Women at the World Social Forum

January 15, 2007 at 9:02 am 1 comment

From 20th to 26th January 2007 I’ll be blogging live from the World Social Forum in Nairobi on behalf of opendemocracy.net. This blog is part of openDemocracy’s new 50.50 initiative. My focus is on women, especially what women in Africa are saying about alternatives for the future.

I’ve recently spent 3 months in Mali doing research on women and democracy. I know that, when women sit down together, we have plenty to say about how the world works, what we would like to change and what prevents us from being able to do so. There is much more to unite us than divide us: the need for economic independence; an equal voice in decision-making; sexual and reproductive health rights; a good education for our daughters; and an end to corruption.

There are also African men – I’ve worked with NGOs in both Mali and Nigeria – who are committed to promoting female leadership and ensuring equal participation of women in development processes. They are important allies, recognising that men should be part of the fight for women’s rights because
this benefits everyone.

Mali women

To what extent is the World Social Forum the most effective mechanism for ensuring a women’s perspective in the future?

In 2003 the Egyptian writer and activist Nawal El Saadawi travelled to Port Alegre, Brazil, to take part in the third World Social Forum there. The WSF slogan is ‘Another world is possible’. Her view was that ‘another world is necessary.’

She felt the WSF gave new hope in the struggle for freedom against ‘capitalist democracy’ – which is characterised in particular by US unilateralism, militarism and lack of global responsibility. The European Union also plays its part in the undemocratic capitalist globalisation agenda. And then, of course:

‘It is the old men who still dominate the politics of the world, whether left or right, west or east, north or south’.

She had some advice for the World Social Forum itself.

  • To close the gap between ‘political’ and ‘social’ activities, in particular to learn from the women’s movement and recognise women’s input to new thinking
  • To struggle against the WSF being hijacked by (male-dominated) left-wing groups from Europe or the US who exclude women and young people from the debate
  • For westerners (whether capitalists or revolutionaries) to move on from the concept of ‘helping the third world’.
  • ‘We do not need leaders from abroad to show us the way. We want an equal exchange of ideas and experiences.’

    So, four years on, I want to see how, where and whether progress has been made on these issues.

    Nairobi is being heralded as a milestone in the development of the WSF. In the first newsletter the organisers state their vision: ‘ Nairobi must bring the unique concerns of the African agenda (and its history of resistance) to the development of global strategies for change.’

    This year’s event is highlighting the primacy of social movements, providing a platform for the struggles of mass organisations and deliberately using culture as a language of resistance

    The WSF has also recognised the need to engender the planning process, address the marginalisation of women’s voices and raise awareness of gender-based violence.

    Recent evaluations of gender mainstreaming in multilateral, national and non-governmental organisations have all reached similar conclusions: that this process is incredibly difficult given that, wherever we work, whoever we are, women or men, we are all still subject to the dominant patriarchal capitalist paradigm.

    I’m not sure I’m going to find anything different in Nairobi. But I always travel hopefully. Like Nawal El Saadawi, I believe that another world is necessary. And I believe it can only be possible with women at the forefront. Let’s see how it goes.


    Entry filed under: Anti-globalisation, Diversity and equality, Women in Africa.

    News snippet: Mogadishu More good news: Better than the Status Quo

    1 Comment Add your own

    • 1. oOgerryOo  |  December 16, 2007 at 9:32 pm

      I’m oOgerryOo.

      Just saying hi – I’m new.


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