The table around which we didn't sit

CSW has attracted 1000s of women to its proceedings this year, but there is a danger that we are just talking to ourselves. Two sessions on the financial crisis point to the change that is needed.

Women UN limited logo and linkThe CSW this year, as in previous years, has no shortage of discussion. There is enough going on every single day – main sessions, side sessions, caucuses, learning events, strategy meetings – that a 12 hour day is not unusual for NGO delegates.

But in my experience at least half of these conversations, and I think that might be generous, are periphery to the conversations that those in power are having. I’ve felt quite negative thinking that in the past. Because there is much that is very positive about the CSW and similar feminist takeovers of mainstream spaces. I wouldn’t want to lose that. But I have been wondering what impact it’s having, especially in light of the ongoing NGO frustrations and negotiations with the official delegations and procedures.

This question of what the powerful are doing and how feminists are influencing them came up concretely in both of the sessions on the financial crisis (pdf) I attended yesterday.

Speaking at the morning session on Gender Equality in Economic Crisis and Recovery: Getting the Macroeconomic Policies Right, which was sponsored by UNIFEM, AWID, IAFFE, CWGL, DAWN, UNGLS and WWG-FfD, Cecilia Alemany, Strategic Initiative Manager, AWID, WWG-FfD argued that ‘Women’s groups have been on the periphery of power’, staying in our comfort zones and speaking to ourselves rather than going to Washington to speak to the IFIs like the World Bank and the IMF. She asked, ‘Are we ready to deal with hard power? Not just the soft politics that has been relegated to women?’

Cecilia, who is based in Uruguay, feels that it is really important for feminists in the North and the South to stay connected and for advocates in the North to be grounding their work in the realities of women on the margins in the South. But she believes that while we are listening to each other, and we must continue to do this, we also need to talk to those that are not listening and do not want to listen. In her opinion, we need to be at CSW and also at the Security Council.

In the afternoon session, Emily Sikazwe, Executive Director, Women for Change for Zambia, Social Watch made the same case for engaging with the powerful. As she explained, ‘We cannot trust those that have been organizing things’ because, essentially, they have been lying. ‘The big boys bailed out the banks with money that women and children have been crying out for for many years.’ Money that we were told didn’t exist. Emily believes ‘It is time for the women’s movement to ask, "Who is shaping our world? What is the effect of this shaping by the powerful on women and girls?"’

Emily, like Cecilia, feels the women’s movement needs to ‘become practical’. She suggested organizing around the calendar of world meetings, finding out when sessions such as the G8 were happening, and coordinating ourselves to influence them. She asked ‘What is our agenda as the global women’s movement?....Globally we have a crisis to deal with, a crisis we did not create…. It is important for us to stand as the women’s movement and say ‘no’…. Instead of looking to the powerful to create spaces for ourselves, we must grab spaces.’

What Emily alluded to and which more people have begun to realize is that the financial crisis has revealed more clearly to more people that we somehow are able to find the money we need to solve the problems of the powerful when it becomes necessary, problems that the powerful themselves have created, but that this comes from taking money away from others – money that is in fact owed to others in the cases of land grabbing and un- or under-regulated resource extraction.

Emily’s call out was hugely popular amongst the participants in her session. She talked about decisions being made at ‘the table around which we didn’t sit.’ And shared an insight from a friend of hers that really summed it up for us: ‘If you’re not part of the table, then you are part of the menu.’

About the author

Zohra Moosa is Director of Programmes at Mama Cash an international women’s fund based in Amsterdam that supports women’s, girls and trans* rights groups around the world. Prior to this role she was Women’s Rights Advisor at ActionAid UK. Find her on twitter