Challenges for Feminism in a Globalized World

Feminist challenges for the World Social Forum

Irma van Dueren*

The number of participants in the second World Social Forum (WSF) surpassed all expectations. People came from 119 countries. All the major social sectors were present and the issues discussed were very diverse. Everyone, in workshops, conferences and seminars, in hotel lobbies, the youth camp and on the streets, tried to analyse the injustices forthcoming from corporate-driven globalisation and the role played by states and multilateral institutions. Alliances were built for just alternatives to the present global economic system and its supporting structures. Diversity is the key word. It is emphasised how important it is to build bridges of understanding among all these people with different visions in order to transform the world order. Many believe that the WSF can contribute to this transformation with all its voices and perspectives, the energy and hope that it generates. Everyone agrees that this movement ‘for a better world’, as the WSF slogan says, needs to be inclusive. Equal participation, in particular from the South, of women, indigenous people, peasants and workers needs to be guaranteed.

For the feminists present at the WSF, the challenge is not new. Feminists have forever been busy influencing the agenda of progressive social and political movements to change the perspectives of these movements. We all know that there is a long way to go before the inclusion of feminist perspectives is a reality, that feminists have to force their way in and should continue to make themselves more visible. We need to engage with environmental, human rights activists, trade unions and political parties out there.

We do not want the World Social Forum to become a male-dominated affair: there is a need for feminist leadership and building alliances. At the same time, the activist groups and NGOs present at the WSF need to be transformed from within. So feminists need to be omnipresent and to build upon each other’s experiences. The WSF provides us with a great opportunity: here we are all together, so let us engage, take leadership and put the feminist perspective on everyone’s agenda here and now.

This challenge is complex. We do not want to be tokens and are tired of perfunctory references to gender issues. In the WSF seminar on “Global, Diverse and Plural Feminisms”, a group of feminist leaders tried to address some of these challenges feminism is seeking to deal with. The discussion was rich and inspiring. And we will continue to address the issue of how to go about globalisation issues within the feminist movement itself. This brings the diversity question to the heart of our own movement. What is it we want when we talk about a better world? This slogan in itself is questioned. Indigenous women representatives state that it means nothing to them -they do not want to change the world, but the systems ruling them. Once we start discussing the main questions, we come across all kind of differences that we find difficult to address in a fundamental way. In our seminar we agreed that we should not avoid these debates -the answer is we do not need to reach a consensus about what exactly it is what we want. We should allow ourselves to be different, also within our own movement. We must learn to consider this abundance of feminist views as something constructive, as challenging and as strengthening. So this means incorporating diversity concerns in a meaningful way and not avoiding debates regarding race, class, sexuality, age, North and South. Only when we manage to put diversity at the centre of our own movement and allow many different discourses, will we be able to dialogue with others in a “new globalisation” movement on the basis of solidarity.


* Senior Advisor Gender and Diversity, Novib

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