Reflections

January 25, 2007 at 4:57 pm 2 comments

While the cultural activities at the closing ceremony continue, these are reflections so far on my initial questions about the World Social Forum in Nairobi.

What do the women of Africa have to say? What are their main struggles and alternatives for the future?

1. First and foremost: an end to violence. This includes the capitalist-driven conflicts across Africa which impact on women and girls as victims – and as survivors in post-conflict societies. Mobilisation around UN Resoultion1325 remains as relevant as ever.

It also includes the hidden violence against women at home and in particular the contravention of women’s reproductive and sexual health rights which deprives them of human dignity and is often life-threatening.

In Africa, there are cultural practices which add to this problem: FGM, arranged marriages for 12 year old girls; abuse and disinheritance of widows; polygamy and the promiscuity of many African men.

The Protocol for the Rights of Women, ratified by the heads of state of the African Union, addresses these issues in addition to the rights in the international Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. There is an ongoing struggle for African women to convince their governments to put these pledges into action. They also need to work at the grassroots, with their own families, religious leaders and village chiefs, in changing male attitudes and behaviour.

At the same time, the rise of east-west militarism and the related increase in religious fundamentalism have served to entrench traditional practices which adversely affect women’s rights.

There have been many concerns expressed at the very visible presence of church groups at the forum, which seems to contradict the common stand on fundamentalisms.
The African church has a wide constituency and, while often playing an important role in supporting livelihoods for poor communities, upholds conservative positions on issues such as abortion and sexuality.

Secondly an end to neo-liberalism and globalisation

Since women perceive the connection between violence and the global economy, this issue is also a recognised part of their struggle. Their voices have been heard loud and clear in all the debates, highlighting the impact of all the big abbreviations – EU, G8, US with their EPAs and FTAs – on women’s livelihoods and their opportunity to become economically independent.

The G8 approach to linking development assistance with conditions based on their own economic interests is exemplified by Angela Merkel’s proposal for G8 partnerships with African countries, which will also depend on opening up private investment to companies from abroad.

Food sovereignty (rather than food security which depends on international assistance) has been the term widely used in discussions about the need for Africa and other southern continents to become self-sufficient in food through south-south and intra-continental trade.

Thirdly an end to government corruption

The responsibility of African governments in ensuring the rights and dignity of both women and men has been widely addressed in the different themes. Labour rights, land and housing rights, water rights, women’s rights, the right to health and education – all converged in the social movements assembly.

Young African women were particularly active, which is encouragig for the future, since these issues affect the power they will have to control their own lives, make their own decisions and play a full part in development.

Government corruption, specifically the alliances between governments and multinational companies – which benefit government officials from the top down and increase inequality between rich and poor – is seen as a key factor in the human rights and dignity debate and is a primary target for grassroots action.

Meanwhile, Wangari Maathai has petitioned the member states of the African Union for failing to honour their pledge of allocating 15% of their annual budget on health care, since the Abuja declaration was signed in 2001.

‘An estimated 40 million Africans have died from preventable health-related conditions as a result of the Abuja commitment not being met.’

To what extent has a process of ‘engendering’ taken place in the organisation, content and dialogue of the WSF?

To a large extent, the pledges made by the WSF2007 organisers were fulfilled. One notable exception was the absence of a creche or ‘child camp’ as last year in Mumbai. This inhibits attendance by women who don’t have the finances or friends and family to provide childcare support for the duration of the forum.

In the post below, which is a slightly enhanced version of my audio-diary for the openDemocracy podcast, there’s a summary of the good news. The presence and participation of women in all processes was one of the most striking aspects of the forum.

In addition to equal relations between women and men, Beatrice Ndayizigamiye, a journalist from Burundi with the Panos Institute, also observed ‘equal relationships between south and north’ at the forum, as opposed to the usual hierarchy.

Within the perimeter fence of WSF2007, another world does seem to be possible. However, women now return to the existing world. The struggle continues, despite the fact that certain African countries (South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda) are leading the so-called developed world as regards numbers of women in parliament. There’s no room for complacency, since others are still setting the agenda – which is why the following question is significant.

How far have African women’s concerns been taken into account in the G8 lobby preparation process and discourse?

The anti-G8 activists from Germany and the UK, many of them women, were successful in raising awareness about the relevance of the G8 Summit to African concerns and were able to develop strong alliances with the social and women’s movements.

The same issues of militarism, debt and transparency (of international institutions) were discussed at the mobilisation meeting, having broad resonance with general themes of the forum. The proposal for a global day of action to coincide with the G8 Summit in June, endorsed by the social movements assembly, indicates that the bridge from Nairobi to Heiligendamm, where the G8 Summit takes place, has been built – and that women will be involved in the process.

In conclusion

It’s satisfying to be able to report good news. I wasn’t sure what I was going to find in Nairobi, but I travelled hopefully – and I was right to do so. Of course, these plans for the future need to be concretised, but the move towards strategic action has certainly begun.
Please keep visiting the blog, since there will be post-forum activities – and reflections – to report.

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Entry filed under: Anti-globalisation, Diversity and equality, General, Human rights and dignity, Peace and justice, Real democracy, Self-determination, Women in Africa.

Good news One woman at the World Social Forum

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dr Yetunde Aluko  |  June 27, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    would like to something on engendering multinational companies

    Reply
  • 2. Dr Yetunde Aluko  |  June 27, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    I would like to read something on engendering multinational companies

    Reply

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