Women Redefining Democracy

Alda Facio
7 May 2009

The proposed Second International Conference: Women Redefining Democracy will build on those understandings. It will challenge the dominant notion of democracy as being rooted to the presence of elections organized by competing political parties in which the party that wins the election takes control of government and winning candidates acquire the authority to shape public policy through legislation and control over administration. And, just as the first conference concluded that there can be no peace without justice and equality, I am hoping that in this second one, we can all agree that the dominant understanding of democracy doesn’t even amount to formal democracy which has always been understood as a form of government of the people, for the people and by the people. As peace needs to be built from the intimate to the international levels, so too must democracy be built from ourselves outwards as was so well synthesized in the '80s by the Latin American feminist slogan: “we want democracy in our countries and in our homes” (Democracia en el pais y en la casa). This slogan is, in turn, located in the ideology affirmed by millions of women around the globe: there can be no justice without human rights and no human rights without women’s rights.

Women’s unique ability to redefine the above patriarchal notion of democracy stems from our own varied experiences of resisting discrimination, insecurity and human rights violations in our bodies, homes, communities, schools, churches, workplaces, governments, countries and internationally.

Yet these experiences have been made invisible, have been distorted or seen as unworthy of note by historians, political analysts, the media and other “experts”. This has skewered most people’s understanding of democracy, keeping us tied to a very masculine perspective of “control and authority through numbers”, rather than “rights and legitimacy for all”. In order for us to move beyond the “male experience” of democracy, built on dichotomic notions of majorities and minorities, formal powers and the factual powers, the public and the private sphere, this conference offers a space for participants to share the myriad ways in which women are resisting patriarchy, including all its contemporary manifestations, and in doing so, redefining democracy.

This sharing will make visible the issues, obstacles, responses and solutions that women of different ages and abilities and from diverse ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds experience on a daily basis in their isolated work for peace: whether this work is for survival, equality, security, human rights or democracy. Such a sharing will help us see the common thread that links our struggles, enabling us, individually and collectively, to design more holistic approaches. Women all over the world have much to offer on issues such as:

  • The crisis of democracy worldwide: is it really a crisis of democracy or a crisis generated by the realization that democracies characterised by “control and authority through numbers” cannot guarantee security?

  • The financial crisis: how are women defining and coping with it? Will we be able to see it as an opportunity to understand once and for all that the control of most resources by so few people can only lead to social and environmental violence and anarchy for all?

  • The many old and new faces of State violence and corruption: can violence against women in all its forms reveal the links between State violence, State-condoned violence, corruption and organized crime?

  • Relevance and importance of women’s place at the decision making table: will we need a completely new table or is women’s participation possible in its present shape? What do women need to participate meaningfully in defining democracy, what will women bring to a table that will alter the discourse foundationally?

The first panel will set the stage for the conference, situating the conversation in the present context and moment (financial crisis, growing violence and corruption, environmental degradation, climate change, organized crime, etc.) with a decidedly critical view of the dominant notion of democracy from a women’s perspective infused with a good amount of hope. It is women’s ancestral refusal to lose hope in the face of even extreme oppression which will allow participants to continue to make the connections between democracy, peace, equality, inclusion, justice and human rights – some of the core interconnected themes of the conference.

I am looking forward to the conference agreeing that what has come to be understood as “democracy” is really just another form of Patriarchy which not only excludes most women from enjoying their most basic human right to equality, but actually oppresses the majority of people. I am also hoping that the conference will highlight how, in spite of our exclusion or marginalization, women continue to work within and outside the structures of power to redefine democracy.

The conference is structured in such a way that each new session will bring ever more integrated understandings of how women, with their local, regional and international visions and strategies, are resisting violence, authoritarianism, corruption, environmental and other forms of destruction of life on this planet which pass for democratic. At the end of the conference, the laureates will transmit to the rest of the world a collective vision of democracy which I am hoping will be construed as a form of government that respects, protects, and fulfills each person’s human right, The laureates will share this new definition of democracy with a global society in desperate need of new forms of government which are inclusive and reflective of the aspirations of our rich diversity as humans, and seek to ensure equality, peace and justice for all of us.

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