BUILDING SOVEREIGNTY, PREVENTING HEGEMONY:
The Challenges for Emerging Forces in the Globalised World
International and Multidisciplinary Conference in the framework of a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the 1955 Bandung Asian-African Conference
Indonesia, October 27-31, 2015
The last century is remembered not just for the wars that devastated the world, but also for the rise of nationalism in the “third world” (formerly colonised countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America, called also developing countries, now the South) and the process of widespread decolonisation. Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) contributed to the historic movement and became a forum for the Third World to find one voice and to lay its claim to the world’s wealth, power, politics, history and culture. It became not just a significant force because it had numbers with it, but it was also a progressive force. It militated against ideas of oppression, colonialism, discrimination, racism, imperialism, neo-colonialism. Women’s movement became a part of the multi-pronged approach and ideology of NAM. Women’s agenda became one of undiminished importance over the years during all of the summits. It is largely owing to the experience and efforts of developing and non-aligned countries that the problem of the status of women is no longer seen only as an issue exclusively concerning the women’s movement, or as a humanitarian and legal problem. It has become one of the key questions of every country’s development. The International Women’s Decade (1975-85) led not only to a recognition of the needs and problems of women, especially the Third World women, but also to an awareness of the political power of the women’s movement.
There has been considerable criticism of research and studies into the status of women which were undertaken on a sectorial basis, entirely divorced from all circumstances of a given society. And we are familiar with the negative consequences of the type of development whose goal is maximisation of profits, merely economic growth (Women, Development and the Non-Aligned Movement, Vida Tomsic,1990). The experiences and perspectives of Third World women have been frequently erased, distorted and —in some instances even— manipulated both by dominant feminist discourses and by dominant geopolitical discourses following a dynamic and diffuse process. Long after the proclaimed demise of the second wave feminism in the academy, neoliberal feminist discourses continue to dominate within neocolonial geopolitical regimes. Conventional geopolitical discourses flatten the complexity of Third World women’s lives and ignore their diversely embodied, material and psychic realities within nations by emphasizing conflicts and alliances between nation-states.
Critical assessments of the erstwhile dominant frameworks of Third World, nation, race, caste, class, gender must inform newer paradigms for engaging with the gender question. The term ‘gender’ is often misconceived to imply ‘women’ or ‘females’. This seminar, however, adopts the notion of ‘Gender’ commonly shared by academic circles: culturally constructed different social roles for Men/Males and Women/Females. It often features the hierarchy consisting of the two sexes of humans who are ranked according to relative status or authority. Historians note that the modernity that started in Europe centuries ago and has been globalised by today represents an evolved but continued form of pre-modern patriarchy (“A system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it”, Oxford Dictionary of English), often aggravating existing patriarchal social structures at local levels. This hierarchy may result in stunning cases of inequality. For the economic sphere, UN reported: “Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property”.
Over the last decades, two central concepts have been re-imagined viz ‘space’ and ‘gender’. Gender is now seen as inscribed, via body practices, in the production of spaces. Exclusion of the heterogeneous from everyday practice and thought is reflected in the construction of the modern nation-state which has been crucial in the construction of the ideas of masculinity and patriarchy. Interrogating such ideas is one of the aims of this conference. While patriarchy generally is oppressive to women (whether practiced by local or foreign men), the Western (and Non-Western such as Japanese) imperialism represented a uniquely grave challenge to the females of the global South because it strongly featured their subalternity (e.g. African female slaves, Asian sexual slaves) over multiple continents and lasted for centuries. Although men suppressed the local males as well, the latter enjoyed better status than their female counterparts. For instance, some African and Asian men were given educational opportunities because the imperialists wanted the able local male agents to enhance their operation.
In the recent decades, the global economic system increasingly featured the ideology of Neoliberalism, which harks back to the 19th century type old-fashioned laissez-fare liberalism with no labour protection. Its dominant institutional form has been Multinational Corporation, which expanded from the West/North and moved their operations to wherever the labour was cheapest. These masculine ideology and institution have been accepted by the equally masculine patriarchal governments of the global South, who promised to provide cheap, hardworking and docile female labour forces who would not complain about their conditions. As repeatedly in history, the financial crises has illustrated how women’s rights and gender equality have been seriously undermined by economic, trade and fiscal policies that have increased militarisation, violence, poverty and inequality. While much of the relationship between development and gender inequality can be explained by the process of development, society-specific factors need to be studied. Poor countries by no means have a monopoly on gender inequality. Men earn more than women in essentially all societies. However, disparities in health, education, and bargaining power within marriage tend to be larger in countries with low GDP per capita. The empowerment and participation of women contributes to thriving economies, productivity and growth. Women’s human rights including equality and non-discrimination are articulated and promoted in numerous policy frameworks.
Gender justice as a process brings an additional essential element: accountability, which implies the responsibility and answerability of precisely those social institutions set up to dispense justice. The constitution of gender injustices can be red from basic contracts (formal or implicit) that shape membership in a range of social institutions—the family, the community, the market, the state, and even the institutions of religious establishment. Understanding the ideological and cultural justifications for women’s subordination within each arena can help identify how to challenge patterns of inequality. Aspects of global scarcities and power shifts (e.g. shifts from North to South) are adding additional dimensions. Individuals around the world need to continue developing their own views and expertise on the issue of gender justice; organizing needs to be primarily bottom up; and joint work needs to be a partnership of equals.
Specific themes envisioned to be discussed include the followings. Other themes are welcome.
Globalisation and Gender
Looking at the gender dimensions of globalisation is essential for promoting a “fair globalisation”. The most obvious reason for addressing gender issues is that women workers make up the overwhelming majority of the workforces of labour-intensive, export industries in developing countries. Women and men are differently, often unequally, positioned in the economy, perform different socially determined responsibilities, and face different constraints; thus, they are unlikely to respond in the same way to policies and market signals.
Culture and Gender
From a cultural evolutionary perspective (e.g., Sahlins & Service, 1960), cultural and gender differences are unlikely to be characterised by the same dimensions of the self. According to this view, symbolic culture develops in part as a means of adaptation to the social and natural environment. Can it be argued that gender difference may emerge within a particular ecosystem, whereas a cultural difference might emerge between different ecosystems?
Labour and Gender
The feminist approaches to this question largely can be divided into rational choice and structural constraints. Over time, there has been some convergence between these approaches as social norms and other structural constraints have been incorporated into choice-theoretic frameworks, but the differences remain. Can we think of reconciliation between these extremes? Should we think of an alternate view? This leads us to probe further the agency-structure debate and see if labour (formal & informal) and gender in the Third World can be understood in a way to throw up emancipatory alternatives and possibilities for change and effective gender sensitive labour policies.
Conflict and Gender
For feminists, power and control is the core of patriarchal violence. The twentieth century was characterised by numerous armed conflicts, authoritarian regimes, and genocidal episodes. These developments prompted research and policy initiatives on conflict prevention, resolution, and reconstruction activities, which have more recently begun to incorporate the insights of gender studies to better understand and respond to the impact conflict has on men and women.
New Social Movements and Gender
Social movements led by feminist, women’s and gender justice activists and movements still encounter strong resistance to changing gender politics and practices within movements and allied organisations. When it comes to making an impact on transforming gender power relations, social movements matter. Social movements are not inherently progressive. Religious fundamentalisms, neo-Nazism and ethnic nationalism have all been rooted in and propagated by social movements.
Education, Health and Gender
Education offers real opportunities to challenge gender stereotypes. Education about gender equality needs to be mainstreamed in all school and college programs. Challenges range from curricula to fighting neoliberal policies in education which promote a homogeneous history and stereotypes. Health too has traditionally been a big area for gender issues in Africa in the past and in the present in relation to challenges that are cultural and diseases like HIV AIDs and Ebola and need urgent attention. Making education and health accessible to the poorest too would be a part of the struggle for gender justice.
Livelihoods and Gender
Sustainable livelihood approaches in the context of access to different natural resources is an issue for further discussion. In the wake of development policies in most countries resulting in an expanding urban base and a shrinking rural economy, the livelihoods options for the erstwhile rural or semi-rural population (including the urban poor) become a major question. The challenges posed for women by the expanding informal economic activities are yet to be fully documented.
Environment and Gender
With concerns about degradation of the environment and pollution, women multiple interactions are often deemed to have the ‘special’ relationship with nature. The challenges faced by women as they try to adapt to changing environments are many and in some places are having to relocate or adapt in difficult circumstances with little resources too. Challenges of indigenous people like the Batwa and the San are many. This brings to question the nature-nurture debate as well as the need to re-imagine the roles of women in environmental movements worldwide, even today in many places women travel long distances to carry fuel wood and water for their homes.
International Politics and Gender
Since foreign and military policy-making has been largely conducted by men, the discipline that analyses these activities is bound to be primarily about men and masculinity. Nowhere is this truer than in international relations, a discipline that, while it has for the most part resisted the introduction of gender into its discourse, bases its assumptions and explanations almost entirely on the activities and experiences of men. Increased mobility of women across boarders as refugees and their kids is a big issue for different regions. The developing world has more serious problems than the developed world and issues related to women needs special attention.
Gender Disaggregated Data
It is increasingly being recognised that gender perspective has to be factored in the whole gamut of development process. Collection of gender disaggregated data and information is critical to understand gender gaps in vital areas for enabling actions by policy makers and practitioners. But, the existing terminologies related to women are so many, thereby indicative of the need for standardisation and uniformity in the varied terminologies when we explore data related to women across different data sources.
Ms Seema Mehra Parihar, India (Assoc. Prof. Dr., Geography, University of Delhi)
Ms Bev Sithole, Zimbabwe/Denmark
Ms Yanti Kusumanto, Indonesia/Netherlands