Challenges for Feminism in a Globalized World

Future visions for globalized othernesses

Ana Irma Rivera-Lassén*

In 1972, a women’s group in my country, Puerto Rico, founded the first feminist organization of the second age. These 30 years of ongoing reflection, in my particular case, have enabled me to see that nothing is static, not social values, or cultural norms, or sexualities, or national identities, or even the visions of social change, including feminist visions.

Some people still see feminists as a sort of malignant tumor, eliciting deep-set feelings of rejection and sometimes hatred. I think being a feminist is an ideological position taken by a movement that profoundly transforms human relationships. From this standpoint, the issue of intersections among gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, class, and economic position, among others, needs to be further analyzed and developed.

If we speak of future visions of feminist agendas in a world that is increasingly accepted and understood as plural and diverse, many of us point up the need to shoulder inclusive discourses and actions regarding that diversity, in both form and contents. This World Social Forum could be an opening for gender, for encounters and globalized diversities, where this discussion must also have a prominent place.

Women’s voices, in general terms, are not present in economic and financial issues. I understand that these issues are identified as male, not only in terms of having one’s voice heard, but also in terms of contents. That is, the problem of the absence of women will not be solved simply by getting women involved in discussing economic and financial issues; it will also be necessary for these issues to be viewed from a gender perspective.

We live in a world beset by wars, a world full of discrimination for, among other reasons, race, color, political and religious ideas, social standing, origin, sexual orientation, age and sex. This world is also dominated by racial and sexual paradigms that position “white male” as the standard and the other races and women as othernesses. Globalization policies are new settings where racism and marginalization are practiced; many feminists are adjusting our discourses and addressing the situation in depth, as it requires.

This all makes it increasingly evident that everyone needs to be trained in economic rights, in economics, trade and globalization. The gender perspective is also necessary here.

Economic policies have varied in their approaches toward women; there are campaigns proposing two ways of viewing women and development: one is ‘starting with development to get to women’ and the other is ‘starting with women to achieve development’. The other, more recent trend is gender in development (GID) (León, 1996), which aims to change gender relations and relationships in society overall.

This proposal of addressing gender in development recognizes the ongoing subordination of women in societal relations, as well as social constructs of differences, in which women have been continually subordinated politically, economically and socially. The literature reveals how we have become visible in census information and statistical reports, but the problem is that we achieve visibility within the wrong context. The economic model that is steamrollering us fails to support collective interests. Increasingly, associative activities are jeopardized, as individualism is cultivated. For women, this represents an even more fragile situation, since the representation of our gender interests has never been at the forefront of collective agreements or labor negotiations.

In view of an advancing economic model that demands business flexibility, decentralized production, competitive markets, deregulation of the private sector, privatization of the areas that governments have always maintained, and little protection for stable employment, we have to implement strategies incorporating women’s participation into development with a gender perspective. These strategies must integrate women’s social and political situations with economic conditions (Rivera-Lassén 96).

Under the market’s onslaught, free zones may be set up where mostly women work, under bad conditions. This makes it necessary to go beyond the single government level, to governments’ global representations in international instruments and conventions that recognize rights. There is no way that global policies are going to benefit women, as a gender, if they respect and fit into the patriarchal way societies are set up.

Feminist movements have been and still are political movements, which have constructed alternative discourse on social change. I feel we are engaged in an interesting exercise that is vital to the future of our work regarding the issue of women’s human rights. As a feminist, I acknowledge that the early stages of these struggles taught us the value of the word “woman” as a rallying point around which to define our social and political efforts. We have pushed on by organizing lay the foundations for discourse on “women” to begin being about “different kinds of women”. We began to organize around our own differences (Rivera-Lassén and Crespo-Kebler 2001).

The 1990’s and what has happened as we start this new century, in turn, has been characterized by diversity and estrangement. In Puerto Rico, for instance, we see the emergence of ever-stronger specific demands by women regarding their right to organize, for example, by race or by sexual orientation. Although, in the case of lesbian organizations, we had already witnessed the appearance of a few groups in the seventies and eighties, this entered a more active stage in the nineties. However, these groups do not necessarily take part in or identify themselves as part of the feminist movement which, in turn, has so far been dominated in its actions and agendas by heterosexuality (RiveraLassén and Crespo-Kebler, 2001).

We will see this same situation in the groups emerging around the issue of black women. These organizations are so far women’s groups around the periphery of feminist organizations’ activities. These feminist organizations have so far been ill-equipped in terms of race analysis contents in their actions and agendas (Rivera-Lassén and Crespo-Kebler 2001). These challenges involve everyone, in all directions.

I feel that all women are not one bloc, nor are we all the same, much less one-dimensional, so I would like to envision feminist ideals undergoing constant change. We must keep challenging ourselves to try to build a discourse (or multiple discourses) including us all and/or not excluding any of us (Rivera-Lassén and Crespo-Kebler 2001).

Finally, I would like to say that this Forum has opened up opportunities to discuss all the issues I have been mentioning. However, the gender perspective would have to be a cross-cutting methodology throughout the themes of this event, if we truly want to be able to say that the other world is possible.



* Attorney, feminist activist since the 1970s. Spokesperson in Puerto Rico for the Latin American and Caribbean Committee to Defend Women’s Rights (CLADEM) and member of the Puerto Rican Institute for Studies in Race and Identity.

Last Theme


Next Theme