Globalization is not Gender Neutral

(This article by German journalist-scholar Christa Wichterich, appeared in the German daily newspaper the "taz" 25/26 January 2003)

From a feminist perspective, Porto Alegre is not all that different from conventional political gatherings. Old and young leftist men set the tone in the movements critical of globalization.

Bene Madunagu, coordinator of English-speaking Africa for the Southern women's network Dawn, sprinted from one podium to another at the African Social Forum, held in Addis Ababa in early January. "It's the same, whether it's about culture, peace, communication technology or agriculture. Everywhere the speakers act as though globalization is gender neutral. Women are presented at best as the impoverished masses." The Nigerian woman does not want to add women or the issue of gender democracy as examples of victimization to the spectrum of critiques of globalization. She wants to introduce feminist concepts into the evolution of alternatives.


"This year we have to develop a critical mass," said organizers of the women's events at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre. Hard to believe: regarding feminist innovations, Porto Alegre hardly differs from conventional political arenas. In the movements critical of globalization, the old and new men of the left again set the tone. And in the discussions at Porto Alegre, feminist perspectives remain peripheral.

Women's organizations have worked hard on these perspectives since the Women's World Conference in Beijing in 1995. There they saw women's rights threatened by two forces gaining in strength: neoliberalism and fundamentalism. They included both into their critique of globalization: the rule of profit led by big companies, and the opposite side of the coin, political and religious fundamentalism as resistance and self-assertion against neoliberal supremacy.

At the same time there was a process of "globalization from below" taking place, an international networking of grassroot trade union, farmers', peace and anti-violence organizations. These are struggling for a guaranteed living wage, against the patenting of agricultural seeds, and against transferring social services to private households - making more unpaid women's work.

Women's organizations must reorient their concepts and struggles -- that was the conclusion of the North American network Awid's conference "Re-Inventing Globalization" held in Mexico last October. There the intellectual movement elite (attendance fee $250.) discussed a globalization of economic and social rights against economic fundamentalism, attacked the new political and military hegemony, and stressed the need to consider the differences and multiple roles of women.

At the Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad (India) in early January women's organizations had already held their own plenum because they did not find themselves adequately represented at the mixed podium. Under the motto "women resist globalization", they defined two tasks: resistance to neoliberalism, militarization and fundamentalism, and development of alternatives.

A prerequisite is the radical democratization of politics, economy and culture so women can achieve their power to act as citizens. A just economic redistribution and social security, as well as ethnic, religious and cultural diversity are only possible under conditions of a participatory democracy. Against this background Bene Madunagu demanded a "Re-radicalization" of the women's movement: "We have to move away from the current NGO style of struggle characterized by lobbying and an almost fawning pleading and begging before the state, and male dominated political structures."

(Translation Miriam Pandor, editing Anna Gyorgy, February 2003)