In a circle under the trees at the dismantled women’s tent at the close of the January 2003 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, some 30 feminist leaders representing regional and international networks from around the world gathered to evaluate their impact on that global gathering of activists. In 2003, Latin American feminists, who have been outspoken voices on the WSF International Committee, assumed responsibility for the planning of key plenaries at the WSF only to discover that these events were physically marginalized while attention turned to big-name speakers. Meanwhile, smaller workshops organized by women were sparsely attended. Women working primarily in non-governmental organizations (NGOs) discussed whether a stronger presence of Left political party influence in the WSF (parties that are notoriously sexist) was a dangerous or a strategically necessary thing. In the closing WSF press conference, a male WSF leader had acknowledged that integration of a feminist agenda in the WSF was one of the critical issues yet to be addressed, but also challenged feminists to be more responsive to the realities of indigenous, African descent and other marginalized women who are present in large numbers at the WSF, but not often part of feminist organizations. In the small women’s meeting some saw these remarks as lacking an understanding of feminist agenda and practice, while others quietly acknowledged the depth of class and race divides in feminist movements.
In a taped speech to the 10,000 peasants organized through Via Campesina who marched on the WTO meeting in Cancún, Mexico in September 2003, Zapatista Commander Esther clearly linked the struggle of women as peasants and workers to the issues they face as women. “The struggle against neoliberalism humiliates us, exploits us, and wants to wipe us out as indigenous women, as peasant women, as women. We also want to say to the men that you must respect our rights as women. Because many times the mistreatment we receive as women isn’t only coming from the rich exploiters. It also comes from men who are poor like us.We call on women from the cities to organize to struggle together with us. Those who are factory workers, domestic workers, teachers, secretaries. aren’t paid a fair wage.many young women workers are harassed and raped. This is why we invite you, sisters, indigenous women, peasant and urban women, to organize and join in the struggle together. Since we all suffer humiliation both by the rich and by our men, together we will demand that they respect us as women.”
These two episodes underscore some of the challenges facing global women’s movements struggling for gender justice and for economic justice.1 With their colleagues in other social movements, feminists must respond to urgent current realities: neo-liberal globalization, religious and ethnic fundamentalisms, militarism, the US interventionist “war on terrorism” in the name of security, and the decline in multilateralism as the US takes a unilateral approach and inter-imperialist rivalry intensifies. As feminists struggle to defend women’s rights in this context, they debate how to be part of a dynamic global justice movement and still maintain a powerful, distinctive voice. Feminists have been successful in building organizations and broad movements in recent decades, and in having many of their demands recognized (at least on paper) at the global level. At the same time, they confront many challenges, including:
— The larger political/economic forces, particularly neo-liberal globalization and the rise of religious fundamentalisms;
— Debates within women’s movements on the nature of the feminist political project, strategies and arenas for action.
— How feminists can claim space within social movements and the global justice movement2 while keeping a clear feminist agenda and integrating feminist analysis into those broader struggles;
— The challenges of cooptation and the diluting of political change agendas;
— The need to bridge gaps between concerns about women’s right to control their bodies and their autonomy, and women’s economic justice struggles;
— How to address the multiple oppressions women experience, including class, race, ethnicity, caste, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship status, colonialism, region, religion, age, and marital status;
— How to strengthen local women’s struggles while continuing to have a global impact.
This article gives an overview of global women’s movements3 at the regional and international level, focused on global international fora, while recognizing that the success of work at the international level is measured by its impact on the lives of women at the local level.4 It explores responses to the current global political-economic challenges, as well as to specific problems within these international networks. I write this not as observer but as an activist fully engaged in these movements, and I recognize the limitations as well as the benefits of an insider’s vantage point. I seek to pose questions and dilemmas, observe trends and point to some directions, without pretending to have answers for this “crossroad.” The analysis offered here reflects an internal critique, towards my own organization and that of colleagues, in a constructive effort towards more effective political work. We are not immune to the contradictions of the moment.
The Women’s International Coalition for Economic Justice observes:
Women are being hemmed in by two forces: One is the push for a corporate-led globalization with a “fundamentalist” notion that there is only one economic model for the world, that of the “free market” and trade liberalization. The other is that of religious and ethnic fundamentalism, aggravated in part from the dislocation caused by neo-liberalism. Both of these forces are devastating to women, who suffer both the loss of livelihoods and economic security, and the efforts to reassert control over their life choices and their bodies. Both internationally and nationally, these forces are pushing hard to dismantle women’s hard-won rights to define a sexual rights and reproductive agenda, to express their sexual and reproductive rights, and to have access to resources that assure life choices leading to reproductive health and well-being.5
Much has been said about the current model of neo-liberal globalization, and its differential impacts on women.6 The past 20 years have seen an intensification of economic re-colonization, first within the framework of multilateralism led by G-8 countries7 and their corporate interests, and now under the Bush Administration with a decidedly unilateral bent. Walden Bello of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South points to a crisis of legitimacy in the current system.8 The rhetoric that twenty years of “economic reforms” and liberalization would reap growth and “development” has failed miserably, leaving crises such as that of Argentina in its wake. The debacle of Enron and many other US corporations showed the weakness of US capital, faced with a crisis of over-capacity and declining profits which led to mergers, and then creative book-keeping. It also highlighted the vast dangers of de-regulation and privatization of energy and other sectors. In response to growing unrest, seen both in religious fundamentalism and in a burgeoning global justice movement, the US and its allies have stepped up repression and undermined liberal democracy under the rubric of a global war on terrorism (often alleging that activists are terrorists). At the same time, the war in Iraq and US military presence in the Philippines, Colombia, the Middle East and multiple smaller fronts, represent a challenge to national autonomy, a challenge to imperialist rivals, and the overt grab of a cocky empire.
One reaction to intensified globalization is religious fundamentalism, growing in strength in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism. In the global South, the loss of peasant land, credit and price supports in the rural areas, and the loss of urban jobs, social services and markets for informal entrepreneurs have arrived in the package of Western culture and political/military imposition. This has robbed people simultaneously of livelihoods, cultural anchors and dignity. In response, religious fundamentalisms offer political, economic and cultural/ideological alternatives to people cut from their moorings. Not only are many religious groups challenging Western domination and military intervention; they are also providing the critical social infrastructure to meet basic needs, filling the gaps left by the diminished state. From the Hindu BJP in India to the Christian evangelicals in Brazil, Cuba or US neighborhoods, to the Muslim brotherhoods in Gaza or Egypt, these are the groups reaching out to poor people and meeting their immediate needs. They seek to restore a sense of dignity, albeit through an often rabid cultural, religious or ethnic nationalism that vilifies an “other,” particularly through its women. While some of these movements (radical Islam, for example) pose a strong critique of globalization-which threatens their political, economic and cultural control-they are also anti-women in practice, and mobilize around the control of women’s lives and the abuse of the “other’s” women. In the US case, Christian fundamentalists, a strong force behind the Bush Administration, have had a heavy hand in the globalizing project. They are shaping US foreign policy using literalist Biblical interpretations to justify the occupation of Palestine and support the Iraq war, while seeking to rewrite two decades of legislation for women’s equality and reproductive rights in the US. They vilify Muslim immigrants as well as poor welfare moms and gay or lesbian couples as the “other.” Their support similarly comes from people’s sense of economic insecurity as gaps between rich and poor in the US grow, feeding a right-wing racist and xenophobic agenda which also seeks to control women’s lives.
Fundamentalism thrives as a fearful response to the fallout from rampant global capitalism and the chaos of the current crisis. Notes Bello, “Today, corporate-driven globalization is creating much of the same instability, resentment and crisis that served as the breeding ground of fascist, fanatical and authoritarian populist forces (in the 1930s).”9 The global justice movement and thousands of national and local movements, as well as the massive global anti-war mobilization in early 2003, represent a more positive form of resistance and a critical counter-force. However, as opposed to the Right, these movements have not linked a political program with organized social services and cultural meaning, to respond to people’s physical, cultural and political needs simultaneously. The Left demands that the State deliver services and redistribute resources; it critiques the type of social service delivery that isapolitical and demobilizing, and opposes the privatization of service delivery (whether through the private sector or through NGOs). It is awkward, then, that religious fundamentalist movements have coupled service delivery with political and ideological mobilization to such powerful ends. It is a challenge to our own thinking and practices.
Central to feminism is the challenge to patriarchy. Patriarchy is understood as a socially constructed system controlled by and benefiting men, through the political, economic and ideological institutions of society. Some of the central divisions within feminist movements are between those focused specifically on patriarchy and those who view women’s oppression as inseparable from broader societal transformation. The women’s movements have also had intense debates about the vast differences in women’s lived experience due to multiple oppressions, and about concerns as to which “movement” speaks for which “women.” Given power relations at the global and national levels, the women in the dominant groups have often come to embody the definition of “woman” and to define the agenda for change to the exclusion of other women. We particularly note these dynamics between women of the economic North10 and South, between “white” women and racialized women, between women of different classes in both South and North, and increasingly between women of different religious and ethnic groups.
There are still strong elements of essentialism in some feminist arenas, imagining “woman” and assigning her inherent attributes. This emerged again in anti-war mobilizations in 2003, when some women’s groups took up banners of “women for peace” or “mothers for peace.” Comments Katha Pollitt in The Nation: “For progressive women, in 2003, to fall back on the ideology of woman-as- peaceful-outsider rings as false as Phyllis Schlafly pretending to be a housewife.” This strategy says “men are violent and women are peaceful, men love guns and women love children, and propose[s] that men messed up the world and women can fix it. The positive aspect of this vision is that it gives disregarded and disrespected ordinary women a platform-as mothers and homemakers-from which to demand attention as significant social actors; the downside is that it valorizes that very powerlessness.”11
Despite the recognition of the very different roles men are assigned in society given different race, class or national origin, there are still some who would see men as the enemy. Others, like Comandante Esther, view women’s struggles as part of a common project for radical change, yet challenge patriarchy within that struggle as well as within the larger system.
At the global level, women’s organizing that was galvanized by the 1975-85 decade for women began to shape a holistic agenda at the Nairobi Third World Conference on Women (1985), particularly with the DAWN manifesto that addressed a “crisis in people’s capacity to survive.generated by the structures and effects of an economic system (capitalism) enforced by male-defined political and military power (patriarchy).”12 This was strengthened by the UN Beijing Platform for Action of 1995, which explores multiple issues “through women’s eyes.” However, despite these advances, global women’s organizing has continued to function with a significant divide between those working on issues of violence, reproductive and sexual rights, and legal equality for women, and those focused on economic issues. Yet success depends on the linkage of the two areas of rights. Comments Sunila Abeyesekera of Inform, Sri Lanka, “women’s capacity to enjoy economic and social rights is often constrained by economic dependence and social attitudes that affirm her secondary and subordinate status in society. The right to be treated on an equal basis with men when it comes to domestic and family matters is essential for women’s economic and social freedom.”13
On the economic front, things are further complicated by the fact that much of the discourse and activity in recent decades has been shaped within the context of “development” study and practice-within the governmental and inter-governmental arena, development agencies, and NGOs that deliver services and shape mainstream policy. A succession of approaches within this field, from Women in Development to Gender and Development, has addressed the unequal impacts of policies on women, and called for more resources to women.14
The development debates of the past 30 years, particularly in the UN, are a reflection of the broader power relations between the central powers and those nations emerging from colonialism. While the North-South struggle is overt in the international arena, much of the work of “development” on the ground obscures these power relationships, especially in the case of development aid channeled through NGOs. Thus, a good deal of the work in the field of “Women in Development,” now called “Gender and Development” has been an effort to integrate women into an unequal and detrimental development model.
Women’s groups in the economic South, as well as such groups as Alternative- Women in Development in the North, have been strong in their critique of this approach.15 In claiming a more radical approach to Gender & Development, Maria Riley states that GAD “identifies unequal power relations between women and men; . reexamines all social, political and economic structures.from the perspective of the gender differentials.and recognizes that achieving gender equality and equity will demand ‘transformative change.'”16
Feminists also seek to bring their agenda into the global justice movement. Many colleagues in social change movements tend to see their political project as only about addressing the external oppressors while minimizing the need to address women’s concerns. Commented the DAWN movement, in a statement to the second World Social Forum in 2002:
It is never a simple task for feminists to engage with and attempt to transform the perspective of progressive social and political move- ments such as those strongly represented in WSF. In doing so we often find ourselves being responded to through tokenism and vague or rhetorical commitments to gender, while at the same time being marginalized and criticized from all sides: by progressive men and women who do not have a feminist perspective; by feminists who find it futile to engage with males in male-dominated spaces and are critical of feminists who do so; and even by some grassroots women leaders of social movements who have essentially mobilized themselves on the basis of motherhood and the political virtue of women’s values.17
Feminists are concerned that patriarchy cannot be a mere add-on for the global justice movement. It is a central element in the functioning of the current system in the economic, social, political, military and cultural spheres, and thus analysis and movements for social change cannot succeed without incorporating an explicit critique of patriarchy. This is becoming all the more apparent as fundamentalisms grow, gaining mass social followings and political power in part through increased control over women’s lives. The objectification of women and reassertion of control over their bodies, from Gujarat to Washington, DC, as well as the Bush Administration’s justification of intervention in the name of “women’s rights,” reveal the centrality of patriarchy in the current conjuncture.
By addressing the power relations between men and women embedded in societal institutions, feminism necessarily addresses the very nature of those institutions, and seeks to transform them to bring justice for both men and women. However, in reality, many of the pieces of this project get compartmentalized. Women’s movements for rights encompass many fronts. Many women enter “women’s movements” to increase choices and control over their lives, or for economic reasons, without a critique of patriarchy or an identification with feminism. Women’s organizing cuts across all sectors, identities and issues, and is embedded in different political projects. This all tends to come under the heading of global women’s movements. Many of these groups, issues, identities and projects have converged in global arenas such as UN women’s conferences, all seeking “women’s rights” and “gender equity,” making for a sometimes fuzzy scenario.
In the post cold-war era, much organizing at the global level has moved into the NGO arena. This has shifted the ground from mass- based organizing by trade unions, peasant movements and left political parties-weakened by the rise of neo-liberalism and the collapse of the USSR. NGOs play an important role, and in themselves are not good or bad. It’s a question of how they ally themselves with social movements and a broader Left and feminist project. Yet, the realities of funding, coupled with neo-liberalism’s push to shift state functions to the private sector, have meant the de-radicalization, professionalization and potential co-optation of many groups.
NGOs range in size from tiny volunteer entities to multi-million dollar organizations, and in politics from radical social change groups to fronts for transnational corporations. While a large number of NGOs primarily channel public and private donor dollars to social service projects, a sub-set use the NGO institutional structure to pursue a more radical social change agenda, including efforts to strengthen mass-based social movements.
A series of UN conferences from 1992-2002 on issues of Environment, Social Development, Human Rights, Women, Racism, Population and Development, Habitat, and Development Financing became the focus of organizing for activists around the world. UN conferences on women since 1975 have helped not only to shape a common set of demands on States regarding women’s equality, but also to galvanize women’s activism at all levels-with some 40,000 women present at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China (1995). Women also emerged as strong voices in the other UN conferences. This series of UN conferences provided the focus, momentum and funding resources that enabled the creation of networks and infrastructure for global women’s movements on multiple issues. They particularly strengthened NGOs, which are the formal vehicles for civil society representation at the UN.
Activities at these global conferences have largely been coordinated through national and international NGOs and trade union leadership, with limited participation from grassroots women and a limited impact on grassroots women’s lives. Vanessa Griffen of the Gender & Development Programme, Asian and Pacific Development Centre, Malaysia argues that women’s successes at the international level, for example in addressing violence against women, have not begun to change the deep patterns of patriarchal oppression for women at the local level.18 I would not minimize gains at the global level. Nonetheless, I concur with Griffen’s assessment that the power to demand implementation must be grounded in strengthened mobilization of women with a feminist and class consciousness at the local level, not limited to NGOs or to global work. This is what makes the perspective of Comandante Esther so interesting-such mobilization is happening, often unbeknownst to global feminists.
MADRE, a US-based women’s human rights organization, notes that there is no longer a possibility of choosing between local and global work:
Women from the global South.argue that when local conditions are so heavily impacted by global trends, community-based activists must be equipped to understand and impact developments in the international arena.Community-based projects must include components that provide training to enable women to influence macro policies. Otherwise local work remains a limited and, ultimately, exhausting venture for women. That’s why MADRE brings the voices of community-based women into international processes.and insists that the women’s movement devote resources.to guarantee that the international arena is not dominated by elites. We also believe that . international work that is not rooted in community priorities risks becoming abstract and irrelevant to most women. Ultimately, policies at the local, national and international levels must function together to protect women’s human rights.19
The emergence of a “global justice” movement, particularly since the Seattle WTO ministerial in 1999, brings together progressive NGOs, trade unions, peasant and other mass-based social movements (such as landless workers), and left political parties. This is what’s occurring in the World Social Forum, (as well as the WTO, G-8, IMF and World Bank meetings). These world forums are fraught with political tensions. For many social movement groups, NGOs are too dependent on government and private funding, are not accountable to a base, do not utilize democratic decision-making structures, do not represent poor masses, are elitist and too reformist. For many NGOs, some trade unions and certain Left parties are seen as dinosaurs that have democracy and representation in name only, are rigidly hierarchical, dogmatic and manipulative. This divide involves class and other power dynamics, different political agendas, as well as views on “insider” vs. “outsider” strategies.
However, the divisions can also be a source of strength. As was evidenced at the Fifth Ministerial of the WTO in Cancún, Mexico in September 2003, many NGOs and “social movements” played both roles to great effect-putting mass pressure through street demon- strations on the outside, while presenting specific demands to negotiators on the inside. Despite the military barricades separating these two groups, the divide is not as vast as it appears. The victory that people’s movements celebrated in Cancún, when several southern countries walked out of negotiations, derailing US-EU attempts to impose more unbalanced rules, was in no small part due to the strength of these inside and outside voices (both NGOs and social movements), including over 10,000 peasant farmers, and months of intense pressure at the national level.
Feminists bring their own critique to the role of NGOs and political parties in today’s movements for social change-particularly the general lack of a feminist analysis by players in both spaces. Much current feminist organizing is also done through NGOs. Some leaders of women’s NGOs emerged from left political parties in the 1970s, fed up with the double standards and sexism within those parties. This created a group of women leaders who have radical politics, but are dubious of left parties. While many women are organized through trade unions, peasant and indigenous groups, these women are woefully under-represented in international women’s events. They often don’t embrace feminism and may see feminist issues as alien to their struggles. At the World Social Forum, women trade unionists, women peasants, and “feminists” have each attended their own events with little dialogue across sectors. However, in Cancún, some women valiantly maneuvered around security blocks to maintain contact between “women’s caucuses” on both sides of this physical, class and political divide, involving indigenous Mexican women from Via Campesina in the conversations with NGO women trade experts.20
In a time of strengthened global capitalism and a weakened Left, there are fewer groups that directly cite the seizing of state power as their political goal. Some, like the Workers’ Party (PT) of Brazil or the Movement towards Socialism (MAS) of Bolivia, have linked union and mass-mobilization to an electoral agenda. Others, such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, appear to be mobilizing to seek concrete gains for indigenous peasants faced with the onslaught of trade liberalization, but not seeking to gain control of the State. Many of the players in the “global justice movement” represent social movements focused on specific demands regarding land, markets, environmental degradation, privatization of basic services, jobs and livelihoods-in efforts to push back the onslaught of capital-without a broader political project. In an age when considerable power is concentrated in transnational capital, whose interests are represented by the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization, it is increasingly difficult to contemplate national alternatives (via either elections or revolution) apart from broader regional or global challenges to capital. Some theorists ask whether there is an “outside” to global capitalism at this point.21 This poses the question of what it would take to get “outside” this dominant global system, or indeed, whether that is possible. Brazil seeks to assuage the fears of investors and creditors, while mobilizing a Southern bloc in an attempt to shift North/South power relations. Cuba, Vietnam and China, to different degrees, are integrating into the global capitalist economy. Nicaragua, with the highest per capita debt in the world, is fully back in the neo-liberal fold.
The political goal may not be clear to many of us at this time, while it is perhaps too adamantly clear to some political groups. This makes gatherings such as the World Social Forum, or broad feminist coalitions, very complex arenas, where the electoral left, revolutionaries, anarchists, issue-based NGOs, social movements seeking short-term demands, and identity-based groups (as well as mainstream development agencies and even the Vatican) all converge to propose alternatives.
In dialogues I recently had with three observers of Latin American struggles, I got very different responses regarding our political goals. Commented one US observer who has been closely involved in both Cuba and Nicaragua, “If we’re not ultimately dealing with taking state power, what are we doing?” Yet from the perspective of an Indian colleague who lived in Nicaragua during the revolution, many leftists in small, poor nations of the South do not see taking state power as a goal at this time. In recent years this approach has resulted in imperialist “contra wars” and the violent undermining of the project, where thousands of people are massacred. Said a third person, active in the Coca and Water-privatization battles in Cochabamba that just culminated in ejecting the president of Bolivia (October 2003): “despite the sacrifices, if we don’t struggle we don’t survive-we have no choice.” For her, it’s not a question of whether or not to challenge state power, but when and at what relative cost.
Feminists struggle with this question through the additional lens of patriarchy. They simultaneously criticize the state as enforcer of patriarchal relations, and make claims upon the state to deliver women’s rights and broader societal demands. Feminists have bitter experience with so-called socialist states (or left political parties) which replicated patriarchal relations, but they continue to see the role of a transformed, egalitarian State as a vital arbiter of societal needs and rights.
The short-term task, in many styles and approaches, is building mass power to contest the imposition of terms by capital (at national, regional and international levels), through organizations that can negotiate alternatives with the State that go beyond the rejectionist positions taken by some street activists. Be they political parties or social movements, these groups must have mass accountability and clear alternatives for progressive social change. They must also address patriarchal relations within their ranks as well as in State and society. Without this leadership, the lurch towards religious fundamentalisms may only intensify.
Both the Zapatistas and the Workers’ Party are interesting examples in this regard. In Mexico, the Zapatistas, an indigenous peasant movement, are challenging the state’s ability to impose a particular political and economic agenda; they are organizing and educating masses of peasants, negotiating with the government, and even, among a few leaders, bringing in a feminist agenda! And despite the limitations global capital imposes on Brazil, Lula’s Workers’ Party played a leading role in organizing Southern nations to challenge the US and EU at the Cancún WTO meeting, and seeks to build a Latin American trade bloc to challenge US dominance of regional trade negotiations (Free Trade of the Americas Agreement).
While organizing continues at the national level to contest state actions on behalf of capital, mobilizations of the “global justice movement” have served to challenge the legitimacy of global capitalist institutions (IMF, World Bank, WTO, Davos, G-8). This is necessary when national victories can be blind-sided by transnational capital and their political interlocutors. The dance between challenging national capital in Southern nations, and taking nationalist stances against the onslaught of imperialism is a complex one-at times leading to strange bedfellows.
The World Social Forum seeks to create a space for building alternative strategies. It remains a critical question how NGOs, who have taken leadership in creating that forum, might challenge the worst practices of the “old left”-particularly around issues of gender, race and participatory democracy-while becoming grounded in the mass-based social movements that have the potential to contest for power.
The additional challenge for feminists is how to integrate an analysis of patriarchy into the critique of neo-liberal globalization. At the first World Social Forum in 2001, feminists issued a statement calling on WSF organizers to “practice the democratic principle of gender and regional balance” in leadership structures. In a call to colleagues at the second WSF (2002), DAWN, which sits on the WSF International Committee, stated, “Since the mid-1980s we have been wrestling with problems arising from the interconnectedness of globalization and fundamentalism and their detrimental effects on women’s lives, rights, agency and freedom.. The World Social Forum may lose its meaning, political grip and vitality-as a radically democratic global civil society space-if it does not directly face and process the multilayered paradoxes of forces impacting women in all regions.”22 Women’s concerns are still mostly considered an “add-on” for the “guys” in leadership of the WSF. While there is a small group of feminist organizations on the WSF International Council, and more on the local organizing committees, other groups have sent few women representatives, and fewer feminists, to represent them. However as the WSF now shifts to Asia for the first time, Indian feminists have made considerable strides in integrating a critique of patriarchy into some of the major events of the 2004 WSF and balancing women’s and men’s leadership in these events. They are building on three years of groundwork laid by their Latin American sisters.
2003 marked the ten-year anniversary of the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. That was a landmark event for global women’s movements, as the idea that women’s rights are human rights was codified in an international agreement. Human rights-as embodied in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in Covenants (treaties) on both Political and Civil Rights as well as Economic, Social and Cultural Rights-are seen to encompass both political and economic rights. However, this international law was a victim of the cold war, where the West prioritized the former, and the East prioritized the latter.24
Despite an affirmation of the indivisibility of all human rights, in its early stages (1993) the women’s human rights movement placed emphasis on issues of violence against women, reproductive rights, sexual rights, and bodily integrity-“gender justice.” This is because many feminists see issues of violence against women and women’s control over their bodies as the primordial issues on the feminist agenda. As Bina Srinivasan notes, these are the issues other movements consistently fail to address. While feminists who focus on violence also address the importance of global economic issues in women’s lives, they have tended to underplay this agenda, just as women in economic development work have until recently downplayed sexual and reproductive rights, and ignored a human rights framework.
The Beijing Platform for Action (1995), became the central organizing program for women around the world over the past decade. It was a significant achievement for global women’s movements but also has its limitations. It is strong on issues of violence, bodily integrity, and equal access to resources, as well as micro-responses to women’s poverty in an era of globalization. It is weak in addressing the multiple oppressions diverse women face, and in addressing systemic causes of women’s poverty-particularly the neo-liberal corporate agenda. This is not surprising, given the power of the G-8 in UN deliberations. In official reviews in 2000 and 2005, women activists are placed in the awkward position of holding the line against rightwing attacks that would undermine the Platform, while wishing to make it more far-reaching. The consensus has been to keep it a closed document to avoid setbacks.
In Beijing, the differential emphasis on issues around violence and macro-economic issues among feminists was deepened by the energetic initiatives of the Clinton White House (with Hillary as the leading “feminist”) and European women elected officials who championed anti-violence struggles and micro-enterprise, while keeping the focus away from G-8 imperialism. Many women’s groups, particularly but not exclusively from the Global North, enthusiastically embraced this narrowed agenda.
Gita Sen and Sonia Correa note that this dichotomy within governments and women’s NGOs reflects a real confusion of agendas by women themselves. In the 1980s and 1990s women entered labor markets in great numbers. Sometimes they gained more autonomy in the home and community as a result, and sometimes they lost autonomy, with greater work burdens and workplace controls. Sen and Correa observe:
These contradictions mean that women’s struggles for greater personal autonomy.may not mesh simply or easily with their concerns and demands for a more just and equal economic order. The irony for women is that, on the one hand, the supporters and promoters of a globalized world economy are often also the ones who support the breaking of traditional patriarchal orders. On the other hand, some of those who oppose globalization do so in the name of values and control systems that strongly oppress women.25
The impact of the neo-liberal agenda in the ’80s and ’90s had deepened the North-South divide and weakened the bargaining position of the global South. “In this climate moral conservative groups that oppose an agenda for women’s rights have systematically attempted to emerge as champions of the South,” including the Vatican and a small group of Southern nations.26 This has created a sharp divide in UN negotiations between Northern nations arguing for a certain limited definition of “women’s rights” while strengthening the neo-liberal stranglehold on the South, and some Southern nations undermining those “women’s rights” while leading the battle against Northern economic control. Women’s rights were again obscured in this battle.
Sen and Correa say that feminists of North and South attempted to bridge the divide between gender justice and economic justice at these UN conferences. While some did, including WICEJ, many others were easily boxed into different tracks, as well as divergences between North and South.27 Unfortunately, too many women’s NGOs with a focus solely on “gender justice” allied with US and EU governments on this agenda, obscuring the broader economic issues that also undermine women’s rights, and the complex dynamics at work.
There are encouraging signs that these two organized elements of the feminist agenda are coming together, both analytically and in activism. As US imperialism intensifies, and as the Washington Consensus begins to show some cracks, feminist activists are developing a more integrated analysis. This analysis links the neo-liberal agenda, the rise of religious fundamentalisms, the intensification of civil wars and religions/ethnic communal violence, the rise of militarism and decline of democratic space, to both patriarchal social structures and the current crisis of global capitalism.28 Signs of integrated analysis and action include:
the emergence of the “Campaign Against Fundamentalisms” launched at the 2002 World Social Forum by the Feminist Marcosur Coalition, a network of Latin American Southern Cone feminist organizations. With giant lips to “open your mouth against fundamentalisms,” hot air balloons, stilt-walkers, dancers and drummers, as well as testimonials from around the world, the on-going campaign links the “fundamentalism” of neo-liberal dogma to religious fundamentalisms, in their undermining of women’s rights.29 In 2003 this campaign broadened into an international coalition, including such groups as Women Living Under Muslim Law, Association for Women’s Rights in Development/AWID, the Center for Women’s Global Leadership, DAWN and WICEJ.
Women involved in planning for the 2004 World Social Forum are shaping panels that will integrate sexual and reproductive rights with economic rights in a critique of neo-liberalism and funda- mentalisms, and planning a feminist strategy meeting to better integrate these themes and coordinate action.
The Women’s International Coalition for Economic Justice, which emerged during the UN five-year review of Beijing, also connects groups in the “women’s human rights” community and in the “gender & development” community, as well as racial justice and immigrant rights activists. This has strengthened a trend towards reclaiming economic rights as part of the women’s human rights agenda, with demands for jobs, food, housing, water and basic services as part of women’s rights, and an understanding of systemic economic violence as one aspect of violence against women. WICEJ, collaborating with other feminist groups in the World Social Forum and the Campaign Against Fundamentalisms, is increasingly linking analysis of neo-liberal globalization with fundamentalisms, militarism and patriarchy.30
In 2001 the Association for Women in Development formally changed its name to Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID). Originally a trade association for development professionals, AWID was transformed into a gathering place for global women’s movements and their ideas and has worked to integrate a rights perspective into the feminist development agenda. Their Forum of some 2000 women, Women Reinventing Globalisation, in Guadalajara, Mexico in October 2002, brought together these many streams of global feminisms under one roof for debate and analysis. Two speakers dubbed Forum participants the “Guadalajara Woman,” in response to the “Davos Man”31 with a “complex identity and activist agenda,” who “struggles for institutional accountability and demands gender, racial and class justice from the state,” while “building alliances with a broad cross-section of social justice advocates” in the global justice movement.32
There is a new interest among women’s groups in the UN Com- mission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and the UN Committee on Economic and Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) as potential vehicles for enhancing economic rights and challenging the Washington Consensus. Under Mary Robinson, former PM of Ireland, the UNCHR established working groups to assess the human rights implications of globalization and structural adjustment as well as WTO policies. In 2003 the Committee on ESCR affirmed the right to water, in direct challenge to the rampant privatization of water systems around the globe pushed by the IMF and World Bank. As mass-based struggles against the privatization of basic resources grow in places like Bolivia, Ghana and South Africa, often under the leadership of women, some of these movements are increasingly interested using the UN system to challenge the WTO and Bretton Woods institutions, as well as private companies. The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, a new grouping, had its founding meeting in Thailand in June 2003, and an active women’s caucus was part of that event.33
Women are mobilizing in all regions to challenge the backlash of the religious right, in UN regional ten-year reviews of the Cairo conference on Population and Development (1994) and the Beijing Platform for Action (1995). In doing so, they are linking repro- ductive health issues with economic justice concerns and a political assessment of the current moment. Even those groups which have reduced their role in the UN see these regional events as a critical battleground for global feminism.
The deepening impact of neo-liberalism on women’s lives called forth multiple responses-some within a development approach, and some with demands for redistributive economic justice. Responses included:
— survival strategies, which were then touted as anti-poverty strategies;
— survival strategies combined with political organizing;
— grassroots women’s organized strategies to defend their liveli- hoods;
— NGO solidarity, education and advocacy to document these impacts and demand accountability from the state and private sector; and
— academic responses in the form of feminist economic theory.
The imposition of World Bank/IMF Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) on poor nations of the Global South beginning in the 1980s was one important catalyst for both local and international women’s organizing in this arena. SAPs turned national economies into debt-servicing machines, laying the groundwork for their re-colonization. It became clear to women activists that the burden of SAPs was being borne disproportionately by women, as they substituted their own reproductive labor for diminished social services; lost service sector jobs; became the breadwinners in the informal economy; or moved into the new export processing zones as cheap labor. This process was repeated in the wholesale privatization of Eastern and Central Europe.
As the neo-liberal ideology increased its stranglehold on national economies, grassroots women activists began to organize as maquiladora or sweatshop workers, informal sector workers and community activists, to struggle for rights and, increasingly, to challenge the neoliberal economic model. Many began to apply a feminist critique to economic processes. Some workers organized explicitly as women workers outside of union structures-both because of the danger to unions in maquiladora factories, and because of machismo in the trade unions.
Feminist economists began theorizing about gender and macro-economic policy. A feminist economic analysis explores the multiple roles women play in an economy, in the paid labor force, as the primary caregiver responsible for “social reproduction,” and in the community. Much of this work is unpaid and uncounted in the formal economy, yet necessary for it to function. Women documented the ways that structural adjustment policies utilized women’s paid and unpaid labor to pay debts and restructure economies.34
Maria Riley observes that changes in the global economy and the pressures on women’s lives in the 1980s made it clear to some feminists that “programs such as income generation not only did not move women out of poverty, but they often resulted in more work with little reward because the negative impact of macro-economic developments wiped out any advances women were making.”35 She notes that the WTO came into existence the same year as the Beijing Women’s conference (1995), gradually making economic integration the priority of global capital. Structural Adjustment programs laid the groundwork in Southern economies for the liberalization of trade and investment under WTO rules. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 pointed out the dangers of speculative capital and had devastating effects worldwide.
As Zo Randriamaro notes, gender equality cannot be resolved at the national level alone. It “requires transforming policies and institutions in global economic governance.” She adds that “debate among women’s organizations and activists has been obscured by the overwhelming focus on the impact of neo-liberal policies on women and gender relations, at the expense of a systematic analysis of the structural and inter-related causes of this impact.”36
Building on these critiques, women’s economic justice activism has evolved from a focus on the impact of structural adjustment and debt to a challenge to the broader neo-liberal agenda and, as noted above, is now beginning to explore how this meshes with political and ideological forces that undermine women. Those focused on economic justice are challenging the mainstream development paradigm, and efforts at “gender mainstreaming” that would merely integrate women into the neo-liberal model. In the process, groups such as the International Gender & Trade Network have emerged as significant players in advocacy around global trade deals. Likewise, women have been active in the UN Conference on Financing for Development (Monterrey, Mexico 2002) and its follow-up, which addresses debt, trade, aid and global finance. Women endorsed such proposals as debt cancellation, new forms of global economic governance, and a global Currency Transaction Tax (CTT) on speculative capital, destined for sustainable development. Women have begun efforts to engender ATTAC (Association For The Taxation Of Financial Transactions For The Benefit Of The People), an “international movement for democratic control of financial markets and their institutions” which promotes the CTT. This grassroots movement, built from community to community in Western Europe, now plays an important role in World Social Forum organizing.
Women’s organizations have had to fill the role of government in implementing the [Beijing] Platform for Action. These efforts, ranging from health clinics to battered women’s shelters to AIDS education and literacy programs, to income-generating initiatives, nutrition classes and girls’ leadership training, represent the best in the human potential for tenacity, creativity and sheer hard work. These efforts are to be applauded, but they must also be understood as the result of a serious failure of governments to meet their commitments…This failure must be rectified, for NGOs, no matter how competent, are no substitute for responsible government.38
Perhaps the bulk of “women’s organizing” has focused on survival strategies at the grassroots level. Women’s valiant efforts to generate income, particularly in the informal sector, were seized upon by the likes of RESULTS, American Express, Monsanto, government and private donors as a solution to women’s poverty. In the 1990s, dollars poured into efforts to support micro-credit and micro-enterprise schemes-symbolized by the Grameen Bank model in Bangladesh, and endorsed by then First Lady Hillary Clinton as an example for US women who faced the dismantling of welfare under the Clinton Administration.
There are now numerous critiques of these efforts, which were intensely promoted by US corporate interests, the World Bank, and the US government.39 The lending schemes served to (a) integrate poor women entrepreneurs into the formal economy and the joys of debt; (b) pump resources to the most local level to ameliorate the impact of structural adjustment policies and lessen the threat of social rebellion, and (c) turn women’s meager survival strategies into an ideological panacea for entrepreneurship and capitalist economic development.
This relied on the super-exploitation of women’s labor, while taking the focus and the burden off government responsibility or the need for decent jobs with decent wages and benefits. It has intensified as some of these “home workers” now sub-contract to local manufacturers, who produce goods for global corporations.40 While the limitations of this endeavor are evident to many, self-employment programs continue to be a major focus of “development” funding and of many women’s NGOs. Women’s need for survival locally was enmeshed in a larger political and ideological agenda of both “boot-strapism” and social control. In addition, as economic crisis deepened in many regions the enticement of external resources meshed with the goals of some women’s organizations for women’s “empowerment” and women’s economic autonomy (not to mention resources for the NGOs themselves).
The diversity of women’s organizing strategies-in local communities, women’s NGOs, unions, political parties, universities- with different experiences and political agendas, all under the rubric of “women’s rights” makes for complex dynamics. In an atmosphere of “friendly allies” there has been little desire to articulate political differences. This has led to a lack of political and analytical clarity. This is intensified by the power realities among women’s NGOs, in terms of the defining “voices” of the movements, as well as the funders of the movements. In a politically conservative period, some women’s NGOs dependent on donor dollars may feel constrained in what they can do or say. While some self-censor a radical analysis, others don’t share such an analysis, and are more focused on the pragmatic goal of reforming and ameliorating the impacts of unjust policies. In an effort to find common ground among women’s groups, already fighting an uphill battle against governments, religious institutions, and their own male colleagues on the left, political differences have most often been muted.
This is also complicated by the fact that many women of both South and North have now built professions in the arena of gender and development, women and reproductive rights, or women and violence, in universities, NGOs, government agencies, and multi- lateral institutions. In some regions women have effectively demanded that their governments incorporate gender perspectives into national policy-making, and the Beijing process established national women’s desks. In some cases, women professionals move back and forth between government posts, NGO agencies and multi-lateral institutions. While this can enhance women’s power and effectiveness, it can also compromise political change agendas if accountability is not part of the equation.
The concept of gender mainstreaming began as a victory for women activists. Instead of boxing women into sidelined projects, the concept emerging from Beijing was that gender analysis must be integrated into all policy and programming in all areas. In practice, this has created a gender industry, and for many governments and UN, IMF or World Bank officials it continues to mean adding “women” to the current neo-liberal policies. It is used as an excuse to cut women-specific programs. It some cases it has led to instrumentalist arguments that women should be considered in the economy in order to enhance growth-not because of basic rights. It has meant involvement of women but limited advances towards gender equality or economic justice.
The agenda has also become blurred for women’s NGO activists as institutions such as the World Bank seek to embrace terms such as gender equity, participatory development and pro-poor policies, and co-opt them. Emerging from an encounter with World Bank president James Wolfensohn in Beijing in 1995, women succeeded in establishing internal gender monitoring mechanisms within the World Bank as well as an external NGO monitoring group. The outcome has been a flurry of studies, new offices and bureaucracies, and new resources to women at the local level (particularly through micro-loans), but negligible change in the macro-economic policies of the World Bank or the borrowing countries.
The gender mainstreaming debate again surfaced regarding women’s strategy at the WTO ministerial in Cancún, 2003. One group of Latin American women proposed creating similar mechanisms for gender monitoring within the WTO, with NGO watchdogs. Other women vociferously opposed this strategy, noting that the WTO was actively courting NGOs to legitimize its role and activities. These women seek to reclaim the concept of gender mainstreaming arguing that it does not mean integrating gender into illegitimate institutions and policies. Gigi Francisco of IGTN suggests what a transformative understanding of gender analysis should look like:
Gender perspective and politics applied to trade, development and governance cannot but fundamentally challenge paradigms and models that continue to promote in an inter-linked fashion the invisibility of social reproduction in the economy; re-creation and consolidation of processes of accumulation that result in massive poverty for certain groups of people the world over, and the instrumentalisation of democracy and human rights. A set of rules that insists on the centrality of market forces above persons, communities and governments and continues to overlook the structural, institutional and cultural barriers to women’s self autonomy is immediately and fundamentally in discord with the visions and politics of gender transformation.41
Zo Randriamaro comments: “‘engendering’ economic policies is different from institutionalizing compassion towards women. A feminist approach would posit that sound and equitable economic policies require men and women to have equal access to and control over, productive resources, equal participation in decision-making, and equal distribution of the benefits of their work.(giving) each country enough flexibility to meet the needs of their peoples, giving primacy to human rights and developmental needs.”42
With a growing demand by governments and institutions for “gender experts” to work within the official framework, along with the absence of direct accountability of women’s movement leaders to a grassroots base, there are real concerns about co-optation, often even of the most well-meaning activists. In project or event-driven activism, the lack of clarity regarding the political task makes it even harder to judge how women’s agendas are being manipulated.
Julia Elyachar gives a powerful account of how the World Bank manipulated pro-poor NGO agendas in Egypt. In an urgent need to address social unrest in the wake of structural adjustment programs (SAPs), the World Bank began to emphasize “people’s empower- ment” and gender equality. She observes that “disenfranchisement is seen as a global security problem.”43 Elyachar points out that a development program directed toward the informal economy “expands the social space over which the state is not sovereign. Such a development approach thus accords well with neo-liberal ideology,” by advocating a shrinking state with less control over economic activity. This meant that many antiglobalization activists with a procommunity agenda were inadvertently serving the neo-liberal agenda. In the case of Egypt, NGOs often played the role of “enforcing financial discipline just as SAPs have done on a macro scale.” The main focus of local programs was the “empowerment of women,” leading to a scramble for sisters and wives who could be recipients of donor dollars. The process built on and coopted social networks in communities and people’s strategies for survival. Put bluntly, “SAPs discipline naughty states. When infused with NGO-mediated finance, social networks can serve as a mechanism for ensuring that the poor discipline themselves.”
A conversation with a woman from the Global South working for a European government donor agency was very telling. She was interested in putting money into “economic literacy” for women and women’s participation at the grassroots level. She wanted to “mainstream gender” into current World Bank economic reforms (known as poverty reduction strategy papers) that have now incorporated local NGO input. She wanted to enhance women’s bargaining power vis-à-vis local authorities, and saw women’s knowledge of macro-economic issues as crucial to their ability to negotiate. She saw the role of development assistance as a transfer of knowledge and skills, rather than hard cash. She saw “gender- budgeting” as a good way of engaging women at the local level. When asked why this interest in women’s participation, she candidly answered that the donors’ goal is to “reduce tensions by providing basic services and enabling women to become players at the local level so that they won’t destabilize political systems.” She expressed concern that if people did not feel engaged they could become bomb-throwing fundamentalists. While wanting to promote pluralism and “democracy” in the global South, she acknowledged that little would actually change in terms of these grassroots women’s economic realities.
A major continuing challenge for global women’s movements is the need to effectively integrate race, ethnicity, caste, class, sexual orientation, national origin, age and other identities that define particular women’s lived realities and shape their politics-in both theory and practice. This issue became an important part of global feminist discourse in the preparations for the UN World Conference Against Racism that took place in Durban, South Africa in September 2001. That conference was a remarkable event, which gathered racially and ethnically marginalized activists from around the world in an intense forum demanding redress for racialized oppressions.
The women’s caucus included women rarely involved in feminist or NGO circles, from Dalits and Roma to Indigenous women and Afro-Latinas. In Durban, beyond a women’s caucus and regional caucuses, women activists also participated actively in a “Race, Poverty and Globalization Caucus,” that developed a racial and gender analysis of colonialism and neo-liberal globalization, calling for global shifts in wealth from North to South in reparation for this legacy, via debt cancellation, currency transaction tax, and other direct mechanisms. This represented efforts to link gender justice and economic justice through a historic lens of race, class and geography. This caucus continued into the UN conference on Financing for Development, where women worked (in vain) to bring a gender, race, class and human rights framework into those deliberations.44
Some of the intellectual and political work done in this period built on long-term demands to reconceptualize the feminist project, given the intersection of multiple oppressions.45 The challenge is both analytical-how to develop an integrated feminist analysis that considers women’s multiple oppressions, their differential experiences, and the political implications-and also practical. That is, how can global women’s movements give leadership to women who have been marginalized, incorporate their agendas, and thus equalize power relations among women within these movements?
These Durban discussions were easily diverted by 9-11 (which occurred only days after the UN conference) but are no less urgent for women’s movements to address. It is essential to take seriously women’s different lived experiences, as well as racism, classism and North/South power imbalances within women’s movements. How can a focus on significant differences and power relations avoid letting identity politics overwhelm a potentially unifying agenda of women’s equality, rights, racial justice and economic justice? This is equally important at the national level-from the US to South Asia and at the global level within North/South debates.
Two decades of women’s organizing in UN conferences have created seasoned international advocates and activists in the UN arena. Yet the era of UN conferences appears to be over, as well as the current potential for making gains through inter-governmental negotiations. The post cold-war opening for a multilateral development agenda based on a system of common, rights-based commitments has been undermined by the current US administration’s unilateralist policy, most evident in its invasion of Iraq despite global opposition and the intensification of inter-imperialist rivalries. The most recent UN conferences since 200046 indicate the consolidation of mutually reinforcing agendas among the IMF, World Bank and WTO, the growing power of these institutions vis-à-vis the UN, and the strength of the global corporate agenda.
In terms of women’s issues at the UN, the growing tensions between North and South have deepened the resistance on the part of Southern nations to making concessions, and have strengthened the hand of moral conservative forces. At the March 2003 Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), occurring parallel to the Security Council debate on Iraq, delegates could not reach consensus on a statement on violence against women. A group of nations representing the religious right tried to roll back gains women had made over many years, by rejecting a previously agreed-upon text. Their unwillingness to compromise on women’s rights issues was fed by anger at US unilateralism on both political/military and economic fronts. While the US empire may be weaker than it imagines, with enormous external debt, internal deficits, an unstable Iraqi occupation, and the growing economic power of both the EU and China, it continues to have the upper hand at the current moment.
This CSW stalemate merely drove home a reality already confronting UN activists: the success in shaping the language of national and international development commitments did not transfer to real accountability by national governments. The UN’s ability to shape development policy was eclipsed by the power of the IMF, World Bank and WTO (the first multi-lateral institution with the power to police treaty compliance with sanctions), representing capitalist interests within the G-8 industrialized nations, while gender justice agendas were undermined by the conservative Right. Thus, increasingly, women’s groups are reflecting on the most strategic venues for their activism-from the UN to the trade arena to the WSF to regional and national work. This is one of the key debates among global feminists at the current time, reflected in a heated discussion about whether a Fifth World Conference on Women should even take place.
In meetings and on list-serves, global women’s movements that came of age in these UN processes are reflecting on the wisdom of a continued focus on the UN, and on another world conference on women:
— Those in favor want to maintain momentum on a global women’s agenda and to involve young women in the process, continuing to see the UN as the primary site for action. They note successes women have had in influencing the international agenda and the empowerment this has offered women vis-à-vis their national governments. Many argue that the UN needs to be strengthened and transformed to be more responsive to equality demands, while maintaining pressure at both the national and international levels.
— Those opposed note “conference fatigue, the lack of implementa- tion resources, the geo-political climate and backlash which pose a danger of losing ground” on feminist issues.47 Some feel that the focus has shifted to the WTO and regional trade pacts, and that women have little to gain from UN processes.
Vanessa Griffen (Malaysia) argues that global negotiations have not improved women’s lives at the local level, and thus major emphasis on the UN arena misplaces women’s energies and lessens their political impact. She maintains that some women are needed to monitor government implementation of agreements, retain language of past commitments and hold back the conservative backlash, but that this should not be the central focus of global women’s movements.48
Of growing concern to some women’s organizations is the reduction of the extensive commitments made by governments in the UN conferences of the 1990s to eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which have become the chief organizing framework for all UN and World Bank development work. These goals reduce gender concerns to only one of the eight points, and seek technocratic mechanisms for halving poverty, guaranteeing basic health and primary education and other lofty goals by 2015, without challenging the neo-liberal framework that is directly undermining fulfillment of these goals. Commitments to reproductive rights made in Cairo (UN International Conference on Population and Develop- ment, 1994) and Beijing have been dropped. Ewa Charkiewicz says the MDGs mark a shift from a focus on citizens with rights to consumers of privatized commodities.49 Peggy Antrobus calls them “Major Distraction Gimmicks” and says they divert women’s focus from the more far-reaching Beijing Platform for Action.50
A March 2003 gathering of some international women’s NGO leaders attending the UN Commission on the Status of Women in NY did not represent global consensus, but suggested (a) a fifth world conference to be held before 2010 but not in 2005; (b) a ten-year review of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action only within the regular meetings of the UN and at national levels in 2005, with no negotiations on text; and (c) the potential for autonomous women’s events in such venues as the AWID Forum and the World Social Forum or an alternate world meeting of women apart from the UN.
What has not been as explicit is the fact that a shift from the focus on UN advocacy and UN conferences to local/national organizing, or WTO and regional trade agreement organizing or World Social Forum organizing means a potential shift in the style, culture, leadership or even the class base of global women’s movements. This challenges the modus operandi, careers, funding and power bases within women’s networks-including that of my own coalition. It will be an important challenge to separate these factors from an assessment of the most strategic way forward.
To a great extent, women’s endorsement of a Fifth World Conference will depend upon their assessment of the state of geo-political dynamics as well as the role of UN advocacy at this time; and the outcome of regional Cairo+10 and Beijing+10 reviews.
Ultimately, it’s not a question of either/or, but of how to combine work at different levels and in different venues most strategically. While it would not be wise to walk away from the UN as an advocacy target, the payoff is currently quite limited. The goals there become holding the line and pushing for a more credible institution, while seeking specific UN niches where feminists might advance their agenda, such as some of the human rights treaty bodies. The global justice movement and the World Social Forum process provide spaces to link women to mass-based social movements at the global level. This, and local/national movement-building can contribute to building a power base to demand real accountability from the state and private interests at every level.
It has seemed, at times, that there are nothing but setbacks to the women’s rights agenda, particularly in the lives of poor women around the world. Loss of livelihoods, increased economic and physical exploitation, the rise of women’s migration for economic survival, and increased control over women’s autonomy are coming from many interlinking forces. The significant gains made conceptually and through government commitments have not been realized in terms of most women’s lived experience, as corporate globalization, militarism and fundamentalisms intensify. We cannot minimize these gains, however. The shift in discourse and some actions on the part of governments, however co-opted, represent a response to the strength of women’s organizing over the past three decades. Despite huge setbacks, thousands of women have also felt the right and the space to claim their rights on many levels as a result of local and global feminism. There are also encouraging signs, including:
— the further development of a feminist economic analysis linking a critique of patriarchy and capitalism;
— the new wave of women addressing macro-economic issues and mobilizing for redistributive economic justice-not just economic “development”;
— the growing integration of gender justice and economic justice theoretically and politically;
— the incipient efforts-though still limited-to assess global women’s movements’ political strategies, venues, impacts and internal power dynamics, including race/ethnic, class and geographic issues; and
— feminists’ efforts to be heard by movement colleagues in arenas such as the WTO protests and the World Social Forum as well as regional settings, with a goal of building a broader mass-based social movement that can challenge power, be it located in the family, with religious or national patriarchs, transnational corporations; or the US empire.
This article, although written in a personal capacity, draws on my work as Coordinator of the Women’s International Coalition for Economic Justice (WICEJ), a coalition of 40 organizations-both NGO and Labor-from all regions of the globe focused on macro-economic policy from the perspective of gender, race, class and national origin. The coalition has been active in numerous UN world conferences as well as the recent WTO ministerial in Cancún, Mexico. My thoughts here were developed in dialogue with Bina Srinivasan. We began our discussion of these issues through the Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship Program, “Facing Global Capital, Finding Human Security: A Gendered Critique,” based at the National Council for Research on Women and the City University of New York.
1. Our thanks to the DAWN network for this articulation of the linkage of struggles against patriarchy and capitalism. See “Gender Justice and Economic Justice: Reflections on the Five Year Reviews of the UN Conferences of the 1990s” (www.dawn.org.fj). See also WICEJ Beijing+5 statement, www.wiceg.org.
2. This emerged as a “movement” at the Seattle WTO ministerial in 1999, and has been present at key events of the G-8 and international financial institutions in Washington DC, Prague, Genoa, Evian and elsewhere, and consolidated in 2001 at the first World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, held parallel to the Davos World Economic Forum.
3. Because of the diversity of agendas, identities, objectives, issues and organizational structures, we refer to global women’s movements, rather than one movement. While multiple global networks tend to come together in such venues as the UN or the Association for Women’s Rights in Development forums, there is a diversity of perspectives and agendas that would not define a single movement.
4. Claire Slatter notes that these arenas are “a privileged global space where mostly, global NGOs interact with representatives of nation states.” “Beyond the Theory-Practice-Activism Divide, Tensions in Activism: navigating in global spaces at the intersections of state/civil society & gender/economic justice.” DAWN, 2002.
5. Critical Moments, Signs of Resistance and Evolving Strategies, WICEJ Statement, World Social Forum III, Porto Alegre, Brazil, January 2003,
6. See for example, Gender & Development: Women Reinventing Globalization, Oxfam, Vol. 11 No. 1, May 2003.
7. Group of 8 industrialized nations, includes US, Canada, France, Germany, England, Italy, Japan, and Russia.
8. Walden Bello, Deglobalization: Ideas for a New Economy, Global Issues, Zed Books, 2002.
9. Ibid., p. 30.
10. I use the terms “economic North” and “economic South” to define post-colonial geo-political and economic relationships between nations. These more clearly define divisions than “global North and South,” and the cold-war era “First World and Third World.” I have borrowed the term from Claire Slatter.
11. Katha Pollitt, “Phallic Balloons Against the War,” The Nation, March 6, 2003.
12. “Local Realities and Global Action: Women Responding to Globalization,” Peggy Antrobus, DAWN, Sept. 17, 2001, (www.dawn.org.fj).
13. Sunila Abeyesekera (University of Minnesota Human Rights Resource Center), “Circle of Rights, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Activism: A Training Resource”
14. See Joanna Kerr, “International Trends in Gender Equality Work,” AWID, November 2001 (www.awid.org).
15. See Maria Riley, “From Women in Development to Gender and Trade,” Center Focus, Center of Concern, No. 152, June 2001, Washington, DC
17. “Globalization and Fundamentalism: A Genderscape, Addressing the World Social Forum,” DAWN Supplement, Porto Alegre, Brazil, 31 January – 5 February 2002,
18. Vanessa Griffen, “Globalization and Re-inventing the Politics of a Women’s Movement,” AWID Occasional Paper no. 6, June 2002, www.awid.org.
19. Mónica Alemán & Yifat Susskind, “Beyond Beijing: Some Priorities for the Global Women’s Movement,” June 2000, www.madre.org.
20. Shareen Gokal, “Protesting the WTO,” AWID Cancún Update, September 11, 2003,
21. With acknowledgement to Patricia Clough and discussions in the CUNY/NCRW seminar, “Facing Global Capital: A Gendered Critique.”
22. “Globalization and Fundamentalism: A Genderscape” (n. 17).
23. Issues directly addressing patriarchy, including violence, reproductive rights, sexual rights, bodily integrity, legal rights among others.
24. A larger debate is whether human rights is a valid framework for feminist organizing at all. This juxtaposes concepts of “universalism” with those of “cultural relativism,” and critiques the Rights regime as a Western-imposed, individualistic paradigm. Rather than accepting an either/or dichotomy, we are grateful to Ayesha Imam (of Women Living Under Muslim Law) for sharing an approach to “claim and critique” both local and international rights discourses-to embrace local rights frameworks as feasible, while pushing the parameters, and doing the same with international rights.
25. Gita Sen & Sonia Correa, “Gender Justice and Economic Justice: Reflections on the Five Year Reviews of the UN Conferences of the 1990s,” DAWN, 2000, www.dawn.org.fj.
26. Ibid. (Since that writing, the US under the Bush Administration has now joined this conservative group on moral issues related to women’s rights, but not, of course, on challenges to G-8 hegemony.)
27. “North Shares Responsibility for Slow Progress in Beijing+5,” WICEJ, 8 June 2000 WomenAction, New York, www.womenaction.org/ungass/wicj.html.
28. See Bina Srinivasan, this issue; Mona Danner & Gay Young, “Free Markets and State Control: A Feminist Challenge to Davos Man and Big Brother,” Gender & Development (n. 6); Peggy Antrobus, DAWN, September 2001, www.dawn.org.fj.publications/index ; Sunila Abeyesekera, “A Women’s Human Rights Perspective on War and Conflict,” WHRnet, February 2003.
30. See WICEJ Porto Alegre Statement 2003, www.wicej.addr.com/wsf03/wicej.html.
31. Introduced by the Economist, Davos Man refers to the international business and political executives who meet annually in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum. Cited in Danner & Young (n. 28).
32. Ibid, pp. 87-88.
34. See Pam Sparr, ed., Mortgaging Women’s Lives: Feminist Critiques of Structural Adjustment (London: Zed Books, 1994).
35. Maria Riley, “From Women in Development to Gender and Trade,” Center Focus #152, June 2001.
36. Zo Randriamaro, “African women challenging neo-liberal orthodoxy: the conception and mission of the GERA programme,” in Gender & Development (n. 6), pp. 45, 46.
37. Phrase coined by Zo Randriamaro in a speech to the UN Financing for Development NGO hearings, November 2000, www.un.org/ffd.
38. Mónica Alemán & Yifat Susskind, “Beyond Beijing: Some Priorities for the Global Women’s Movement,” June 2000, www.madre.org.
39. See “Micro-enterprise: A Solution to Women’s Poverty?” Alt-WID/NY 1997 (); Gina Neff, “Micro credit, Micro results,” Left Business Observer #74, October 1996, and “Microsumitting,” Left Business Observer #77, May 1997; Uma Narayan, untitled working paper, CUNY/NCRW seminar Facing Global Capital, A Gendered Critique, New York, 2003.
40. See Radhika Balakrishnan, ed., The Hidden Assembly Line: Gender Dynamics of Subcontracted Work in a Global Economy. Kumarian Press, Connecticut 2002; Ruth Pearson, “Feminist Responses to Economic Globalization: Some Examples of Past and Future Practice,” in Gender & Development (n. 6).
41. Gigi Francisco, “Gender Mainstreaming in Trade Policies,” DAWN Informs, September 2003.
42. Randriamaro (n. 36).
43. “Empowerment Money: The World Bank, Non-Governmental Organizations and the Value of Culture in Egypt,” Public Culture 14: 3 (2002), 477-492.
44. See Race, Poverty & Globalization Caucus Documents, WICEJ, 2002;
45. See, for example, the work of the Women of Color Resource Center, www.coloredgirls.org. For new work in this regard linked to the WCAR, see debates of the Durban Women’s Caucus (on Women’s Human Rights Net) as well as documents at www.whrnet.org; Raj, Bunch & Nazombe, Women at the Intersection: Indivisible Rights, Identities, and Oppressions, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University Press, 2002 (www.cwgl.rutgers.edu); and UNIFEM (www.unifem.org).
46. World Conference Against Racism, Financing For Development, World Summit on Sustainable Development
47. Fifth World Conference on Women and the 2005 CSW Review of the Beijing Platform for Action: Discussions by NGOs at the 47th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 3-14 March, 2003, CWGL, CONGO, European Women’s Lobby, WEDO, www.awid.org. For some of the global e-mail debate, see: www.awid.org/debate/.
48. Griffen, ibid.
49. Debate Continues of 5th WCW: Report from NGO CSW Forum, Geneva 21-22 July 2003, DAWN Informs, September 2003, www.dawn.org.fj.
50. Peggy Antrobus, “MDGs- Major Distraction Gimmick,” DAWN Informs, September 2003, www.dawn.org.fj.
This article, although written in a personal capacity, draws on my work as Coordinator of the Women’s International Coalition for Economic Justice (WICEJ), a coalition of 40 organizations-both NGO and Labor-from all regions of the globe focused on macro-economic policy from the perspective of gender, race, class and national origin. The coalition has been active in numerous UN world conferences as well as the recent WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico. My thoughts here were developed in dialogue with Bina Srinivasan. We began our discussion of these issues through the Rockefeller Humanities Fellowship Program, “Facing Global Capital, Finding Human Security: A Gendered Critique,” based at the National Council for Research on Women and the City University of New York.