The Center for Global Justice’s Conference “Women and Globalization” Reviewed

Betsy Bowman
The Center for Global Justice
Saturday, October 1, 2005
The signature image of the Center for Global Justice’s summer 2005 conference “Women and Globalization” was a photo by Norma Suarez of an angry, strong and determined, pregnant, indigeneous woman holding a machete in her lowered hand. Immediately the viewer understands that the conference’s view of globalization is that it is threatening not only women, but also the future life of humankind.Understanding this global threat requires not only the research of academics but also dialogue with those in the different social movements building alternatives. Those involved in the day-to-day construction of alternatives benefit from theoretical presentations of social and economic problems and from reviews of past experiments of how women have survived over thousands of years of patriarchy. The Center for Global Justice is dedicated to this dialogue between researchers and social movement workers. 

The presenters at this year’s conference included 56 academics and 17 activists (only seven of whom were men). Artists’ works are also significant in this discussion; two art exhibits curated by Acosta (at Recreo) and Quiroz (at the Kunsthaus Gallery) complemented the presentations as well as three performances (Skinner, Monteagudo and Barrera Pontillo) and three videos. The combined 185 presenters and participants from over 12 countries discussed how the human species is being threatened economically, culturally, politically and environmentally by globalization and also why. Many of the presenters’ papers are available on the Center’s web site in both English and Spanish. Here is a brief review of points raised by some of the presenters; authors’ names are given parenthetically. Let this be your guide into our treasure chest of papers in this website.

Since the 1995 UN Beijing Conference on Women and the series of anti- IMF, World Bank and WTO demonsrations which started in 1999, a truly international network of anti-poverty and alter-globalization researchers and activists has come into being. Vasallo opened the conference with an enumeration of positive things women want from globalization: global solidarity, global resistance and fight against the power of money, global attention to the needs of people, and a global economic model of sustainable development which conserves the planet. Burnham continued the opening plenary describing how the US has undergone an austerity program since the 1980’s with a net increase in poverty and hunger. Outside the US, it is not commonly known that the US has also undergone “structural adjustment programs” like third world countries aimed at cutting the so-called social safety net’s public expenditures for needs such as health and education.

Several people discussed migration as a response to globalization. It is not a good response, but it is one solution. Emigration of peoples from the Philippines, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador and other countries with the sending of remittances back home is one response to globalization’s further underdevelopment of third world countries with its increasing unemployment, destruction of domestic industries, and separation of peoples from their means of subsistence (Cuesta, Pacheco Ladron de Guevara, Chavez, Garcia, Zarate Hoyos).

The ideology of the current Bush Administration in the US and its roots in a militaristic, masculinist and male-dominant world view was analyzed by Ferguson and Mann. If the consequences of such an ideology weren’t so murderous and tragic, it would be comical.

It is not just seemingly invisible economic forces of globalization meting out such misery world wide, it is also government policy. One example from the US is of a woman wh ohad a still-born child; this resulted in her jailing for murder due to alleged drug use during pregnancy which killed her fetus. (Martinot) In Poland, divorce is encouraged by government policy which cuts subsidies for children to married couples (Hryciuk).

One ugly truth that came home to me again and again is that the flip side of globalization is debt peonage. Most third world countries are laden with mountains of debt previously incurred and pocketed by corrupt leaders and their friends in the international contracting and construction businesses. Governments skew their national economies to promote exports which will bring in the needed revenue for the governments to pay off their foreign debt. Money borrowed during the 1970’s and 1980’s for huge infrastructure projects and other projects benefitted primarily huge international construction firms (Halliburton, Bechtel) rather than the general populations. The citizens of these same countries who didn’t benefit from the loans in the 1970’s and 1980’s are being squeezed even more today to pay off the loans. In many countries, the people themselves are exported in order for their home governments to earn revenues to pay off their loans. “In several Asian countries the export of people has displaced export of commodities as the major source of foreign exchange revenue.” (Lindio McGovern).

Increased sexual and domestic violence against women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and around the world was described. Sex trafficking of women and children from the Philippines, Mexico, Nigeria, Eastern Europe and other countries is rapidly increasing. All too often promises of jobs in foreign countries end in sex slavery (Fregoso, Kozma, Ledesma Ortega, Lindio McGovern, Khan, Langman).

Environmental crisis, lack of access to potable water and arable land — these are other problems exacerbated by globalization (Davila Poblete, Sanchez Gonzalez, Sucar).

Positive solutions to globalization’s miseries were celebrated. From the victories of the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil (Vincente de Slva, dos Santos Fernandez) and the successes of the Unemployed Workers of Argentina (Monteagudo, Bordegaray, Crivelli, Freytes Frey, Cross, Partenio) to organizing domestic workers (Ally) to organizing producer and women’s cooperatives in Mexico (Curiel Lomeli, Millan, Trigg, Lungren, Lopez) to the struggle of the Zapatistas in Mexico (Villanueva Vazquez, Canales), successful strategies for surviving globalization were shared among academics and activists.

Emigration, domestic violence, increased hunger and poverty, etc., are direct results of the celebrated “new economy” of the 1990’s, i.e. the Walmartization of the world’s economies.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Global Studies Association.