farmers, fishers, peasants, workers, young people, environmentalists, and indigenous peoples, as well as feminists, all over the world are working in their own contexts to end cutbacks, privatization, environ- mental destruction, corruption, dictatorship, militarism, and violence (9; emphasis mine).

This Feminist Local Globalism Links National Struggles to International Ones

Making links of various kinds is essential, especially in advancing our understanding of the relationship between gender, globalization, and the state.

I thus began this article by reviewing some literature which theorizes globalization as beyond the state, and which is thus strategically oriented towards the development of global civil society. In response, I drew attention to those who insist that “bringing the state back in” is crucial to both explaining and countering globalization, which is, in fact, a project of nation-states. I then turned to one of the only, albeit unfortunate, points where feminist and non-feminist work on globalization seems to overlap: calls for transnational/global feminism. I showed that these calls—in much of the feminist literature, as well as in two cases of women’s organizing (Beijing + 5 in 2000, and the AWID Forum in 2002)—are based on a faulty conception of globalization, in which it is portrayed as inevitable and irreversible. In addition, transnational/global feminists tend to universalize women’s experiences, and to exaggerate the extent and power of global feminism. I argued that the state continues to be a fundamental political site for feminist movements in their struggles to resist and reverse neoliberalism and globalization, and that efforts at transforming the state through democratic administration are a good start. However, greater consideration must be given to the ways in which democratization, like globalization, is gendered. Finally, I described various feminist projects of democratization, or ‘femocratic administration,’ and the ways in which they can be linked to the international level. A more holistic approach to gender, globalization and the state is possible, so it’s time to get our act together.


1. Burbach and Robinson are also optimistic about the “revolutionary possibilities” of information technology (12).

2. For an elaboration of this point see also Vogel, 1996.

3. Or, as Cohen and McBride put it: “Globalization represents a uniform system of thought and practice, based on a ‘consensus’ originating in Washington, that all nations and all people within nations throughout the world should root their decisions and actions in one type of economic system” (1).

4. See Grinspun & Kreklewich, 1994.

5. There is a considerable dose of naïveté involved in some of these prescriptions though. Kerr, for example believes that “[w]hen women confront and recognize their differences, it will be possible for them to inform and lobby policy makers to regulate the negative impacts of restructuring policies in ways that benefit women” (245). This liberal feminist presumption that simply educating the government will bring about change is belied by the failure of reasoned argument about the effects of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA) on women to dissuade the neoliberal Mulroney government in Canada.

6. Hoskyns identifies the convoluted institutions of the EU as a barrier to women’s ability to lobby and coordinate efforts though. She also notes that while attempts to develop a “gender framework” have been difficult, recognition of race, ethnicity and class has been even slower (80, 82).

7. Jenson, nonetheless, tends to focus mainly on the new opportunities for citizenship provided by globalization.

8. As seen earlier, many have challenged the idea that states are losing power. The view that NGOs and international law are beyond nation-states is also questionable, when the former rely heavily on state support and funding, and the latter requires states to sign on to human rights treaties, and to enforce them. This point will be elaborated later on. In addition, the belief, presumably, is that the UN is more progressive than nation-states around gender equality. This is an assumption with little substance. But beyond that, it is unrealistic in assessing the effectiveness of the UN, and fails to acknowldge its origins (and continuing use) as a tool of US imperialism.

9. This approach is largely the product of what Panitch calls an “outside-in” orientation to describe Coxian and other, World-Systems-style approaches (1994: 71).

10. It must be mentioned that the level of American feminist paternalism, and widespread ignorance of women’s experiences outside of the U.S. demonstrated at this conference, also raises questions about the viability of global feminism. This was evident in the interactions between the American and Japanese participants generally, and then in specific instances throughout the conference. In one workshop, where Diane Elson was presenting the 2000 UNIFEM Report, she was expressing the difficulty she faced in finding statistics that demonstrate the reality of inequalities between women. Brigette Young suggested that the rise in foreign domestic workers in Europe might be such a measure. At this point, a well-known American feminist, and one of the conference organizers, nonchalantly commented that the use of immigrant women as nannies is “nothing new” and had been common for years. Young politely explained that this may very well be true, and even accepted in the U.S., but that it has only been recently, with the dismantling of the welfare state, that this is occurring in Europe. It did not occur to many that the American experience was not universal and/or desirable.

11. The journal Gender and Development, in an issue called “Women Reinventing Globalisation,” also featured articles based on AWID forum papers, but with a more balanced range of perspectives.

12. Although ‘development’ was never really defined.

13. Joanna Kerr, the Executive Director of AWID, makes this point herself in Gender and Development. See Kerr & Sweetman, 7.

14. Gabriel & Macdonald (1994) adopt the term ‘feminist internationality’ from Vasuki Nesiah instead of ‘global sisterhood,’ because they believe it combines transnational alliances with the acknowledgement of differences. In the end though, it is not clear that the two are substantively different.

15. To speak of the First Nations as a single nation is problematic, however, because it obscures the diversity of aboriginal nations in Canada.

16. For an elaboration, see Tammy Findlay 2003.

17. I have argued that Canada is multinational. I still refer to a ‘national’ state, however, because the current configuration of Canadian federalism requires that various nations continue to pursue their struggles through the federal government.

18. See, for example, Van Kirk 1991; Fox 1991.

19. Craig Scott (1999) provides a good outline of the Concluding Observations from CESCR and CCPR. There is not space here to discuss the merits of using these instruments as a strategy. Any consideration of their potential to advance an agenda of global feminism, though, must keep in mind that the U.S. has not even signed onto CEDAW or CRC.

20. see the Lovelace case, for example.

21. To reiterate a point made earlier in reference to Sassen, it is important not to overstate the effectiveness of the UN. Most of the cases taken to the UN described here have seen little concrete result.

22. Tsoukalas (1999) also argues that the nation-state continues to be the dominant site of struggle. Any nationally-based strategy in Canada, though, must recognize our multinational reality including ‘English-Canada,’ Quebec and the First Nations.

23. It must be kept in mind, of course, that many of the measures I describe here are based on the Canadian context, and are not easily transferable to other locations. This is particularly true when I come to ‘femocratic administration,’ where the landscape for women’s policy differs significantly from other places. Hester Eisenstein makes this point in reference to Australia, where the ‘femocrat’ (feminist bureaucrat) strategy was based on a particular, historic, set of social relations (1996: 205)

24. Representativity, while noted in democratic administration, becomes much more important in femocratic administration.

25. Rebick, like many others, stresses the need for a system of proportional representation (PR).

26. Hopefully this does not replicate the false dichotomy between the economic and the political. The purpose of democratic and femocratic administration is, after all, to bring back together the public and private, economic and political, that have, as Ellen Wood (1995) has shown, been separated in capitalism. In speaking of ‘democratizing the market,’ I am making two assumptions. First, I am influenced by feminist work on the public/private divide, which has shown that one’s ability to participate in the public sphere depends on significant change in the private (i.e. household and market) sphere (see, e.g., Phillips 1991). Second, I believe that democratizing the state will make it more possible for people to seek democracy in their everyday lives.

27. I will not elaborate further here, but an ‘inward-oriented’ strategy, of course, requires capital controls as well. At a conference on Feminist Political Economy and the Law, Marjorie Cohen (2001) called for a system of trade, monetary, and fiscal policy that allows for national variation.

28. Any nationally-based strategy in Canada though, must recognize our multinational reality including ‘English-Canada,’ Quebec and the First Nations.

29. It is curious how often feminist contributions are ignored in the democratic administration literature. In Shrinking the State: Globalization and Public Administration ‘Reform,’ Shields and Evans, for instance, even while citing Janine Brodie, (who has provided one of the leading feminist critiques of neoliberalism in Canada) largely bypass all of the gendered consequences of neoliberal restructuring. They manage to cite both Janine Brodie and Hilary Wainwright without ever mentioning gender.

30. This requires a feminism that is concerned not only with gender equality, but that of class, race, nationality, sexuality, ability, and age.

31. Femocratic administration should not be confused with what Chantal Mouffe, Nancy Fraser, and others call ‘radical democracy.’ The latter emerged from postmodern and poststructural theory, and does not involve significant restructuring of the economy. It should also not be read as referring only to the activities of ‘femocrats.’ I am using the term in a much broader way, to describe a variety of feminist efforts toward democratization.

32. For example see Alboim, 1997; Findlay, 1997, 1993a, 1993b, 1988, 1987; Gabriel, 1996; Geller-Schwartz, 1995, Lavigne, 1997; O’Neil & Sutherland, 1997; M. Randall, 1988; Teghtsoonian, 2000; Vickers, 1997; These Canadian sources are in addition to the extensive Australian body of work including, Eisenstein, 1996, 1991, 1990; Franzway et al, 1989; Sawer, 1994, 1991, 1990; Watson, 1992; Yeatman, 1990.

33. See for example, Rebick & Roach, 1996; Rebick, 2000.

34. See Bakker, 1998, 1996a, 1996b; Bakker & Elson, 1998; Teghtsoonian, 2000; UNIFEM, 2000.

35. See Vickers, 1997; Ferguson, 1984; Findlay, 1993b, 1987; Gabriel, 1996.

36. See Armstrong, 1996; Armstrong & Connelly, 1997; Bakker, 1998, 1996a, 1996b; Bakker & Elson, 1998; Brodie, 1996, 1995; Cohen, 1997; Evans & Wekerle, 1997; Rebick & Roach, 1996; Rebick, 2000.

37. The shorter workweek frees up time for both men and women, allowing for a more equitable division of domestic labour. This is, of course, no guarantee that such an equitable division will occur, and so the patriarchal structure of the family must remain an essential target of struggle for both women and men.

38. Jane Jenson (1996) also argues that pursuing a policy of worksharing is promising for women and men.

39. The type of calculations she is referring to are discussed by Bakker and Elson. They provide UNDP estimates that value women’s unpaid work at $11 trillion in 1995, in comparison to a global GDP of $23 trillion (301).

40. Waring (2001) also drew attention to the interesting fact that the 2000 federal budget set aside $9 million to extend the GPI to all provinces in Canada.

41. It must be noted that, as Meg Luxton as shown, time-use studies on their own are unable to measure important factors such as working conditions, efficiency and work quality, multiple tasks, and household variations, and therefore need to be supplemented with other strategies. For more on time-use studies, see Luxton 1997. Measuring time-use, however, does have the advantage of avoiding commodification, and advancing democratization.

42. For an excellent discussion of temporary work, see Vosko 2000.

43. emphasis mine.


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The author would like to thank Leo Panitch for his comments on an early draft of this paper. She would also like to acknowledge the financial assistance of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Finally, she would like to thank Hester Eisenstein whose editorial assistance was much appreciated.

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