Daily Plenary Roundup

Plenary Day 1: Economic power: Why does it matter and how to understand it in the current global context?

To listen to the full plenary click here

Moderator: Lina Abou-Habib, Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action (CRTD-A), Lebanon


Lydia Alpízar Durán, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), Costa Rica/Mexico

Bochra Bel Hadj Hmida, Supreme Court of Tunisia, Tunisia

Ipek Ilkkaracan, Istanbul Technical University, Turkey

Maria Poblet, Causa Justa-Just Cause, USA/Argentina

Gita Sen, Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), India

We cannot be free until every one of us is free.

The 12th AWID Forum began with a burst of colour in the Haliç Auditorium with 2240 women attending from 140 countries, the majority from the global South and East. Already, in the corridors and gardens of the Congress Centre, the inter regional dialogue had begun. During the first plenary, there was discussion of the current context and how women are understanding economic power.

Why Istanbul? AWID Executive Director Lydia Alpízar explained that one of the reasons for holding it here was the need for an event that would bring us closer to the women’s movements in this region facilitating the creation of relationships and networks, and strengthening the women’s economic development agenda. What is happening in the region is having a profound effect on women’s rights. It is an urgent call to strengthen efforts of collective movement building.

Women on the panel said that the revolutions did not necessarily guarantee rights. However, Arab women have shown that it is possible to use events like the Arab Spring to advance their agenda. Bochra Bel Haj Hmida spoke about the experience of Tunisia in recent years where, for example, polygamy has been abolished and equality granted in divorce. What has occurred in Tunisia, in the Arab world and in the Gulf has been the recognition of women as citizens.

Violence against women activists and human rights defenders, and against LGBTI persons; the repression of social protests; and assertions that religion, culture and tradition cannot be used to justify human rights violations were among the discussions heard this morning. There is no equality for women without freedom and without recognition of their rights over their own bodies.

Ipek Ilkkaracan spoke about the challenges the care economy presents. It is dependent on the work of women. Men do not recognize it and governments do very little to alter inequalities. She spoke about time poverty proposing that resource poverty could be remedied by women’s participation in the labour force but that the result was time poverty because women are still expected to perform their care roles.  She also suggested that caregiving is the most important type of domestic work in that it unites us as women in the movement.  Gita Sen said the care economy needs to be valued in order for it not to be marginalised.

According to Sen, we are living in a fierce world in which many social contracts have been broken, with huge increases in inequality, both in and between countries over the last two decades.  New players have emerged but the old order is not giving way.  She asked: Who needs, or wants, a larger share of a poisoned chalice? Saying we need to understand the connections between equality and the meaning and nature of development

The words of María Poblet gave a voice to the Indignados, the Occupy Movement, LGBT queer community, indigenous women and women of colour. She spoke of the need to continue strengthening partnerships at international level in protests against corporate power and the banks. But mobilization must begin with community organizing, political education and the political struggle. And environmental sustainability must find a permanent place on feminist agendas.

Sen gave us important insights into the nature of power, saying it is based on the control of resources and knowing where money comes from and how to use it. Power is based on resources such as knowledge and collective engagement. Above all, it is about knowing that power is built on fearlessness and challenging the system.  “We are half the world, we need to make the world in the image we want.”

Plenary Day Two: Key Context Trends and Some Proposals for Transformation

To listen to the full plenary click here

Moderator: Yvonne Underhill-Sem, Centre for Development Studies, University of Auckland, Cook Islands/New Zealand


Rebecca Grynspan, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Costa Rica

Marilyn Waring, Professor of Public Policy, Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Amina Mama, University of California-Davis, Nigeria

Yakin Erturk, PHD, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Turkey

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Tebtebba Foundation, Philippines

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, University of Coimbra, Portugal

Chee Yoke-Ling, Director of Programmes, Third World Network, China

Plenary session two of the 2012 AWID Forum built on the first day’s momentum by making the links between key current trends and their implications for women’s economic power and made some proposals for transformation.

Starting with an analysis of indicators of development, Rebeca Grynspan and Marilyn Waring highlighted the inadequacy of solely focusing on economic growth as a way to measure development. In many countries, economic growth has actually exacerbated inequality. Rebeca Grynspan explored time poverty as a particularly important issue for women and not captured by standard poverty measurements.  Other troubling trends Marilyn Waring exposed include the commodification of unpaid labour and the environment. What she called the ‘testosterone – mine is bigger and better than yours’ approach to finding alternatives (such as the OECD wellbeing indicators) has many of the same problems as GDP as a measure of development.

Amina Mama explored the ‘perils and profits’ of militarism as another key part of the current context. While war has led to devastating losses of life (over 100 million in the 20th century) and huge spending (the military budget of U.S. runs to trillions of dollars); many less visible factors affect women as a direct or indirect consequence of militarization. There is an inverse relationship between military and social spending and this impacts on women’s care burden. Militarization also encourages huge informal economies on a global sale, such as the trafficking of arms or minerals such as diamonds, which creates greater insecurity at the local level, especially for women.

Yakin Erturk highlighted the counterforces that have affected the momentum towards human rights that characterized the 1990s. ‘Culture’ is used to deny women their rights, as does prioritizing civil and political rights over economic, social and cultural rights.  She indicated that power is changing hands among men representing alternative patriarchal agendas. Culturalizing women’s rights has delinked the problem from unequal gender structures, and delinked from the wider political and economic environment.  But the good news is that feminists have reacted in constructive ways. There are many successful campaigns where women have used alternative interpretations of cultures, such as the Musawah movement and Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning.

Che Yoke Ling took up the issue of climate change and described the situation of our planet as vicious and dehumanizing, especially for indigenous women.  She said that the last 20 years has been about broken promises and unfulfilled obligations. While the climate the instruments for combating climate change are still valid there has been a systematic attack on these and legal agreements are being dismantled. Kyoto protocol is in intensive care—almost dead.

Possibilities for alternatives

All the speakers recognized the ongoing work by feminists in proposing alternatives. Rebecca Grynspan said that by integrating paid and unpaid work in one indicator it would be possible to quantify time poverty and use this information to advocate for changes in government policy that negatively affect women. In many parts of the world, communities are already developing their own indicators for wellbeing including indigenous women as Victoria Taula Corpuz highlighted.

For Chee Yoke-Ling, the vicious and dehumanising current context calls for a return to the principles of equity that were at the heart of the environmental agreements of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio saying that we have no choice but to do the transformation using a fair and equitable human rights approach, in and between countries

Both Victoria Taula Corpuz and Boaventura de Sousa Santos called for greater solidarity between social movements. Victoria Taula Corpuz highlighted the need for all of us to reclaim our indigenous and feminist ancestry and to use the existing human rights instruments in our ongoing struggles.

For Boaventura de Sousa Santos we need to ask whether now is the time to abandon the paradigm of development and move instead towards self-determination. He called for an ecology of knowledge and a greater articulation between diverse social movements and an end to the belief that our prejudices protect us.

Plenary Day Three: Experiences of Resistance and collective organizing to transform economic power

To listen to the full plenary click here

Moderator: Esther Mwauru-Muiru, GROOTS Kenya


Zoe Gudovic, Reconstruction Women’s Fund, Serbia

Manal Hassan, Arab Techies,  Egypt

Esperanza Huanca Mendoza, Depatricarchalization Unit of the Vice Ministry of Decolonization, Bolivia

Lissy Joseph, Migrant Forum in Asia, India

Francisca ‘Pancha’ Rodriguez, Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas de Chile (ANAMURI) and CLOC-Via Campesina, Chile

Ekaete Umoh, MSC Social Work, Founder and CEO of Family Centered Initiative for Challenged Persons, Nigeria

Kaythi Win, TOP and Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, Myanmar

For I shall never honor your economic ceasefire.   –Marwa Sharafeldin

Following a packed gathering in the Binbirdirek Cistern that had participants singing and dancing well into the night, the third morning of the 2012 AWID Forum opened with poet Marwa Sharafeldin and six speakers highlighting the sounds and strategies of resistance.  Across the stories they told, a common theme was disobedience of the prescriptions of capitalism.  Under these prescriptions, the economic ceasefire – or compliance – called for in neoliberal policies has asked women to blindly accept austerity and corruption, devalue their own work, hide and apologize for their bodies and forego their rights in favor of the ‘larger social good.’

Narrating the journey of bringing 1.5 million domestic workers together in India, Lissy Joseph highlighted the connection between consciousness-raising at individual and community levels and global interventions, including ILO Convention 189 supporting decent work for domestic workers.  Worldwide, 82% of domestic workers are women, many of whom are migrants. Today, in spite of pressures against unions, the International Trade Union Confederation has launched the 12 by 12 Campaign, pushing for twelve countries with high numbers of exploited domestic workers to ratify Convention 189 by the end of 2012.

Following the deposition of Mubarak in Egypt, Manal Hassan of the Arab Techies Collective highlighted how “the public faces of the No to Military Trials for Civilians Campaign in Egypt were young women’s faces.” The campaign utilizes social media to aid awareness, research, advocacy and civil disobedience to expose and halt harassment, abuses and torture by the armed forces in power.  Since February 2011 women have been asked to keep quiet, stay in their homes and forego their rights in the ‘transition to democracy.’  Moreover, women activists have been subjected to virginity tests, and women protestors have been called prostitutes. In response, women have asserted themselves publicly, painting graffiti with slogans and symbols of the revolution and suing the armed forces for rights violations.

In Latin America and worldwide, the women of Via Campesina have organized within peasant movements and indigenous peoples movements to push for internal equality, with respect not only to gender but a diverse range of identities, as a model for transformation more broadly.  Among the forms of parity they pushed for was gender-sensitive language, noted Francisca Rodriguez, founder of ANAMURI in Chile.  She emphasized that it was not just parity that was important but what was done with this parity. “No one gave us these spaces – we conquered them,” Rodriguez said – critical steps in gaining and asserting economic power that has enabled peasant women to move from their kitchens to negotiations with multinational corporations.  Ultimately, in the quest for economic justice, “there is no socialism without feminism.”

Sharing experiences of supporting women’s organizing throughout Serbia, Zoe Gudovic pointed to the importance of directing monetary resources in just ways.  She argued “economy and money can only empower women if it is put in social change rather than wars and weapons.” Nevertheless, “economic power is not about amassing money, it’s about dismantling capitalism and patriarchy,” Gudovic said. Facing a criminal, corrupt state and widespread militarism, racism and patriarchy, the Reconstruction Women’s Fund has supported women to examine and draw upon their experiences for transformation.  This process acknowledges that women’s movements are not immune to capitalistic modes of power and that “communication, transparency, dialogue, action, passion – all are needed for change.”

Kaythi Win, founder of Top, a national sex workers HIV program in Myanmar, framed sex work as work and explained, “when a woman decides to engage in sex work, she is making a decision to empower herself economically.”  An image in the background conveyed the double meaning of the slogan “my body is my business!”  Win explained that while many assume that sex workers need to be rescued, they are not victims.  She asked, “who pays whom?” and stated that sex workers live less in fear of clients than of state and anti-trafficking groups that raid and rescue them.  These interventions limit sex workers’ choices and violate their rights.  Asked by the moderator for a call for solidarity, Win remarked “nothing for us without us.”

Women with disabilities contribute in numerous ways to the economy, posited Ekaete Judith Umoh, a disability rights advocate from Nigeria.  However, she said, they are limited in their employment opportunities due to social biases and lack of accessible workplaces.  Even in women’s movements, Umoh remarked, groups of sisters are missing everywhere.  She asked, “why should disability rob women of their gender?”  Under capitalism, both are seen as deficits – yet another reason for activists within and across women’s rights movements and disability rights movements to work together.

The collective stories from today’s plenary showed that in women’s movements, our power comes from pulling a lot of different experiences together.  As Marwa Sharafeldin warned proponents of the economic ceasefire, “let us then see you cower … under the surge of this woman power/So don’t get too comfortable/

I’m a revolutionary woman.”