Another World Via "Diversity?"

By Cochrane, Regina | Women & Environments International Magazine, Fall/Winter 2004 | Go to article overview
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Another World Via "Diversity?"

Cochrane, Regina, Women & Environments International Magazine

Eco/Feminism at the 2004 World Social Forum

The World Social Forum (WSF), according to its website, is "an open meeting place where groups and movements of civil society opposed to neoliberalism and a world dominated by capitalism or by any form of imperialism ... come together" to share experiences, debate ideas, and network for action. France's Association for the Taxation of Fair Transactions for the Aid of Citizens (ATTAC) and some Brazilians affiliated with LuIa da Silva's social democratic Worker's Party (PT) initiated the first WSF in the PT-stronghold of Porto Alegre in January, 2001 as a countergathering to the World Economic Forum. Approximately 15,000 people participated; attendance rose to 60,000 in 2002 and 100,000 in 2003. The 2004 WSF, which I attended, took place from January 16 to 21 in Mumbai, India, and attracted as many as 130,000 participants.

Although it is best known for its signature slogan "another world is possible" - a challenge to the neoliberal dictum that "there is no alternative" to globalized capitalism, the WSF has another defining maxim. It calls for "no single way of thinking." The forum questions not only the monolithic economic system of corporate globalization but also the "unitary" politics of an authoritarian, hierarchical Marxist left that has tended to reduce all oppression to class. The "other world" advocated by the WSF is therefore one that is built on respect for diversity, inclusiveness, and the possibility of many alternative worlds. As Peruvian Virginia Vargas, of Articulacion Feminista Marcosur (AFM), emphasized at the 2002 WSF, "to achieve [another world], there is no one recipe, nor any single alternative or actor, but rather a multiple range of social stakeholders contributing their manifold forms of resistance."

Indeed, diversity is an apt motif for the WSF. The WSF's actors include "delegates" from NGOs, trade unions, indigenous and peasant movements, women's groups, environmental movements, Church-affiliated bodies, organizations advocating on behalf of racial/ethnic and sexual minorities, youth groups, and activist collectives as well as individual, academic, and media "observers." The forum itself encompasses a myriad of events - plenary sessions, conferences, public and solidarity meetings, panels, roundtables, workshops, seminars, cultural events, rallies, and marches - featuring a multinational cast of participants, predominantly from the South, communicating in many languages and espousing divergent political views. These events address many intersecting themes that are implicated in a number of social struggles and a multiplicity of specific campaigns. The WSF sees such diversity as necessary to include and respond to oppression and resistance in all spheres of life. The WSF only excludes representatives of governments, political parties and organizations that engage in armed struggle from participating.

Given the severe impact of neoliberalism on women, and second-wave feminism's rise out of a patriarchal New Lett that marginalized women's concerns, the WSF's attempt to create an open, inclusive, and "horizontal" space in which to challenge corporate globalization is especially interesting to feminists. As Canadian Dianne Matte, who coordinates the World March of Women, emphasizes, "another world, without feminism, ... is impossible." Indeed, the Forum's challenge to monolithic thinking is central to contemporary feminist debates focusing on the notion of "diversity." Although it involves some worthy aspirations and efforts, the WSF's project to foster the birth of another world via diversity ultimately turns out to be problematic one.

Feminism and Ecofeminism at the Mumbai Social Forum

The first three Forums drew heavily from the relatively affluent and mostly European-origin population in Porto Alegre and environs and were largely white, male-dominated, middle-class affairs. In contrast, the Mumbai Forum was predominantly non-white and women played a prominent role.

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