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  • Oxfam GB

    EditorialAuthor(s): Caroline SweetmanSource: Focus on Gender, Vol. 2, No. 3, North-South Co-operation (Oct., 1994), pp. 1-5Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Oxfam GBStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4030236 .Accessed: 22/06/2014 09:36

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  • Editorial Caroline Sweetman

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    T his issue of Focus on Gender looks at the process of promoting co- operation between South, East and

    Northl towards achieving gender equity in development. As we approach Inter- national Women's Year in 1995, and the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing next September, it is critical to recognise that 'unlike the mainstream, which sees these events as the pinnacle of activities in a given issue area, women's movements throughout the world see [them] as merely one aspect of linking' (Reardon, 1995, forthcoming).

    As demonstrated in the article from the Women's Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) in this issue, international events are the culmination of long-term processes of networking and consultation between different stakeholders working on gender and development issues. The events themselves are comparable to the .op of an iceberg: what is visible is only a small part of a much larger and significant entity, which has formed over a long period of time. Far from underestimating the power of formal international gatherings, putting them into context in this way shows them to be important elements of a critical, and less visible, process, which is concerned with debate, dissent and the eventual building of alliances working to push gender issues forward at all levels.

    Building alliances for change demands

    that we pay as much attention to the differences which exist between women as to the areas where they agree: 'the international feminist movement is a truly anarchic movement in which any woman who feels committed and has something to say can contribute to the formulation of the vision of the future society. Some consider this as a weakness of the movement, others as its strength...' (Mies, 1986, 210). We recognise that women's differences are built, not only upon their different experience as individuals depending on factors including class, race, and ethnicity, but upon the different economic and political factors which affect life in each region of the world. Mary van Lieshout discusses the process of building alliances based on a wealth of different opinions and insights, in her article on lobbying.

    Nearly 30 years ago, the Haslemere Declaration2 stated that 'exploitation of the Third World is qualitatively similar to, and caused by, the same politio-economic factors which are the basis of poverty in Britain' (Haslemere Declaration 1968, 3). Now, as then, national and regional economics and politics, which determine the experience of different constituencies of women, are linked by powerful global trends.

    The Women in Development Europe network (WIDE) is currently developing a feminist economic analysis of the world

    Focus on Gender Vol 2, No. 3, October 1994

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  • 2 Focus on Gender

    economy. Wendy Harcourt, who is working on this project, argues in her article that neo-liberal economics and Western-style representative democracy, promoted by the multilateral agencies, are failing to address the problem of poverty in the South and East, just as they are in the North. A growing concentration of power in the hands of international corporations and Northern bodies is harming the livelihoods and morale of people on, and around, the survival line of all societies, across North, South, and East.

    Harcourt discusses the 'feminisation of poverty', arguing that common bonds of economic disadvantage link poor women in different regions, through the localised effects of the internationalisation of production, the growth of the trans- national corporations, expanding offshore financial markets, and the increasing importance of sophisticated information and communications technologies.

    Devaki Jain, the founder of Develop- ment Alternatives with Women for a New Era, (DAWN), takes Harcourt's analysis further, asserting that we are witnessing the evolution of a global economy which benefits the elite in all countries, and especially in the North. Jain presents her ideas on how to counter this: she asserts that now is the time to re-examine the possibilities offered by co-operation, between individuals and nations who have an alternative vision of a more just world order.

    Jain calls on women in North, South, and East to build an honest partnership for development, which respects the experience and knowledge of South and East. On this basis, a truly global analysis of the causes of worldwide poverty and grassroots disempowerment could be developed, to challenge the despair felt by many in the current global economic and political crisis.

    Building alliances Applying a gender analysis to the issue of North-South co-operation inevitably exposes the unequal power relations between funding agencies and their Southern partners, questioning what -we mean by partnership and, ultimately, our definitions of development. In her article, Gert Ranjo-Libang asserts that, in the absence of efforts to link to overcome the 'borders' which exist between us, distance, culture, and other barriers succeed in preventing women around the world from defining a common analysis and agenda.

    For some constituencies, global politics means that these 'borders' are almost insurmountable. In her article on a recent linking initiative between Chinese and European women, Nicola Macbean explores the potential of the Beijing Summit in promoting understanding of the complexities of Chinese women's lives, and questioning the over-simplistic analyses of this isolated culture.

    The existence of barriers to commun- ication between stakeholders in develop- ment has a high cost. Oxfam has set up initiatives to challenge the dominant pattern of communications between Oxfam staff and partners, which has tended to be one in which information travels up and down the North-South lines of commun- ication to head office and back, without direct South to South commun-ication taking place. These initiatives are the Women's Linking Project (WLP), and the South-South Environment Linking Project.

    A triangular 'South-North-South' communications model means an appalling loss of potential expertise and learning, and gives the North an often unquestioned position of power in facilitating communications. The process of linking, where different constituencies can overcome prejudices and learn from each other, is the first step to spreading enthusiasm and sharing the experience of best - and worst - development practice.

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  • Editorial 3

    Carola Carbajal argues that a dialogue where women make the links between their own experience, at 'micro-level' in each country, with the major, 'macro-level' economic and political trends which exist worldwide, is essential to achieve true North-South co-operation.

    The article on Oxfam's WLP stresses the innovatory nature of the WLP's Thailand meetings in enabling Oxfam's staff and partners, from all over the world, to meet and talk to one another. The WLP culminated earlier this year in two assemblies in Bangkok, Thailand. These were no ordinary conferences: rather, they sought to use the opportunity afforded by an international gathering to encourage South-South linking. In her article, Maria Suarez Toro explains the creative processes which went into planning an unorthodox conference where all participants could have a teaching, as well as a learning, role. The methodology adapted the partici- patory approaches used in feminist workshops to a larger-scale assembly.

    An example of the potential of linking - this time from South to North - for informing a powerful international analysis is shown by Vanete Almeida's examination of the women's and trade union movements in Brazil and the UK. Almeida visited the UK during stage one of Oxfam's WLP, and in her article draws interesting parallels between the situations of women activists in these two countries.

    Partnership: the ideal and the reality Women's linking initiatives, in common with all North-South development interventions, depend on funding from the North. How ca

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