WSF Belem 2009 - Globalizing Gender Solidarity

5 March 2009 by Bushra Khaliq

On 29th of January 2009, the fully packed Belem’s Rural University gymnasium resounded with gender slogans by women activists when four male presidents of Latin America declared themselves as “feminists”. Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa and Paraguay’s Ferdinand Lugo asserted that “no socialism [is possible] without feminism” adding that they are all true feminists.

Nobody doubts the socialist credentials of the four left wing presidents, but few present in the gymnasium might have realized that the “Hope of Latin America” sitting on the stage felt itself in the dock by MST leader Joao Pedro Stedile from one side and a feminist group of women, standing right in front of the dais, from the other side. The presidents had to face friendly firing of Joao Pedro Stedile as well as the feminist fire of the women activists.

Many valued the fact that the four presidents, who were brought to power through strong social movements in their respective countries, claimed their feminism but still thought it is surely not enough. The whole Latin America as well as anti-imperialist world is looking towards these men as harbingers of hope and waiting for a loud and clear alternative call against the crippling capitalism. “You have done things but you have to do more in your countries to make a real difference”, said the popular peasant leader, Joao Pedro Stedile, while responding to speeches of the presidents. The powerful MST leader perhaps knew that no leader delivers on its own, unless being continuously put under peoples’ pressure.

The women not only showed a strong presence in the presidents’ meeting, pulling them to call themselves as feminists, but also played a great part in the forum by putting and sharpening gender perspective to all sorts of different discussions, debates and dialogues. It was really great to see women activists equally participating throughout the forum. The prevailing financial crisis, climate change and issue of indigenous peoples remained dominant topics of the WSF.

It seemed that issues like war on terrorism, militarization, patriarchy, religious extremism, feudalism and women political participation, were least concerned to this Amazonian forum as almost no discussion was held over these issues, which are in fact more relevant to the South Asian region. It was pleasant to know that women in Latin America were visibly emancipated, confident and politically conscious, issues like restriction on women freedom, gender inequality, curb on women rights, male domination etc. being apparently less critical than in South Asia.

Heloisa Helena, the female president of PSOL, (Brazil’s Party of Socialism and Liberty) set the tune of the World Social Forum on the first day, by declaring socialism as the only viable alternative to the decaying capitalism. As a great speaker she went all the way castigating capitalism, for being the root cause of the global financial crisis and making the life of millions of poor people hell. She was a great source of inspiration for thousands of women activists participating in the forum. Her socialist tinge was visible in various speeches delivered at different forums by different women.

The Assembly of Social Movements on the fourth day was a rare show of women strength and solidarity. The event was chaired by women leaders from Palestine, Pakistan, Benin (Africa), France, South America. Women representatives of various social movements shared their experiences and vowed to accelerate struggle for social and gender justice. The declaration of social movements was read out by Ana Maria, a young Brazilian woman. Inspired by the radical colour of the social movements of Latin America, the women expressed commitment to galvanizing the struggles with gender visibility in their respective continents.

The women assembly on the last day was also a great event, participated by over 500 women from different parts of the world. They included young activists, workers, social movements’ leaders and representatives. It was also a fantastic show of solidarity with Palestinian women. Great applause was given to Palestinian women for their struggle against Israeli repression. A declaration of women assembly was also read out and approved by the assembly. The important thing about this assembly was the visibility of young women. They were in radical and festive mood. It was really wonderful to see globalization of gender solidarity on the occasion.

World March of Women, an alliance of worldwide women organizations and movements made its presence quite visible throughout the event with its gender-based slogans, purple theme colour, drum beats and songs (just wait… you imperialists! Latin America is going to be feminist). Through such activities they remained busy in motivating the women participants and rallying them around the cause of women global solidarity.

In many ways, WSF Belem was positively different from Nairobi experience; unlike Nairobi there was not much commercialization, food was available at comparatively cheaper prices, although the entry fee (30 reals) for local people was quite high, but even then a huge number of local people, specially youth was present there. Out of the 133,000 people registered 50,000 were youth, most of them young girls. Unlike Nairobi only few incidents of stealing or robbery were heard. The event remained peaceful overall but duplication of some activities created inconvenience for the participants.

Though the Lula government of Brazil had spent a lot of money, about 60 million reals on the arrangements, it could not earn much appreciation of the participants. Despite the fact that over 6,000 security guards and hundreds of volunteers made the event a success, a real issue was the lack of translation facilities. At a number of forums participants could not interact, intervene or take benefit from each other’s views due to the language barrier.

Bushra Khaliq

est membre du Comité international de la Marche Mondiale des Femmes, représentant l’Asie. Elle est également directrice exécutive de l’organisation féministe Les Femmes en Lutte pour l’Autonomisation [Women In Struggle for empowerment – WISE].



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