(Originally published in Guyana’s Stabroek News on 21 April 2012)
Picture this: the world’s brightest women on economics coming together with thousands of women’s rights advocates from around the world to address the global economic situation as it applies to the female half of the world’s population. What a dream!
This dream is reality for me this weekend in Istanbul, Turkey as I attend the Association for Women’s Rights and Development’s (AWID) 12th forum entitled, “Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice.”
AWID is an international feminist membership organisation that works to strengthen the voice, impact and influence ofwomen’s rights advocates, organisations and movements internationally to effectively advance the rights of women.
I came to this forum to get a better sense of the global scope of the women’s rights movement. With 2,200 women’s rights advocates from over 100 nations, I am getting that and so much more. It is beyond my ability to describe the feeling of seeing a sea of Sisters from around the world greet and encourage each other.
Although I love to travel, this is the first time I have ventured to a country where I cannot speak even one word of the native language, which in this case is Turkish. It has been only a slight inconvenience. I am here with another human rights advocate from Guyana to learn as much as we can to bring back to our work in Guyana.
This is my first time attending an event of this size on an international level. We have met Sisters from India, the Congo, Australia, Greece, Turkistan, Sudan, Mexico, and Guatemala; in fact, we have met so many Sisters from so many countries that I can not even remember them all to make a proper list.
You would think that with the convergence of so many cultures into one conference centre there would be an element of fragmented suspicion at least, and, at worst, open hostility over bitter international relations. That is absolutely not the case. On the contrary, we greet each other with a hug and a kiss. There is genuine affection and concern for each other and marked interest in the work each Sister does in her respective country.
This conference has inspired me to believe that a global Sisterhood is not only a possibility, but to understand that it already exists. While working on women’s issues in Guyana, one can be so focused on important local issues (like the fact that Top Cop Henry Greene may actually get his job back, after dodging a rape charge) it is easy to lose sight of the larger global picture.
One of the primary reasons I came to Istanbul was to learn more about how global and local economics impact women. I can easily grasp social and political aspects as they apply to women, but understanding economics has always been a problem for me, even in general, much less on a more specific basis concerning women.
Yet I am not one to be daunted by a subject I do not understand. The answer to everything we want to learn rests in study and research. I came to Turkey with the clear intention of leaving with a better understanding of how economic issues – like the budget currently being debated in Guyana – apply to the women.
Imagine my extreme pleasure to realise there are so many brilliant women who not only comprehend the economic situation in their own countries, but also have in-depth knowledge about economics on a broader, worldwide scale. It was also a pleasure to realise that these women want to teach the rest of us what they know so we can use this information to improve the lives of other women.
In fact, as my colleague and I left a particular interactive session on Thursday a bit confused and befuddled about some of the views expressed on micro-financing, we happened across the path of a brilliant woman who was a speaker at the first general session. She took the time to listen to our queries and explain the other views we had encountered, which in turn helped us to see possible pitfalls that should be avoided.
To be sure, women are often left out of economic decisions. The world’s dominant economic systems were built by the patriarchy, giving little thought to the significant roles women play in the financial well-being of the world. For example, the unpaid labour produced by women (i.e., childcare and housekeeping, cooking) can be seen as subsidies to the capitalist system practiced in many countries around the world. Without such subsidies, capitalism would fall.
In fact, according to UN gender reports, women perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50% of its food, earn just 10% of its income and own only 1% of its property. I have one word for these statistics: FAIL.
In fact, it was not too long ago when women themselves were seen as property (and still are in some countries). Why on earth would a man’s property need to own property, right? Again, FAIL.
As it becomes clearer that the present economic systems are not fair to the world’s overall population and the 99% begin to demand a change in financial distribution, it is women who continue to suffer most.
In Istanbul this weekend, these Sisters gathered from all over the world know that as we continue to struggle for gender equality in our social, political and religious environs, we must also battle for equality in economic policies and development.
Once I leave Istanbul, I will be very interested in researching the budget being presented to Guyana’s Parliament right now to find the ways in which it has been crafted to benefit the women of the nation. It is so very difficult to stop an insatiable mind.