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 Some Thoughts on the State of the Global Women’s Movement
 Carol Barton and Ammu Joseph, international
 April 23, 2003
Women activists from several world regions have increasingly tried to put their thoughts on paper regarding the state of the global women’s movement in the midst of recent dramatic and often devastating world events. This issue of IWTC Women’s GlobalNet focuses on the thoughts of Carol Barton of the Women’s International Coalition for Economic Justice (WICEJ) and Ammu Joseph, co-editor with Kalpana Sharma of "Terror Counter-Terror: Women Speak Out" [Kali for Women, New Delhi, 2003]. Ammu was also one of 10 communications experts who participated in the UN/DAW Expert Group Meeting on women and the media, held in Beirut, November 2002 as part of the preparations for the 47th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, March 2003.

Ammu Joseph, in an article for the Hindustani Times entitled "Women’s Rights at Stake," writes:

A dramatic development shocked most delegates and observers on the last day of the 47th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York. Only half an hour before the 15-day session was to end, Iran's representative, supported by delegates from Egypt and Sudan, rose to register his government's objection to paragraph (o), which read: Condemn violence against women and refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination.

They were not prepared to have their reservations on the paragraph officially recorded after the document had been adopted by consensus in its entirety. Nor were other delegations willing to drop the paragraph so that the rest of the document could be adopted by consensus.

The session was suspended in the absence of consensus on the agreed conclusions relating to women's human rights and the elimination of all forms of violence against women, and delegates were told they would be informed about a fresh date for the resumption of work.

Carol Barton writes:

I think the failure of a negotiated agreement on the violence item at the CSW goes far beyond the possible weakness of the chair. The CSW took place parallel to the Security Council negotiations around war in Iraq, in the days right before the war began. It was increasingly clear that the US was planning to act unilaterally if it could not get SC approval. There is already a two-year history of the Bush Administration doing everything to undermine multilateral agreements, including the historic first of "unsigning" support of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Then we have the recent history of the Children's Summit +10 and the Asia-Pacific Population Conference, where the US and other religious conservatives openly tried to backtrack on agreed conclusions. In this climate, countries that are usually willing to compromise became intransigent in the CSW process. We understand that this is currently occurring again at the Commission on Human Rights. It reflects a polarized world driven by a nation functioning from imperial might, that would only use the UN for rubber-stamping and to clean up its messes.

It's important to know that the CSW negotiations mark a dangerous new play on the part of fundamentalist countries (which includes the US). These were not "negotiations" on the text of the Beijing platform or B+5. Nonetheless, when the member states tried to fall back on agreed language from those documents as a consensus position, the conservative forces refused to do so. There was an explicit refusal to use Beijing language.

What is critical but hard to imagine right now in the context of the US invasion of Iraq, is how we re-build multilaterism and negotiations when raw power is running wild. While this is initiated in the US, it is supported by those governments that want the favors the US has to offer. Current efforts to invoke the "uniting for peace" resolution of the General Assembly to condemn the invasion are hampered by US threats to member states. As NGOs we are in an awkward position. It is more urgent than ever to support the UN as an autonomous player, and to strengthen multilaterism. At the same time, we are averse to allowing the UN to be used and manipulated by the US or other member states for their ends.

As Arundhati Roy eloquently put it, "now (the UN is) the world's janitor. She's the Filipino cleaning lady, the Indian jamadarni, the postal bride from Thailand, the Mexican household help, the Jamaican au pair. She's employed to clean other peoples' shit. She's used and abused at will."

We would hope the UN will articulate its legitimate role as an administrator of resources, justice and transition in a post-war situation, even if realpolitik does not allow it to play that role. Some of the rage at this situation is reflected in failed negotiations in recent weeks at the UN. We are also witnessing the potential rise of inter-imperialist rivalries, which historically have led to two world wars. This is a very dangerous moment in history.

Perhaps our street mobilizations, taking place around the world, will be the most important way to impact global negotiations, by strengthening the backbone of many countries (or forcing a change in leadership).

To contact Ammu Joseph, write to:

To contact Carol Barton, write to:

This issue was researched and produced by Anne S. Walker.

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The International Women's Tribune Centre (IWTC) is an international non-governmental organization, working to improve the lives of women, particularly low-income women, in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Western Asia.

From IWTC Women’s GlobalNet, issue no. 228, April 23, 2003.