Power of the Word I > next story


I. The Global Crisis

In the ten years since the UN Women's Conference in Nairobi at the end of the Decade of Women, the world has changed so much as to become almost unrecognizable. Among these changes are:

  • The accelerating destruction of the environment, which makes earth's survival an open question.
  • A catastrophic subsistence crisis in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, brought about by the failures of the growth model of development and the imposition of structural adjustment policies, aided by the corruption of local ruling elites. Uneven development, conflicts over resources, and the threat of starvation have fanned ethnic rivalries, aggravated domestic tensions, and led to an unprecedented increase in the international traffic in women and children. Although Africa is the worst hit, even parts of Eastern Europe are now feeling a subsistence crisis, due to dislocations caused by war and their rush into market capitalism.
  • Vast movements of population from the countryside to the city and the global South 2 to the North in search of employment or fleeing war and famine. While these migrations have accelerated the disintegration of traditional forms of the family and fed ethnic and racial conflicts, they have also laid a potential foundation for new, culturally diverse societies.
  • The end to the Cold War period's uneasy equilibrium between socialist and capitalist "camps," and the triumph of the discourse of the North in its most extreme form—the dog-eat-dog world view of 19th century free market capitalism. In North America and the formerly communist countries of Eastern Europe, social and trade union protections and welfare state benefits of all kinds are being rolled back to encourage capital accumulation, which will supposedly create jobs. The consequences are devastating for children, the aged, and the women who must care for both in economies that offer them few options but unemployment, prostitution, and crime.
  • The release of previously stockpiled Cold War weapons and nuclear technology into the world, facilitating an epidemic of wars and civil conflicts in the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, Africa, West Asia, South Asia, and Latin America, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and creating vast refugee populations alienated from their land and self-sufficient production. A parallel development, especially in Latin America, has been the formation of paramilitary groups and narco-mafias that conduct private wars and land grabs against indigenous peoples, "dissidents," "subversives," and even street children. In response, some civil societies are becoming increasingly militarized, with large parts of the population buying arms as an answer to criminality, particularly where the state is perceived as inept or itself criminal.

  • The growing dominance of transnational corporations as a global force not accountable to any state or international body, ruling partly by economic domination and partly through a global monoculture that marginalizes or wipes out local and individual forms of cultural expression and autonomy.
  • The rise of religious fundamentalism, regional nationalisms, and communalism as political movements targeting women and ethnic minorities. The increasing internationalization and collusion of these movements raises the possibility of a worldwide reactionary movement similar to fascism in the 1920s and 30s.
  • The last ten years have also seen positive developments like the democratic revolution in South Africa, the dismantling of military dictatorships in Latin America, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the growth of civil societies in Eastern Europe. Struggles for social and economic justice, minority rights, national liberation, and the rights of indigenous peoples have begun to be linked by three international movements:

  • A world movement for human rights, including the rights of women, with visible impact on UN Conferences in Vienna, Cairo and Copenhagen. Despite an early history of being used as an instrument of Northern state policy, the international human rights movement has in recent years shown its potential to humanize justice by coupling demands for economic and social rights with personal and cultural ones.
  • A world movement for ecology which links the future of humanity with that of other species and the planet itself, in which feminists opposed to the growth model of economic development have begun to articulate an alternative that links sustainable livelihoods, bio- and cultural diversity, and gender rights.
  • The international women's movement, of which we are a part. Like any broad movement, this has contradictions over policy, priorities, and vision, yet it alone has the potential to create the conditions that will allow women to have a voice in determining their own fate and the fate of the world.

2 This is the term in current international usage for what was formerly called the Third World or the "developing world."back