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Are we playing their game? Reflections about feminist activism strategy in a fierce new world

Source: DAWN


I was asked to give some reflections about the discussions on political economy of globalization that we had in January at the Dawn Development Debates. I would like to say that the high level presentations, especially those from Stephanie Seguino, Yao Graham and Gita Sen, left me with more questions than answers about how to advocate for women’s empowerment and social transformation.

Common understanding

At DDD, the majority of us agreed that we are living in a period of multiple crises, that those crises are interlinked and are a consequence of an unsustainable economic model which produces and reproduces inequality and exclusion. We also shared the analysis that we are moving to a multi-polar world, with new players such as some middle-income countries that claim their space in the global governance complex. Furthermore, the decline of nation state power and the United Nations role at the global governance was also noticed. In this sense, a hidden governance composed by the OECD, World Bank and IMF was identified. These institutions have, of course, enormous power as well as very little legitimacy, and they are complemented with the leadership of a club of countries called G20 that is willing to replace G192 (UN country members).

This analysis makes me ask some questions. What is the role of feminists in this context? Which are the global advocacy spaces we need to prioritize? Are we contributing to social transformation or are we playing their game?

Naming the contradictions

Since I started to engage with global UN advocacy for women´s rights, I became to realize that civil society activists and specially feminists, professionalize themselves in some issues and jump from one UN site or Conference to another bringing the agenda on the floor. In most of the cases this is a reactive advocacy strategy that depends on what issues are being reviewed or the commitments that are not being accomplished by governments in the agreed deadlines. In my view, it is most important to realize that we, as civil society organizations and movements, interact with the same players in different arenas and we should make them aware about the contradictions in their engagements and actions. For instance, while EU is promoting human rights and women empowerment and pushing commitments on Official Development Assistance (ODA) at the UN, it also advocates for free trade agreements, criminalizes migration and refuses to cut farm subsidies that affect the global South. In addition to this, according to Global Financial Integrity, for every dollar sent by Western countries to Africa in ODA, 10 dollars are coming back as illicit capital flows to Western countries[1].  I firmly believe that it is our role to challenge double discourses and name these contradictions when we advocate in different global spaces.

Focusing our energies

At DDD I asked a feminist advocator, “Why do we continue to advocate at UN?” This person responded: “Because we have a voice there”. I was astonished because I never expected this answer. In my view, we should continue to work at the UN level because we believe it is the most legitimate space where global decisions on economics should be taken, or because we want to strengthen UN to recover its power but not because civil society have an expertise there and a recognized voice. We should refocus and question ourselves: Where are the real political decisions taking place at the global level? How can we influence?

To conclude, in a world where FIFA has more members than UN and Transnational Corporations have more power than many countries, I strongly believe that the feminist movement should extend the global advocacy from UN to other spaces such as Bretton Wood Institutions, Transnational Corporation and regional bodies where decisions that affect women’s lives are being taken without accountability mechanisms.

Nicole Bidegain is a graduate of the 2007 DAWN Training Institute. She currently works as Program Officer of the International Council on Adult Education (ICAE) and she is part of the Latin American chapter of the International Gender and Trade Network

[1] “Every year the developing world loses as much as $1 trillion to secrecy jurisdictions via government corruption, criminal activity, and commercial tax evasion”, Global Financial Integrity (GFI):

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