by Glory Mushinge
Africa recently hosted the World Social Forum, which was held in Nairobi, Kenya from the 20th to 25th of January.
Like always, the preparations towards this event, like with many other events like this, carried so much excitement, and a lot of work and money was spent in order to carry out the event successfully.
However, despite whatever expectation one would have had about this, it was no different from past social fora. We heard the same enchantments and themes about problems and issues we have heard about in the past. It was the same people making similar presentations, with new presenters only adding their voices to similar concerns.
Things will be the way they have always been and discussions of vigor will be at hand as usual. But is that merely what the participants of this big event want? They call for change, for abolition of certain programmes that are perceived to be unfriendly or oppressive to humanity, but never have strategies on making sure their calls are heeded.
Years come and go and social forum after social forum have been held to discuss issues that affect society. What next?
Social forums are a very good initiative, especially because they are open to so many people of various backgrounds regardless of status and class, and this is a place where people feel welcome and are therefore free to express themselves and talk about what affects them. This is where you see people that come wanting very much to be part of enchantments and all, but who do not have much to offer in providing solutions to problems.
At the end of the day, it looks just like some sort of entertainment forum where people who are bored gather to find some source of amusement. I have seen people who just go to the event to merely walk around the premises and town where the event is held, sightseeing while not being part of any meaningful activity. At times, in cases where people have to travel outside the country and are given full sponsorship, they just use it as an opportunity to get allowances for shopping, as another chance for globetrotting.
One example is the issue of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which the social movements feel is not good for the countries in the south. The forum called for its abolition and the implementers are saying, yes, we are willing to listen and probably abolish the programme, but could you come up with alternatives?
This is a serious challenge—when one opposes something, they should be willing to have a proposal, so that they justify their stance and help to create a solution. But all we heard were slogans against the EPA...and no solutions.
If the social movements who comprise the majority at these fora are to be taken seriously by the powers that be, they should be willing to provide solutions to the problems they highlight and take a further step to engage in discussions with policy makers and implementers, then their messages will be driven home and probably yield positive results.
Can we discuss and come up with strategies? Can we walk the talk?
Feminists claim their place….as they call for a gender just world
The World Social Forum (WSF) 2007 that recently took place in Nairobi, Kenya (January 20 – 25), saw women’s activities taking centre stage, with a variety of thought-provoking issues being raised by representatives of different women’s networks and movements around the world.
The women noted that they were more determined than ever to make their presence and voice more visible and audible.
They used a meeting called the Feminist Dialogue to table their issues and have them heard, understood and acted upon, saying the WSF was a very appropriate platform for them to do that.
The women’s vibrancy in this space borders on the beliefs that another world is possible, only if it is a gender just world.
They have in the past noted that, despite women participating in large percentages at the WSF, their articulation was not reflected in the formulation and focus of the forum, hence the establishment of the Feminist Dialogues and the subsequent rise in number of women participating over the years.
From 162 women participants at the WSF 2003 in Mumbai, India, to about 250 at the WSF 2004 in Porto-Allegro, Brazil, the number continues to rise along with increased and heightened activities.
The theme for this year’s FD was Feminists Transforming Democracies: Visions and Strategies. In this year’s forum, the women’s calendar was packed with events, starting with three days of pre-forum discussion, which had women from diverse backgrounds calling for a better place for women in the world at all levels.
They called for the rights to sexuality, expression, decision-making at the house, national and international level, to shelter, land and clean water, and other basic amenities.
During the forum, their activities involved a march and rally on the 23rd of January, which started from the main gate at Nairobi’s Kasarani sports complex, where the forum was held.
The rally had women participants singing, clad in colourful attires that depicted their respective countries dress.
Other events included a round table dialogue with the youth and a session called the Women’s Courts, where testimonies from women who have been, or are being, abused were presented.
Although the majority of speakers being from Africa, for the simple reason that Africa was hosting the event, the speakers comprised women representatives from all regions. They led the process of passing slogans, in place of formal speeches, as well as expressing different cultures and expressions.
They described the 23rd January as Activism Day.