Transnational Feminisms and the World Social Forum: Encounters and Transformations in Anti-Globalization Spaces

By Conway, Janet | Journal of International Women's Studies, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Transnational Feminisms and the World Social Forum: Encounters and Transformations in Anti-Globalization Spaces


Conway, Janet, Journal of International Women's Studies


Abstract

What would it mean to place feminism(s)--as movement(s), politics and ethics--at the centre of our understandings of the World Social Forum? The author argues that transnational feminisms have been among the significant forces constituting the WSF, although this has been uneven across different time-spaces and scales of the WSF. She further asserts that transnational feminisms, understood as movement(s), politics and ethics, are making particular and irreducible contributions to contemporary emancipatory movements in and beyond the WSF. This study historicizes and analyzes some major expressions of transnational feminism at the WSF with implications for understanding the inter-relationality of feminisms, anti-globalization movements and the WSF and for illuminating contemporary debates over the future of feminism taking place in transnational feminist networks.

Keywords: feminism, social movements, transnational networks

Introduction

In an early article about the 'anti-globalization' movement, Angela Miles (2000) observed that despite the presence of great numbers of women and feminists, feminism as a discourse was strangely muted, both in the movement and in analyses of it. A similar claim could be made about the World Social Forum (WSF). A great variety of feminist activisms are everywhere apparent at the WSF yet feminism remains distressingly marginal to the discourses and politics of and about the WSF. What would it mean to place feminism(s)--as movement(s), politics and ethics--at the centre of our understandings of the World Social Forum? How would this shift dominant discourses about both the World Social Forum and transnational feminisms, and associated understandings of the anti-globalization movement, and contribute to fuller and more complex understandings of all of these and the relations among them?

Much of the scholarship produced thus far about the WSF is insufficiently sociological and ethnographic in exploring who is populating the WSF and how, through their discourses and practices, they are making the social forum what it is. Furthermore, much of this scholarship is profoundly masculinist in simply not seeing the presence of feminists and feminisms in the forum nor addressing their meaning. For our part, feminists have been too often preoccupied with questions of gender vis-a-vis the WSF or the anti-globalization movement rather than addressing these more broadly as political phenomena in feminist terms. In this article, I seek to contribute to knowledge about the WSF through a study of feminisms in, of and against the World Social Forum, and about the contours of contemporary transnational feminist politics as they have been articulated in, around, and through the WSF.

Conceptualizing both the 'World Social Forum' and 'transnational feminisms' is fraught with difficulty as the meanings of both are plural, contested and constantly emergent, and are shifting in relation to each other. The analytical task is made more difficult here in that I contend that (1) transnational feminisms have been and remain among the significant forces constituting the WSF; (2) the degree to which this has been so is uneven across different time-spaces and scales of the WSF; (3) that transnational feminisms, understood as movement(s), politics and ethics, are making particular and irreducible contributions to contemporary emancipatory movements in and beyond the WSF; and (4) that these contributions should be made visible and claimed as feminist.

In focusing on 'transnational feminisms' at the WSF, this article will not do justice to the 'grassroots feminisms' of the host countries, nor the women's and feminist activisms in mixed movements which, in diverse expressions, are very apparent at each WSF. Localized, grassroots and popular feminisms, as well as women's groups in mixed movements, produce a plethora of small-scale, often uni-lingual, events at the WSF which can be invisible to feminists coming from outside, including those active in transnational feminist networks (Moghadam 2000). …

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