IWTC Women's GlobalNet #284

Activities and Initiatives of Women Worldwide 

October 30, 2005


By Kathambi Kinoti

The theme of Friday's Plenary Session was ''What is the Change Around Us? ''The session began with a video produced by AWID entitled ‘Three Moves Deep: Planning for the Future of Women's Human Rights,'' which highlights several issues that will affect the future of the world and women's rights in particular; fundamentalisms, new technologies, global power, climate changes and economic inequalities. The video likened the future to a game of chess, where governments and multinational corporations are thinking several moves ahead, presenting a challenge to civil society to keep up with them.

The moderator of the session was Anita Nayar from India, and the six panelists were Dr Marsha Darling from the USA, Yassine Fall from Senegal, Nursyahbani Katjasungkana from Burma, Yanar Mohammed from Iraq, Ramesh Singh who is based in Thailand and Virginia Vargas from Peru.

Ms Nayar opened the discussion on the session's theme by posing the question ''Are the changes inevitable, and is the future predetermined?''

The panelists discussed the three manifestations of global power: Geopolitical power, the international financial institutions, corporations, as well as the potential power of civil society. Although the emerging Southern centres of power - South Africa, Brazil, India and China hold the promise of challenging Northern hegemony and bringing millions of women out of poverty, there is a danger that they may become regional hegemonies in themselves. Women's civil society organizations have sometimes been passive participants in furthering economic inequalities, such as in the case of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers. It is therefore important for feminists to understand the power and economics dynamics of powerful states, international financial institutions and MNCs, and engage with them to protect women's rights. We must also be proactive in invading policy spaces and holding governments accountable for their actions.

Fundamentalisms threaten to erode women's rights among other areas, in marriage and divorce, their property rights and reproductive rights. The panelists noted that what goes under the guise of religious fundamentalism is usually political ideology, particularly in the Islamic world and in the United States of America. They emphasized the importance of feminist activism to ensure that there are secular and egalitarian constitutions and laws. Ms Mohammed called for solidarity from the women's movement across the world to support women's activism in Iraq around constitutional reform and Ms Katjasungkana asked for support for Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi who is currently under house arrest.

New technologies are a double-edged sword as far as women's interests are concerned. Whereas technological transformations such as the electronics and microchip revolutions were external to our bodies, the revolution in genetics is directly related to women's bodies. It raises the question: ‘Who owns DNA?' and threatens to privatize all forms of life. The concern for feminists is how to ensure that human rights are respected, research subjects are protected and bodily integrity is secured. We need to be more vocal and present in the debates, and to get over being afraid of science.

The effects of climate change are being felt today more than ever before. We need to bring the discourse down to the level of the people, and not just confine it to scientific plenaries. It is no longer just a generational issue but an issue that affects people's day-to-day lives. There are lessons to be learnt from the tsunami, the recent hurricanes, the mudslides and earthquakes that have affected the world this year. There is the need for a global early warning system. There is also a need to examine why government response to disasters is not able to match that of their citizens.

The panel discussion ended on a positive note by emphasizing that change is possible. Ms Fall cited the successful mobilization of women in Kenya around the MDG process and said it was important to mobilize to resist the privatization of water provision services. Mr Manek pointed out the need to pay more attention to HIV/AIDS. He also proposed that each of us should look at our personal choices and our lifestyle and exercise our power as consumers. He emphasized the importance of crossing the boundaries between civil society movements and other groups such as politicians and the youth in order to effect change. Ms Mohammed called for international solidarity and satellite TV that will impact positively on the mentality of the people. Ms Vargas emphasized that feminism is about a new political culture, while Ms Katjasungkana reminded participants that when the secular state fails to deliver, people turn to fundamentalism. Dr Darling appealed to feminists to work more directly to strengthen civil society voices to ensure that technology does not do harm.

From the AWID RESOURCE NET, Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID).

AWID is an international membership organization committed to gender equality and a just and sustainable development process. AWID facilitates an open exchange among researchers, practitioners, policymakers and others in order to develop effective and transformative approaches for improving the lives of women and girls worldwide. If you are not already a member of AWID, visit their web site at <http://www.awid.org> to find out more. -The Association for Women's Rights in Development, 215 Spadina Avenue, Suite 150, Toronto,ON M5T 2C7, CANADA. Tel: 416-594-3773. Fax: 416-594-0330. Email: awid@awid.org. Web: <http://www.awid.org>

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