Introduction to Women's Bodies, Gender Analysis, Feminist Politics at the Forum Social Mundial

By Roskos, Laura; Willis, Patricia | Journal of International Women's Studies, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Introduction to Women's Bodies, Gender Analysis, Feminist Politics at the Forum Social Mundial


Roskos, Laura, Willis, Patricia, Journal of International Women's Studies


The Social Forum Phenomenon

Long before there was any mainstream buzz about globalization, economists like Heidi Hartman, Nancy Folbre and Julie Matthaei alerted us to the worldwide feminization of poverty. Not long afterward, women from around the world pulled together to lobby that a general recommendation addressing violence against women to be added to the international convention on women's rights. Today, no one doubts that the negative effects of globalization hit women harder or that women are the obvious canaries in the mineshaft of a new world order. Yet women organized as women or as a movement to advance their own interests have not been the most visible constituency in the antiglobalization convergence as it has shown itself at transnational protests or at the celebratory World Social Forum.

The first World Social Forum was held in Porto Alegre, Brazil in January 2001 as a reaction to the World Economic Forum conducted each year in Davos, Switzerland by the world's corporate and governmental elites. The first WSF organizers were French and Brazilian men who were concerned about the catastrophic global economic situations facing the world's poor and marginalized. They attributed the rapid deterioration of these conditions to the hegemonic capitalistic practices of the world's 'haves' whose policies, they believe, have created more 'have nots' at alarming speed while rendering the world environmental state unlivable for many. This inaugural social forum gathered approximately 19,000 attendees and was considered such a success that a second was planned for the following year.

As more activists and organizers learned about this venue, which sought to facilitate progressive activism and strategizing, women, who had not been fully included, began to try to enter WSF spaces as attendees and as organizers. One organization, the World March of Women, which by 2001 had already had years of experience organizing women to participate in globally synchronized events, was present from the beginning. Through their persistence and investment of organizational resources of time and money into the WSF, the World March of Women did acquire some access to decision-making, organizing and some influence on, WSF policies. Their experience has been the exception rather than the rule, and representatives of the World March of Women still recognize problems with the lack of participation by women in numbers similar to men and, importantly, the intrusion of patriarchal attitudes and behaviors in WSF planning.

Where we enter

The vision for this special issue on "Women's Bodies, Gender Analysis, and Feminist Politics at the Forum Social Mundial" emerged out of experiences that coeditors Pat Willis and Laura Roskos had during and after their involvement in organizing for the Boston Social Forum (BSF), an event held in July 2004. The BSF was the first social forum in the United States to be held under the auspices of the World Social Forum (WSF) and its guiding regulations, the Charter of Principles. (2) At the BSF, we and the other feminist organizers involved with the Women's Web, a "track" of 30 programs by and about women, had some disappointing interactions with the male organizers in charge of the overall event. Following months of intense but also occasionally euphoric organizing, these interactions generated a range of reactions in our colleagues and ourselves, ranging from surprise to outrage to dismay. Our decision to try to discover how other women/feminists had experienced and negotiated social fora around the globe was fueled by our need to create a deeper context for understanding these experiences and emotions. (3) In addition, as feminist activists, faced daily with decisions about where to put our time and energy, we wanted to know if the World Social Forum was worth the trouble engagement with it seemed inevitably to bring.

Later, in October of that same year, Pat attended the 3rd European Social Forum (ESF), which was held in London. …

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