By Joan Trevor
The European Social Forum, Paris, November 12-15, is pledged to fight for women's rights and equality. This should be reflected in the composition of the event: equal numbers-at least-of women and men speakers; the woman angle addressed in all the discussions.
In addition, on Wednesday 12 November there will be a separate but associated event, the Assembly for Women's Rights for Another Europe.
Around 2,000 women are expected, to discuss six themes: Women and war; Work, poverty and insecurity; Migrant women; Violence against women; Sexual and reproductive rights; and Women and power.
In a final plenary, a manifesto of demands will be drawn up to be presented to-and hopefully adopted by-the ESF as a whole.
Working groups are developing the six themes and reporting on an email list. Comments are invited, hopefully to be taken on board.
There are failings with the system, inevitably, but the will is there to make it work. Each time the working group publishes its minutes, calls go out on the email list to translate them into the main languages of the ESF: English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. This all takes time!
The moving spirit behind the Women's Assembly is the World March of Women. This organisation began in Canada, and pulled off some impressive events around the millennium-not in Britain, which is why few here have heard of it. Many confuse the World March with the Global Women's Strike-they are separate organisations.
I would characterise the World March as mainstream feminist; they analyse the social obstacles in the way of women's liberation, but they also confront patriarchy-the system of power from which all men derive benefit. Men are not born bad, but patriarchy-a social construct-exists even inside the social movement and has to be acknowledged and challenged before the social movement can succeed. The wilder shores of radical feminism are mostly avoided.
There's no sex determinism here. NextGenderation, a group of mostly young feminists who proposed holding the workshop on women and power, say: "We object to all justification to the absence of women in the field of power on behalf of a pseudo feminine identity caused by a lack of desire or even inability for power". They demand power! However, for them, all power structures that exist are inherently male: women's power will be different. Tell that to Margaret Thatcher or to women who suffered her policies!
The AWL/Solidarity plans to take a full part in the Women's Assembly. One of the matters we will be addressing is the characterisation of issues around prostitution emerging from the workshop on violence against women. Prostitution is referred to in preparatory texts as "the prostitution system". We have to explore the political implications of this phrase. Comments on French feminist websites dealing with the subject ring alarm bells. Women who make solidarity with sex workers can be referred to as "women claiming to be feminists"; "we have to ask ourselves what is their real agenda?"
To set the ball rolling, let me say that my real agenda is to get rid of prostitution-people selling their bodies to live-but until that goal is reached reform is essential: people who feel they have no choice but to sell their bodies to live deserve all the rights "at work" that other workers deserve. And, if another world is really possible, we must be allowed to ask "outrageous" questions without being labelled as a traitor to feminism. The question of making solidarity with sex workers seems to me far from outrageous. So how about this: isn't it possible to conceive of people freely choosing to live from sex work?
But we are not going along to provoke: the issues that will be discussed are absolutely vital, and the reborn feminist movement that this Assembly might help to spawn will be needed before women or the whole social movement can make real progress. The Women's Assembly should have a real galvanising effect on the ESF to fight for women's rights.
- To take part in the discussions in languages other than French, send an email to ; to take part in the discussion in French send an email to ; all enquiries about the Assembly email .
- Information on taking part in the Women's Assembly and details of the workshop discussions available at www.workersliberty.org/esf.