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Changing World Geopolitics and Global Governance: Making sense of the trends, actors and their implications for women’s rights

Posted in Global Governance on March 11th, 2013 by

Why and how is global governance relevant to women’s rights and why is it so complex and difficult to talk about in the current world reality? With contributions from key leaders and thinkers this in-depth session shared relevant characteristics of the current global context, exploring for example the connections between how growth is defined and progress is measured, increased militarization and other key phenomena within current global governance arrangements and shifts.

This session looked at some of the actors and institutions (new and old) defining what global governance looks like today. It also provided a space for brainstorming about our vision of future global governance to advance women’s rights, justice, environmental sustainability and human rights. Then we discussed the implications of this information, analysis and reflection for our own strategizing as women’s rights activists.  We closed with a focus on ‘what’s next’ on the global agenda, for example: the structures being proposed as part of the Rio+20 agenda, the Cairo and Beijing + 20 process, the proposals for reshaping global financial architecture, the proposed new global development partnership and the likely ‘post-MDG’ framework.

A summary prepared by Susan George of the issues raised in the in-depth session “Changing World Geopolitics and Global Governance: Making sense of the trends, actors and their implications for women’s rights” at the 2012 AWID Forum is included below.



Introduction: Geopolitics is entirely concerned with power—the question of rights, including women’s rights, does not come into it unless forced onto the agenda by citizen action and even then provides no guarantees of enforcement.

We may distinguish three phases in recent history:

  1.  Post World War II : The world rapidly becomes bi-polar with two superpowers doing their best to divide up the world and prevent the other from obtaining allegiance from weaker states.  This turns out to be a positive advantage for the “third world” as it was called then, in reference to the first or “free” world [the US & allies]; the second or Soviet influenced world.   President Truman’s “Point 4” speech in 1948 puts “development” on the agenda.  The Bretton Woods institutions [World Bank & International Monetary Fund] play a role, especially the Bank, first conceived as the Bank for Reconstruction [of post war Europe] and Development.  No place on earth is wholly unimportant because anyplace can become a part of the other’s sphere of influence.  From the ‘50s there is also an attempt by some nations including India who meet in Bandung in 1955 to be “non-aligned”—I did not develop this point in my contribution for want of time.   Women as a group or individually hardly appear on the horizon and the “subject” or “object” of development is generally assumed to be male.
  2. Post Cold-War, Debt and Structural Adjustment.  After the fall of the wall and the collapse of the URSS in 1989, there are rather suddenly plenty of places that have lost their strategic importance.  Capitalism is free to go where it likes.   Southern countries become indebted, high levels of debt are followed by structural adjustment programmes imposed on the debtors by the Bank and IMF on behalf of Northern creditors.  This is a particularly bad period for women who take the brunt of the impact; girls are taken out of school because schools become fee paying, so do clinics.  What meagre public services existed are generally privatised as part of the package and food crops for local consumption are neglected in favour of export crops.  Debt is the excuse for a new colonialism, much less visible than the old type.  During this period [early 80s] Jeane Kirkpatrick, a neoliberal scholar and Nixon’s Ambassador to the UN speaks of Human Rights and the UDHR as “a letter to Santa Clause”.
  3. Globalisation and Financial Market Rule.  Globalisation is a wonderful opportunity for massive privatisations and for playing off one country against another: there is always someone, somewhere willing to work for less than you.  About 80% of direct foreign investment is generally devoted to mergers and accquisitions, not “greenfield” or new job-creating investment.  This is where we still are.   Women are now on the agenda, particularly for NGOs and have been added to the UN concerns and specialised agencies but they have little structural power and women are generally those willing to work for less than you and are therefore more exploited than previously [cf. China and rest of Asia, EPZs or export processing zones, almost entirely female-staffed].

CONCLUSION: Advances for women are entirely due to activism and pressure.  The major development institutions like the World Bank are now obliged to pay attention to gender and to include many more women in staff.   However, at the same time, it has virtually stopped investing in smallholder agriculture of which a high percentage are female, especially in Africa.   NGOs are on the other hand very sensitive to gender.  Therefore the pressure must continue and binding laws obtained rather than counting on codes of conduct and other voluntary measures.


This edition of GenderIT.org reflects on the feminist politics and practices of technology within the broader debates around economic justice and women’s rights at the 12th AWID Forum that ran from April 19 to 22, 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey. GenderIT.org’s writers and partners report on the opportunities presented by open internet for women’s organizing ranging from online mapping of street harassment, documenting video testimonies of women or producing powerful infographics. A number of the contributions spell out the challenges. “As we rely more and more on social media for our activism,” writes one contributor, “knowing about security and privacy is really key.”

The authors also question the notion of ‘free online services’ and critique governments and private corporations for censorship, surveillance and monetization of our relationships, networks and communications for the purpose of profit. This edition is therefore also a call to connect and act. As Jan Moolman highlighted in her editorial:”unless women are at the table where decisions around governing the internet are made by governments and corporations,…, women will be on the menu.”

Katerina, Flavia, and Sonia from the GenderIT.org’s team.


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