Economic issues dominate AWID Forum

The second day of AWID started off with a plenary that outlined the key context trends in global economics and explored some proposals for transformation and change. One key trend that most panelists highlighted is that the current system of accounting for national economic performance has not worked for women.

Alice Kanengoni's picture

Gender and Women's Rights Programme Manager

April 20th, 2012

The second day of AWID started off with a plenary that outlined the key context trends in global economics and explored some proposals for transformation and change. One key trend that most panelists highlighted is that the current system of accounting for national economic performance has not worked for women.

The current framework, which uses Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the accepted system to measure a country’s economic performance, was put under the microscope, with panelist Marilyn Waring, Professor of Public Policy at Auckland University of Technology, and former Director of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand  arguing that this system has let women down because it does not take into account the unpaid care work that women do in the context of the home and community.

It is only when such care work is commodified – for instance through hiring of domestic workers – that GDP takes this work into account. So she argued that the GDP framework has contributed to the marginalization of women and in making them (and some men who also do unpaid work) invisible in the economic arena.  “If you are invisible in the calculation of what counts, then you are invisible in the distribution and allocation of resources,” she said.

Rebecca Grynspan, UN Under-Secretary General and former Vice-President of Costa Rica, concurred with Marylin, and challenged feminists to recover the contribution they have made over the years to economic analysis. She highlighted 4 key contributions including adding value through interdisciplinary analysis to the complexity of economic development; introducing differential impacts of economic policies on men and women, boys and girls, something that had been overlooked for many centuries; bringing to the fore the value of equality and equity in development discourse, which again was not always considered an important variable; and most importantly, advancing the central argument that economic analysis should not just be about goods and services, but about broader concerns of power and structural relationships that make women disadvantaged and vulnerable.

“Is it time to abandon the current paradigm of development and replace it with one of self-determination” is the bold question advanced by panelist Boaventura de Sousa Santos , Professor of Sociology at the School of Economics at the University of Coimbra, who challenged social movements to seriously consider this as an alternative to the current frameworks.   

Amina Mama, Director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at University of California-Davis, highlighted the need for a feminist lens in unpacking the impacts of the trend of militarism and its costs on the global economy; and challenged feminists to be interested in both declared and undeclared wars that are currently evident in our countries and regions. She said that the cost of these wars should be understood beyond the arms and ammunition, to include the costs of violence, rape and even corruption in the arms business.

For instance, she noted that in post conflict countries such as Angola, and others, the violence and rape of women did not end with the end with the end of the conflict. This is a cost that is often forgotten or overlooked when calculating the costs of wars and militarism in the global economy, as is the hidden economy of cartels. Mama challenged the Forum participants to reflect on the question of who profits from the current architecture of power and militarism?

It is clear from the discussions here that there is general consensus that the current global economic systems have left women down, and there is need to explore alternatives. The challenge is crafting and developing these alternative models that guarantee women’s inclusion and involvement.

Day 1: Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID) Forum kicked off on April 19th with an acknowledgment that there is need to rethink our strategies as women, given where we are at this point in history – that is the dynamics in the middle East and North Africa, the global economic crisis, and other developments that are shaping the world today.

The theme is therefore – appropriately so, in my opinion – Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice. A multitude of panels, parallel sessions, caucuses and solidarity spaces are planned over the next four days, all related to and advancing the theme of economic justice, and how feminist and women’s movements can make this the centre of their activism.

A diverse menu of topics are on offer: ranging from seeking to understand economic power and why it matters for women, unpacking the global economic frameworks and their impacts on women, demystifying economics, sharing tools and strategies for organizing for economic transformation to tracking the money and resources for women’s rights and women’s livehoods etc. It is a rich menu and the challenge for many will not be a lack of what to attend, but rather what not to attend!

A number of key questions were raised on the first day, including:

  1. Economic power: why does it matter and how do we (as feminists) we understand it in the current global context?
  2. The current global economic frameworks and what these mean for women’s livelihoods
  3. The International Financial Institutions: what are they, how do they work and for whom?
  4. The current global economic governance: what is stake for women?
  5. The BRICS: any different, and any hope in them as an alternative?

These and many others came up in a number of panel presentations and in parallel sessions and are likely to dominate discussions throughout the Forum – linking these to issues around women’s access to resources, climate change and violence against women, women’s land rights and many other topics that are on the agenda. 

In her remarks opening the Forum yesterday, Lydia Alpizar, the Director of AWID said that there are increasing threats that make it imperative for feminists the world over to rethink and reconsider approaches and she cited high levels of unemployment, poor economic performances, environmental crisis among others. She called for a deliberate effort to rebuild the power of the global feminist movement and to deliberately shift from a focus on defending the gains we made in the past to moving more towards the future.

This she said is more urgent now than ever because donors are noticeably recommitting to funding work around women and girls, but from an instrumentalist and neo-liberal market agenda. There is therefore a need to review the current frameworks for macro-economic power from a feminist perspective, unpack the intersections between neo-liberal frameworks and patriarchy and  explore possibilities of alternative frameworks that serve women’s interests and the interests of the poor.

The Forum, which happens every four years, is a space where women from across the globe come together to share experiences, share strategies and review progress on their efforts to promote and defend women’s rights. AWID organisers indicated that this 2012 Forum saw an unprecedented 12,425 people register to participate – with the youngest registrant being 12 years old. I guess this is an indication of the popularity the space is gaining across generations, and the fact that the Forum has a specific space, the Young Feminists Corner, designed by and for young women participants.

I am looking forward to how day two pans out, and if the many questions raised on the first day will begin to be explored and, hopefully, see possible answers to some of them begin to emerge. 

About the author(s)

Alice Kanengoni manages the Gender and Women’s Rights programme at OSISA. She joined OSISA from the Johannesburg-based Gender Links, a regional organisation focusing on gender and women’s rights, where she worked as a Senior Researcher. Prior to that, she had worked as a Senior Researcher and deputy head of the gender programme at the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) in Harare. Alice holds a Masters Degree in Media and Communications, and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Literature.

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