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On the Analysis of Women’s Oppression
and the WSCF Women’s Program

Necta Montesby Necta Montes, Outgoing Regional Women’s Coordinator

Why is it important to review the “Framework of Analysis on Women’s Oppression” at this time in the life of the Federation? What has taken place that brought forth the question of the framework in the Agenda of the last WSCF General Assembly in Lebanon?

These questions and a lot more could just be the same questions that people who attended the last WSCF General Assembly had in their minds. These are valid questions to ask at a time when there seems to be a cloud of doubt on the merits and validity of organizing women’s only meetings and programs in the Federation. The difficulty however is, there are no concrete questions, proposals, nor any basis of the criticism that were put forward to which we can respond. Thus, this exercise of reviewing the framework and dealing on the issue of Partnership rests on assumptions and perhaps on gut-feeling that indeed this is the most opportune time to deal with this concern. Also, the need probably stems from the seeming decline in interest of doing women’s work in the Federation today.

The Analysis on Women’s Oppression document, was written and produced by members of the WSCF Women’s Commission in 1986 and has been the reason of our women’s programs and initiatives in the Federation since then. It was a product of a collective effort and an attempt to give answers to the so-called “Women’s Question”, that has been cropping up time and again in Federation meetings and conferences in the 70’s until the early 80’s. The seed of this effort started way back in the late 70’s, in the Colombo General Assembly, where there was a proposal for a Women pre-Assembly in the 1981 General Assembly in San Francisco. In the 1986 Mexico General Assembly, a Women’s Commission was formed, the co-secretary model was proposed and the “Analysis on Women’s Oppression” came into being. This does not deny however that similar questions were also being raised prior to the Colombo GA.

Following these Assemblies, significant amount of resources, personnel and time were put into organizing women’s program and committees, both in the regional and national level. In the Asia-Pacific region, a Regional Women’s Program was created in 1986 and a Regional Women’s Committee was formed simultaneously. First the effort was to give space for women to participate through structural and constitutional changes, developing women leadership, institutionalizing women’s programs and positions in the national movements. Women who attended the Pre-Women’s Meeting at the past two GA’s were the pioneering and moving spirit in all these events. The energy, enthusiasm, passion and solidarity shared among these women were tremendous. It was like opening up a flood gate, where the water overwhelmingly engulfed the whole of the Federation. And why not? This was an issue that has longed for recognition and where half of the Federation’s membership can easily identify with and was passionately involve in.

The Framework: A Question of Ideology

Was the analysis of the women’s situation and problems presented in the document “Analysis of Women’s Oppression” correct? Is it still applicable to our situation today? The analysis reflected the situation, voices, aspirations of women in the 80’s and its validity for that period cannot be questioned today. It defined the kind of oppression women experience in various fields of life; it reflects the strong ideological standpoint of the movements with regards to the women’s question at that time. A careful look at the framework reveals the strong socialist perspective in defining the problem of women. It was a product of a particular historical juncture both internal and external of the Federation. It has been an important document and still is for us today.

In the late 80’s until early 90’s, following the collapse of the Socialism in Eastern Europe and USSR, two WSCF Assemblies tackled the difficult task of reviewing the use of Socialist tools of analysis in defining and understanding the issues that confronts the world. The trend was moving towards abandoning the “old framework” and to make way and open-up to post modern tool of analysis as an alternative, often referred to as a “paradigm shift” in ecumenical jargon. To date, the result of this discourse is not yet clear and can still be considered as an ongoing debate in WSCF. The Women’s framework was left out in this important process. There was no effort to tune-in the women’s perspective in the whole debate. The reason for this is still unclear. However, it is not a remote possibility that this action was taken to avoid further ideological debates and confrontation along gender lines.

The document itself is very simple. It laid down the definition of how WSCF/SCM women perceived women’s oppression by enumerating the different forms of women’s oppression in various sphere of life, the connection between gender, class and race oppression, and the various strategies and task in order to attain women’s liberation. The framework strongly advocates for women’s liberation vis-à-vis people’s liberation. It is most likely that if the present generation of young women in the SCMs/WSCF will go through a similar exercise, they will come up with same analysis or perhaps an updated version. Nonetheless, it is time for us to deal and confront the ideological dimension of this document and our women’s work. Our analysis will be the impetus to continue our work among young women and define our role, strategy and tasks today. How to translate our analysis into concrete action is the challenge for young women in the Federation today.

Has the situation of double and triple oppression of women (class, race and gender oppression) been eliminated in many of our countries and has the struggle for Women’s Liberation seized or has it been won? Has the basic structure of Patriarchy abolished? The reality of women in my region tells a different story. Our work in the Asia-Pacific region points out quite the opposite. New structures and mechanisms have emerged that aggravated the situation of women, especially among the poor women in many Asian countries. The advent of globalization has further magnified this situation.

Effects of Globalization on Women in Asia: Defining our Context

Women workerHow are women affected by globalization? Women have inevitably been pushed into two directions at the onset of globalization. One, they are absorbed as laborers in the domestic economies as “cheap flexible labor”, or as “cheap exportable labors” for countries/governments involved in international trading of labor and services.

In the first instance, women, particularly in poor countries in Asia have been eased out of agriculture or their traditional form of livelihood and have been absorbed into “women specific/female prone work” a phenomenon that has emerged out of Newly Industrialized Economies (NIEs) strategies of export competitiveness. This type of work is characterized by low pay, labor intensiveness, and reliance on low skills and technological know-how. The closure of certain export-oriented companies and their transfer to another NIE country where labor and wage policies are more favorable to increased profits, makes this women workers vulnerable to unfair labor practices and exploitation.

The flow of labor migration, particularly of women has been massive in the last twenty years. Globalization as encouraged the growth of labor migration between the countries of East/South East Asia, in addition to Middle East and Europe. In Asia, the demand for highly skilled workers is met by white male expatriates while that for manual workers, by Asian women contract workers. Intra-regional trading of women domestic workers, mainly coming from the Philippines, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia has reached significant proportion and now constitute a big industry in the region. While the cost of labor migration are high for the migrants and their families—discrimination, absence of adequate labor protection, illegal recruitment, low wages, and vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse, even death, massive unemployment in their home economies push many more women to migrate every year.

Trafficking of Women from poor countries and the revitalization of the domestic prostitution has become a major industry in many countries in East/South East Asia due to the development of tourism, and the entertainment industry. Consumerism and travel for recreation purposes characterized the lifestyle and values of capitalist accumulation and competition. High and upper class recipients of the benefits of economic growth brought about by globalization, who have disposable incomes visit Asian countries to enjoy “the world of the exotic”. According to the UNDP report for 1999, “Tourism rose from 260 million visitors in 1980 to 590 million in 1996.” The advent of the Information Technology, particularly the Internet, has further reduced women into commodities for sexual purposes, being advertised, negotiated in the World Wide Web.

Poor men and women in Asia pay dearly the price of globalization. Widespread poverty and inequality remains the number one problem of the majority of people in Asia. What globalization was able to successfully accomplish in the recent years was to further widen the gap between the rich and the poor, and between Northern and Southern countries. In the UNDP Human Development Report 1999, consider the following data:

“The income gap between the richest fifth of the world’s people and the poorest fifth, measured by average national income per head, increased from 30 to one in1960 to74 to one in 1997.”

“The fifth of the world’s people living in the highest income countries has 86% per cent of world export markets, 68 percent of foreign direct investment, 74 percent of telephone lines. The bottom fifth, in the poorest countries, has about one percent in each category.”

“The 200 richest people in the world more than doubled their net worth in the four years to 1998, to $1 trillion.”

In the face of all these developments, has the situation of women improved? Has women been truly “Empowered”, as some proponents of globalization claimed to have helped women? What is the prophetic role and task of WSCF in giving new hope and “salvation” to women in this era of globalization?

The Women’s Agenda is Still a Valid Organization Issue for WSCF

One reason why WSCF is unique and has thrived 100 long years of existence, is its ability to re-invent and critique itself as an organization. The position and direction it took with regards to the Women’s Struggle points very clearly to this dynamism. WSCF has built up its capabilities to be sensitive to these women’s issues because it dared to listen, open its doors to women’s concern and their participation. We have made WSCF a place was there is space for women to grow in harmony with men through dialogues and caucuses. Modesty aside, WSCF has been doing “gender programs” using a different language and themes even before Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) and other groups started their gender programs.

The role of the WSCF Women’s Commission has been very crucial and critical in this process. Women in WSCF has showed and proven that women’s leadership and style of work can be an alternative to the prevailing system of hierarchy and domination. Collective spirit and participation and community building characterized this style of leadership. This has proven to be effective, this framework and women’s program would have not been realized if not for the collective work and the spirit that flowed in the women in the 80’s. If there is one important contribution and achievement of the Federation is the Women’s Program, and the numerous women who have gone through the process, and who currently making very important contributions in different fields and areas of work.

But is the current generation conscious about all these? The Women’s Commission has been mysteriously silent in the last four to five years. Like a wild beast that has been tamed, you could hardly hear women’s voice and aspirations in meetings and programs at the global level. But while we spend our time intellectualizing the injustices done to women and figuring out the relevance of women’s work in today’s world, we fail to respond to the reality of women’s oppression as it unfolds everyday. While some of us have the luxury of time to engage in senseless discourse about gender, women all over the world confront the issue on a daily basis, often in life-threatening situations. As a popular saying goes “After all is said and done, there is much more said than done”.