| Women's rights and development |
Discussion following these three very varied presentations centred on two main topics: institutions, and the nature of the globalised economy.
Women and the globalised economy
There was debate around the extent to which the globalised economy touches ordinary people in the world. Swasti Mitter had suggested in her paper that the global economy's outreach was in fact quite limited in the developing world, since 76 per cent of total foreign direct investment to developing countries is concentrated in ten developing countries of Asia and Latin America, while Africa was losing out in the globalization process. This puts half or more of the world's population beyond the periphery of the globalised economy, and gives the lie to the arguments of international financial institutions that the global capitalist model is a fait accompli to which there is no alternative. If most people are left outside the global economic model, then there is room for the development of alternatives.
An opposite view was put forward by Devaki Jain, who considered that, on the contrary, globalization reaches every household in the world, especially in Africa and Asia, and is especially affecting women. Its presence is felt not only in employment and production, but in consumption, in the social impact of structural adjustment, and in the conflict and violence resulting from the inequalities and injustices implicit in the neo liberal model.
Despite this universal outreach, however, economic globalization is not a unifying force. Indeed, there is evidence that the industrialized workforce is a new site of confrontation between North and South, as production is shifted around the world in search of ever cheaper and more compliant labour. More specifically, one participant identified the female industrial workforce as the terrain on which international economic and labour battles are currently being fought out. Thus the building of international solidarity around women's labour rights is crucial.
It is important, however, to distinguish between different groups of women in different countries, when demands are being formulated. What is the common ground, and what are the differences that must be recognised, between rural women producing cashew nuts in Guinea Bissau, women working in export processing zones in the Dominican Republic, and home workers in Britain?
It was noted that some demands for women's rights should be directed towards the corporate sector; but we must also remember that the corporate sector will never meet some demands, even if it can; and at this point responses must be sought in the new role of the state.
Institutions and the'patriarchal pot'
Many participants identified strongly with the situation described so graphically in Sara Longwe's paper, which resonated with their experiences in their own institutions. The 'patriarchal pot' is clearly a common feature of development agencies, academic institutions, and government bodies.
Daniela Colombo's experience of losing control and ownership of her work for the European Commission was a case in point. Her inputs into the EU draft policy paper on gender and development had simply evaporated, and it was important to find out why, at what point in the process, and who was responsible. Sara reminded participants of the importance of uncovering the patriarchal pot in each of their own institutions. Institutions need to be called to account for not matching their practice to their theory or their rhetoric.
One of the ingredients of the patriarchal pot is language. Devaki Jain was troubled by the differentiation between academic and activist discourses. Academic language can be mystifying and excluding, and is often designed to be so, and feminists are not exempt from this fault. A seminar held by UNRISD (United Nations Research Institute on Social Development) on mainstreaming gender in development policy was cited as an example of alienating language.
On the other hand, it was pointed out that gender and development activists and experts have to use the language understood by the people with whom we are negotiating. If European bureaucrats do not take us seriously unless we speak their language, then we have to learn and use that language in order to maintain a dialogue with them.
In fact, it was suggested, these differences reveal that there is scope for a different kind of alliance, an alliance between development NGOs, academics, and women's organizations. People working in NGOs and concentrating on day-to-day practical work often have no time to do research or to think about the theoretical issues that underpin their work. On the other hand, academics have the facilities to do the research but are often far removed from the realities of everyday life. Each activity is valuable and necessary, and a meeting ground should be sought where research and activism can complement each other. This requires greater cooperation between academic and activist institutions.