2012 AWID Forum Themes

| 2012 AWID Forum Themes | Questions for Proposals | Participation Formats | Selection Process |

Thank you for your interest in the Call for Proposals, the submission deadline was June 3, 2011.

Each of the ten could be the subject of an entire Forum. Nonetheless, we would like the Forum to explore some of the complexities and nuances of the debates related to these themes. The following descriptions of the themes are intended to provide basic yet flexible parameters for the discussions at the Forum. You are encouraged to use your creativity and insight in articulating how your session links to one or more of these themes.

The ten themes are:


Labour & Work


Formal, informal, subsistence, household, community, caring, voluntary, reproductive—women are in a number of these ‘classes’ of work at any one time. Yet a large part of women’s work is rendered invisible and is often either outside of what is officially counted as work or is undervalued and underpaid. Women face barriers to advancement across the economy – from exploitation and unsafe working conditions in agro-industry, garment factories and other sectors, to the ‘glass ceiling’ that blocks advancement to managerial positions within major corporations, to their exclusion from more profitable sectors of informal trade.

Recent years have witnessed important changes in the nature of work in many contexts. At the same time there is a growing recognition of the diverse ways in which women engage in economic relations and their means of livelihood. New technologies are facilitating greater flexibility of labour relations, at times contributing to growing precariousness in women’s working situations. Lack of time and resources and the demands of ‘productive’ work life have contributed to a ‘crisis of care’ in many contexts. Shifting trends in women’s migration are also having a significant impact on work patterns. Barriers to and opportunities for work also vary significantly across women’s diversities, including gender, ability, age, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation.

Transforming economic power to facilitate just, sustainable ways for women to generate a livelihood requires influencing how work is defined and what gets valued. Valuing the care economy takes place through public provisioning of social protection and basic social services.  There is much to learn from women organizing in trade unions, sex worker organizations, and domestic and home-based worker organizing, as well as experiences of co-operative economies and the “decent work” agenda.

How are women organizing against existing labour inequalities and what are their key strategies and proposals for alternatives? What have been government responses to women’s labour rights and needs in recent decades? How are trade unions responding (or not) to women’s demands? How is women’s informal work contributing to economic development, and how have women from this sector organized to see their contributions recognized and their labour rights fulfilled? In what ways are women building alternatives related to the care economy?

Back to Top


Militarism, Conflict and Violence

Militarization is an increasing and global phenomenon. Spending for arms, security forces and wars make up major proportions of national budgets and fuel the global economy. A number of actors, increasingly from the private sector, profit hugely from militarization. Meanwhile, military might is used to sustain, and sometimes challenge, dominant economic powers.  Very often, conflicts are directly linked to economic interests such as control of territories and natural resources such as land, oil, water and minerals.

Increased militarism and conflict has a number of gender-specific impacts. Gender-based violence escalates before, during and after wars, with some forms of violence against women such as rape already recognized as war crimes. In militarized contexts, with paramilitary groups and organized crime—and their scope of control and power—on the rise, feminicides and attacks on women’s human rights defenders have become commonplace and increasingly normalized.

How is women’s limited economic power – in homes, in national and global budgets – linked to gender-based violence, in particular for those women who are multiply marginalized? How are women’s anti-militarism campaigns and roles in transitional justice processes directly addressing economic inequalities? What strategies have been successful in ensuring that women’s rights defenders are adequately protected? What kind of responses are women’s rights defenders themselves building?  Which tools used in peace building processes and which visions of ‘security’ encompass economic well being for women?

Back to Top


The Role of the State

Worldwide, the role and strength of states is constantly changing. In many countries, neoliberal policy prescriptions have drastically limited the state role to that of social control and policing, thereby undermining democracy. This limited role services private sector interests and facilitates deregulation and the lifting of protectionist policies to benefit trade and investment at the expense of spending on health, education, and housing. Some states have implemented protectionist policies, while other governments have both protected and grown the role and size of the state.  Meanwhile, post-socialist states have struggled to ensure benefits amidst transitions to political democracy and capitalism. In the last few years, multiple, systemic crises have challenged the status quo for all states. Despite the attention that some governments have given to women’s demands for equality, the lack of comprehensive policies (including appropriate fiscal policy to support social spending or proper recognition of women’s contributions to national revenue) has prevented many countries from achieving women’s full and equal participation and economic and social autonomy.

How are women’s rights advocates, including those working inside governments, redefining and strengthening the role of the state to advance the rights of women and others, including people without states such as Roma communities, pastoralists and refugees?  How are women’s movements and their allies reconfiguring relationships between governments and civil society within an economic democracy framework?  What are effective strategies for holding states accountable to protect and fulfill women’s human rights, including their economic and social rights? Which governments have put in place effective policies responsive to women’s rights? What are effective mechanisms for increasing women’s participation in local and national governance, including decision-making processes for redistributing national resources and budget allocations? What are alternative visions for transformative social protection?

Back to Top



The current dominant economic system has profound impacts on women’s sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTQI rights—including and beyond the commodification of sex, sexuality and women’s bodies. Times of economic crisis often lead to even greater attempts to control sexuality and further limit access to sexual and reproductive health services and rights, especially for women living in poverty and other marginalized groups. Economic and development policies are highly gendered and heteronormative; they are part of social mechanisms to control and regulate people’s sexualities. The dominant vision of the intersection between the economy and sexualities is most commonly associated with problems and reduced to sex work, pornography and trafficking. This limited vision renders invisible key dimensions of sexuality that both affect and are affected by economic systems and relations.

These dimensions include, for example, the prevalence of sexual and gender-based harassment and policing in workplaces. New social media as purveyors of sexual and gender stereotypes and exploitation as well as sites of sexual and gender experimentation and transgression. The ways in which controversial issues relating to sexuality are used to obscure public debate on economic policies or practices e.g. tabling policies restricting sexual rights that also serve to distract attention from trade agreements under negotiation or cuts being made to social services. The limitations of efforts to cope with the HIV and AIDS pandemic, the stereotyping and discrimination that some HIV and AIDS programs have fostered and the gender-blindness of many existing responses.

What are the economics of desire? For example, how does the mainstream media and advertising target certain populations to stimulate and profit from desire? What are effective ways to break the silo that places sexuality outside of economic and development debates? How can strategizing to advance sexual rights take into account influencing economic policies at different levels? To what extent does the disconnect between sexuality and economic policies impact gender equality and the advancement of women’s rights? Can sexual rights be a useful framework to inform economic and development policy so that policies are more focused on pleasure and not only on harm?

Back to Top


The Planet and Ecological Health


Humanity is witnessing the unprecedented impact of its erroneous assumptions about unlimited natural resources and patterns of production and consumption. Despite numerous global agreements to protect the environment, international institutions and governments have not significantly curbed environmental degradation, which includes not only climate change, but also biodiversity loss, the pollution of rivers and water basins, and the depletion of forests. Meanwhile, governments and the private sector promote responses to the environment based on financial markets and technologies that exacerbate inequalities, leaving underlying consumption and production models unquestioned. Environmental degradation hurts grassroots women and poor, peasant and indigenous communities the most, threatening their livelihoods and forcing unsustainable adaptation strategies. Recurrent and worsening ‘natural’ disasters are making evident the need for stronger regulation that places communities above market interests. Also needed are responses that take into account the particular impacts of disasters on women and women’s own experiences in building community resilience and dealing with disasters.

How are women and other marginalized communities such as peasant and indigenous communities organizing and implementing sustainable environmental alternatives?  What are the strategies and tools being used by grassroots women and other key actors to broaden the debates and responses to climate change beyond market-based approaches? What are the lessons to learn from women’s experiences in responding to ‘natural disasters’? How can feminisms both inform the strategizing in response to environmental degradation and be enriched by perspectives from the ecological, environmental and climate justice movements?

Back to Top


Financial Flows


Daily, money in the form of either currency or credit, exchanges hands between a host of actors from individuals, governments and creditors (including banks and international financial institutions), to private corporations, donor agencies and philanthropists. The conditions of these transactions are spelled out in fiscal and monetary policies; loan, debt, trade and aid agreements; philanthropic contracts; and informal, unspoken agreements between individuals and within families. Remittances sent by migrants, in some cases, have contributed more to national incomes than foreign direct investment and official development assistance combined. At the same time, the world of private philanthropy (and wealthy individuals like Bill Gates) represents greater financial flows than the GDP of several low-income countries put together. Funding that flows from international donor agencies has long been subject to debate about its development effectiveness. Also widely criticized is the role that aid conditionalities have often played in decreasing national policy space in aid-recipient countries and advancing the trade and investment related interests of donors.  In recent years, climate change financing has also become a crucial area for attention in advancing climate justice for those most affected by environmental degradation.

Through the international, regional and bilateral agreements of the past decades, trade, exchange rates and capital markets have fostered the dominance of the financial market over actual production (real economy). Women are implicated in the terms and flows of these agreements, but are often excluded from negotiating tables. These experiences have underscored the need for greater financial regulation and for trade agreements that are linked to sustainable development for all people and the respect of human rights. In response, diverse organizations and movements have proposed alternative financing mechanisms for development, such as the international financial transaction tax, commonly referred to as the ‘Robin Hood tax’.

How are technologies enabling greater transparency and accountability for women’s access to diverse financial flows? How, and with what tools, can women influence tax policy? What are important mechanisms of regulation and taxation to keep powerful actors in check? How can women’s rights activists and organizations join forces with other social movements demanding regulation of financial markets and capital flows and the establishment of an equitable international monetary and financial system?

Back to Top


Access to & Control of Resources


Resources are critical to people’s identities and livelihoods and to advance autonomy, agency, and rights. Yet, historically, due to gendered divisions of labour, patriarchal cultural norms and laws and economic inequalities, women in all their diversity have been denied access to resources such as education, health services, credit, land and technologies. Assessment of access to and control of resources has been a fundamental tool of gender analysis. But in the face of the ‘race for resources’, including the intensifying pressures on land, so-called land grabs in many countries of the global south and the predicted wars for access to basics such as water, there is a need for new tools and strategies. Land reform and redistribution, especially in post-colonial contexts, remain unfinished business.

What strategies are women’s movements and other allied movements such as indigenous peoples, migrant rights, landless peoples, smallholder and peasant farmers, and disability rights movements using to advance equal access to and distribution of resources?  How are women contributing to resource struggles through, for example, food sovereignty demands and campaigns against land grabs? What have we learned from the significant focus and resources given to initiatives on women’s access to credit, including microcredit? What other economic alternatives are women building, from the grassroots to the international level, to transform unequal access to and control over resources?

Back to Top

Private Sector & Corporate Power


Corporations and other private sector actors are often influential players in defining global and national economic agendas. The rising importance of transnational corporations on the global stage, and in a broad range of critical sectors in national economies, raises many challenges for democracy around the world. These companies have enormous power, often with little or no accountability, over many human, technological, and environmental resources. Corporations also have significant impacts on diverse areas of development from food security, to resource depletion to labour rights. Corporate media and technology companies have a huge impact on women’s rights and are often overlooked as targets for action. “Public-private partnerships” have become a mantra in many development circles yet their significance for women’s rights and environmental sustainability requires further exploration.  Still, here to stay, the private sector is not homogeneous. It is a significant source of employment for many women and at times, small businesses have been allies for women’s rights campaigns. In some cases, efforts to ensure safe, fair working conditions for women and gender-equitable access to ‘supply chains’ are gaining ground with positive impacts for women’s rights.

How can we move beyond limited frameworks of “corporate social responsibility” to use human rights standards and mechanisms to hold corporations and other private sector actors accountable?  What types of strategies—for example from labour organizing and campaigns around extractive industries—have been successful in changing the course of corporations?

Back to Top


Culture & Religion

In all countries of the world there are cultural practices that hinder and in some cases prevent women’s and entire communities’ full enjoyment of their human rights.  Different forms of gender-based violence are commonly justified in the name of culture, tradition or religion. Agendas grounded in the political manipulation of religion or culture often work in powerful combination with other forms of absolutist identity politics such as racism, tribalism, communalism, nationalism, and xenophobia, to restrict women’s rights and equality. Cultural and religious interpretations and practices are institutionalized through unequal family laws, laws and policies restricting women’s reproductive and economic choices, and the absence of laws banning gender-based violence and harmful traditional practices, to name a few.

Yet culture is not static. It is a highly dynamic process that shapes and reflects the diverse ways of living of different populations around the world. Neither is religion monolithic. All religions have groups within them that use different interpretations and practices that challenge discriminatory gender roles and economic policies and practices in order to advance justice and human rights. Women in all their diversity have historically struggled against the ways in which dominant culture is defined, using their agency to transform cultural practices and traditions that undermine their human rights.

How have women’s organizations and movements successfully strategized to counter the role played by religious and cultural fundamentalisms in obstructing women’s economic autonomy from the family to the international level? How are religious and cultural practices manipulated and imposed by powerful economic actors from individuals and businesses to organizations and states for their benefit? How can women actively claim their cultural rights and strengthen their agency to transform cultural or religious practices that hinder their capacity to exercise human rights, particularly their economic and social rights?

Back to Top

Global Governance


Global geopolitics is rapidly changing. Triggered in part by systemic crises, and alongside the ever-present power of private sector actors, new powers are emerging. These new powers include the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), regional political and economic blocs and communities such as the European Union, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Mercosur, the African Union, and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and new groupings like the G20.  At the same time, transnational networks of civil society organizations, loose associations of diverse groups and social movements are coming together in powerful ways. Making increasing use of tools such as social media, they are influencing the agendas of these new powers and working to hold them accountable to the demands of women and other excluded groups. Meanwhile, powerful nations and actors, have systematically weakened the UN’s power as a multilateral negotiating body, undermining its capacity to uphold human rights and influence global economic and development policies. International financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have lost credibility but continue advancing market-oriented policies and have been reinvigorated by resources made available to respond to the financial crisis.

What are the implications of these geopolitical changes for transforming how economic power is exercised at the global level? What do they mean for the advancement of women’s rights, gender equality and justice agendas? How are feminists and women’s rights activists engaging with regional processes and blocks, including South-South cooperation efforts? And how are those processes advancing or hindering women’s rights and justice? What kind of global system could ensure more democratic participation of all states, particularly the poorest ones, in the enforcement and implementation of international reforms, rules, and standard setting? How can diverse civil society groups effectively participate in global economic decision-making?  How should UN Women play its part and what does this new body mean for women’s and feminist movements?

Back to Top