Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Gender in the Bamako Polycentric World Social Forum (2006): Is Another World Possible?

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Gender in the Bamako Polycentric World Social Forum (2006): Is Another World Possible?

Article excerpt


This paper (2) explores a gender analysis of the Bamako Polycentric World Social Forum, 2006. Thus far, gender has been marginalized in the World Social Forum process, despite the progressive tone of the project for "another world", indirectly alluding to gender equality. The Bamako WSF 2006 is an interesting case study to assess gender institutionalisation, as for the first time African women activists were massively integrated into the discussions. Additionally, national organizers dedicated a specific venue for gender issues, the Women's World. What was the impact of these two features for the "engendering" of the WSF?

Keywords: gender, social movements, Africa, anti-globalization


The World Social Forum (WSF) has been organized every year since 2001. It offers a global space for critical social movements and aims at "building a new world of solidarity" (WSF Charter of Principles 2001). It has created a considerable amount of enthusiasm amongst the women's movements. Indeed, the WSF Charter of Principles (3) stresses the destructive effects of corporate-driven globalization, among which sexist dimensions are enhanced (article 11). It also "condemns all forms of domination and all subjection of one person by another" (article 10), while promoting a participative form of democracy within the WSF, undertaking decisions "without directing, hierarchizing, censuring or restricting them" (article 7). The WSF appears to be a counter hegemonic space where social justice is a goal and power relations are more fluid.

Hence, the women's movements seized this new opportunity to advocate for gender equality. (4) From the beginning, feminists, women's rights activists, and gender advocates have been pro-active in the WSF's process. Participation in the WSF potentially offers them additional organizational and discursive capacities in two ways. Firstly, transnational networking had been captured by United Nations conferences on women and other institutional events (Falquet 2003): the WSF renews and widens networking possibilities. Secondly, by reframing their concerns in the wake of antiglobalization struggles, the women's movements may benefit from new (or at least renewed) arguments for gender advocacy.

Since the second half of the 1990s, women's movements have reassessed their strategies; they had been involved in the different UN conferences (Vienna in 1993, Cairo in 1994, Beijing in 1995) and their follow-up meetings (Beijing +5 in 2000, for instance), where they succeeded in introducing gender equality into the international agenda. Yet, these efforts yielded meagre concrete results and new analyses emerged linking the persistence of gender imbalance with the global neoliberal regime:

   Any possibility for more significant changes in the rights and life
   conditions of most women were in effect blocked by the
   intensification of neoliberal globalisation, the ever more dramatic
   rolling back of the State, structural adjustment processes, and the
   concomitant erosion of citizenship and social policies (Alvarez,
   Faria and Nobre 2003: 200).

As the WSF is the most enduring expression of the anti-globalisation movement, it raised important hopes within the women's movements.

Yet, the WSF has not fulfilled all its promises. Since the beginning, criticisms have emerged concerning both the marginalization of women as participants (especially in the panels dominated by men) and of gender as an issue. For instance, the World March of Women, a major transnational feminist network, wrote a declaration at the end of the Porto Alegre 2003 WSF which stated:

   We nevertheless saw that women's presence remains marginal and is
   only "politely tolerated". We are still a long way from achieving
   genuine dialogue on the role of women and feminism in the
   construction of another world (World March of Women 2003: 234). … 
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