THE FIRST plenary entitled "Transnational Women's Movements: Challenges and Future Politics in the Period of Globalization and War" featured panellists Claire Slatter of Fiji, Hisako Motomaya of Japan, Nandita Shah of India, Jeanne Frances Ilio of the Philippines and Ruby Kenny of Papua New Guinea. The discussions began with plenary speakers challenging the women present in the Forum - both the veterans of feminist women's movements who have participated in the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995 and the new feminist participants of regional convergences such as this Forum - to take a look at themselves while taking a look at the world around them and the events that affect all aspects of their lives on a daily basis.
According to Slatter, the foremost major setback in the current women's movement is the erosion of hard-fought sexual and reproductive rights with the implementation of U.S. President George W. Bush's Global Gag Rule. The Gag Rule withdraws the U.S. government's financial support to aid agencies providing "controversial" services such as the distribution of artificial contraceptives like condoms and counselling women who have undergone abortions. Motomaya seconded this observation. She said that in Japan, old anti-women regimes have come to power and are now contributing to the subtle erosion of women's rights in general, not just in their sexual and reproductive rights. Meanwhile, Illo related education and activism, pointing out that academic thinking informs activism, and vice versa. She also discussed the teaching of feminism, and how teachers with advocacy affect the emerging generation of feminists.
Amidst the discussion of feminism, anti-women regimes and the erosion of women's rights, Shah upped the ante by throwing the question of criticising back to the women in the Forum, saying that the feminist movement needs a radical shift. She observed that women needed to "sharpen our critique and turn slogans around to discuss not sisterhood, but solidarity." Shah observed that perhaps women in the movement tend to be too focused on their "own little advocacies" that they forget to look at the larger picture of activism, as well as to take up the issues of anti-globalisation, anti-war and similar social justice and newly-emerging movements. She encouraged women to "take on each other's issues and go beyond our multiple identities" in order to converge women into having a common vision and not just engage on the dichotomies of differences.
Kenny, a representative of the Network of Asia-Pacific Youth (NAPY), further supported the challenge by positing that heteronormativity should be analysed in the women's movement. She made herself as an example of a "neglected sector" in society whose identity is compounded by the complexities of being a woman and belonging to the youth sector, and she also added the complexity of having a lesbian identity. Furthermore, she asked why issues of lesbian women were not discussed much, and if so, asked if the women's movement could be referred to as "all-inclusive" then when a sector of women remain absent in spaces such as this Forum.
It turned out that lesbians present in the Forum were thinking of the very same thing. As an immediate result of these challenges, a Lesbian Caucus was set up in the afternoon where 14 individuals from six countries concerned with lesbian issues discussed the strategies they could do regarding this space. One observation that came out of that caucus is that the lesbian movement in the Asia-Pacific region has waned severely and it is very hard to revive at the moment, seeing that lesbians in the region wear multiple hats that have duties which are sometimes more prioritised than this issue. An agreement was made to further the linkages among these women and discuss the best solution/s to this pending challenge not only during the Forum but regarding future work as well.
The second plenary entitled "Women's Rights, Democracy and the Challenge for Sustainable Development" continued the questions raised during the first plenary. Kamala Chandrakirana of Indonesia delivered the keynote speech with comments from Huang Shu of China, Gulnora Makhmudova of Uzbekistan, Titi Sumbung of Indonesia and Hyun-back Jung of South Korea.
However, more challenges were posited in the afternoon workshops, especially in the merged sessions of "Roadblocks to Another World: Feminist Strategies" conducted by Pakistan-based Shirkat Gah and "Women, World Social Forum (WSF) and the Search for Alternatives to Neo-liberal Globalization" conducted by the International Gender and Trade Network-Asia (IGTN-Asia), WSF Network-Japan, International South Group Network (ISGN) - Women and Globalization Program. Here, the roadblocks mentioned referred to globalisation, new fundamentalisms, extremism and even militarism.
According to the workshop panellists, globalisation is a product of capitalism that has wielded its influence the world over, often leaving women behind in the changes. With militarism however, the subject of women's oppression becomes the usurped issue that propels war among nations. However democratic this may seem - the so-called "liberation" of women belonging to an oppressive regime - it still does not justify killing and maiming spirits. These "hegemonic tools" are further sharpened with the creeping influence of corporate media, usually observed coming from the Global North and dumped towards the Global South. In the end, new social authorities begin to be created, and the panellists in these workshops asked for collaboration in creating new critical strategies.
While no definite alternatives and strategies were drawn up in this workshop, it was concluded that women need to dive into finding solutions now that they have taken off from the platform of knowing there is something lacking in the present situation.RELATED ARTICLES: