International: The Feminist Dialogue - “Multidimensional identities and internal diversities”

Association for Women's Rights in Development
An overview of the Feminist Dialogue held prior to the World Social Forum in Brazil, January 2005.
From January 23-25, at Porto Alegre, Brazil, approximately 250 feminists from around the world converged on the second series of Feminist Dialogues - an autonomous event convened prior to the 2005 World Social Forum.

The Feminist Dialogue (FD) evolved from a Women’s Strategy Meeting held under a tree at the 2002 World Social Forum (WSF). There was a common realisation that the WSF was predominately “a male dominated space, with the women’s movements initially inhabiting the margins”[1]. Women made up only 43 percent of WSF delegates, despite constituting over 50 percent of the world’s population, and so this realisation was translated into action by a group of feminist organisations, resulting in the Feminist Dialogues. The setting of the WSF offers a space for feminists to celebrate their diversity yet at the same time synchronise efforts for the recognition of important issues affecting women. Because the WSF itself is a manifestation of social alliances that transcend traditional boundaries and promote the concept of diversity as a resource rather than a constraint, and because all of the issues discussed at the WSF involve and affect women, it was only natural for the Feminist Dialogues to evolve within this context.

The purpose of the Feminist Dialogue is to provide a strategic space for feminists to come together in their broad diversity to explore the current movement, the differences and common ground, and feminists’ role in larger social movements. Whilst consensus, or a unified statement is not sought, the FD contributes to movement building within feminist networks, women's movements and other social movements. As explained by the Co-ordinating Group of the FD, “feminist activists around the world are facing intense backlash, and also renewed energy to mobilize” [2]. This two-day transnational meeting of feminist networks and organisations is a political space created for this kind of strategic mobilisation.


The FD is co-ordinated by a group of international feminist networks and organisations, bringing together different feminist perspectives on issues of concern for women's movements, to focus on critical analyses and diverse feminist strategies. The Co-ordinating Group for the FD 2005 was made up of: Isis International (Manila), Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN), INFORM (Sri Lanka), Women's International Coalition for Economic Justice (WICEJ), Articulacion Feminista de Mercosur (AFM - Latin America/Caribbean), African Women's Development and Communication Network, FEMNET (Africa), and the National Network of Autonomous Women's Groups (NNAWG - India).

Initially at the first FD, less than 150 feminists attended. This year, the numbers were extended to include approximately 250 feminists from different localities, organisations and networks to represent the voices and concerns of feminists from Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America and Europe. The FD is organised around a set of intersecting themes, with the first FD focusing on Women’s Human Rights; Reclaiming Women’s Bodies; Challenging Sexual Borders and Frontiers; and Beyond the Local-Global Divide. The focus of the Feminist Dialogue in 2005 was the intersections of militarisation and war, fundamentalism/s and neo-liberal globalization from a feminist, and gender/ethnicity/class perspective. Papers on these four themes were circulated amongst feminist networks prior to the Dialogue taking place, and then forums and smaller discussion groups were convened over the two-day period to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing feminists and transnational feminist organizing from the diverse perspectives of the delegates. The Feminist Dialogue website is also an important link between actors in the process, providing access to the concept papers on each of the themes, and a platform for discussion through online forums.


The Co-ordinating Group hoped that having the meeting before the WSF, would achieve a two-way political exchange:

First, to “effectively intervene in the broader WSF process as feminists organising for change, and to establish strategic and politically relevant links with other social movements. As a site of resistance, the WSF is one of the most dynamic spaces available to us as feminist activists and it is important to participate in it while at the same time retaining our autonomy within the FD. We also are hopeful that the idea of the FD can be used to encourage various regional level meetings or to participate in the different forums we are engaged in as part of our ongoing work of linking up with other movements.” [3] Mari Santiago asserts that a major part of the FD is to deepen feminist theorizing and “to make a dent in the isolation that women’s movements have been experiencing over the last few years” [4].

Importantly, the FD also aimed to reinforce a feminist perspective of global governance, which is reflected in the themes chosen for 2005.


Women’s rights are central to the major concerns and challenges facing the world today, and are being threatened by increasing patterns of neo-liberal globalisation, fundamentalisms, militarisation and war. Analysing the interlinkages of these issues from a feminist perspective, the Coordinating Group was able to extract key questions and issues that formed the basis of the concept papers and discussions for the Dialogue [5].

Women are facing multiple challenges in the face of neo-liberal globalisation. The growing gap between the rich and the poor is exacerbated amongst women, and changing labour practices have decreased job security and relegated women to the lowest rungs in the labour market. Commodification of women’s bodies has changed shape to a subtler form, with the appropriation of feminist language distorting feminist political goals and providing new challenges to address. International institutions such as the UN and the global financial institutions exclude women from decision-making processes, but target women for anti-poverty programs at the community level, raising questions of whether gender mainstreaming and local participation schemes are actually addressing women’s needs.

Increasing fundamentalist ideology that goes beyond the religious sphere, opens up spaces for exclusionary, authoritarian ways of thinking that impact women’s lives and bodies in multiple ways. Right wing forces have moved in to “protect” culture, tradition and religious values from globalising forces, but they also promote the historically constituted, subordinate status of women as mothers and wives. The image/honour of community is tied up with women’s bodies, and this is not restricted to the non-West. The recent US election results have serious implications given that abortion and gay marriage were key issues. How do feminists look at strategies to deal with these fundamentalisms?

Many governments have compromised human rights and development priorities in favour of bigger spending on arms, particularly in the face of the “War on Terror”. When war breaks out, civilians are affected in direct and indirect ways. Women and their children, in particular, are disproportionately affected depending on their ethnicity/class/religion/language etc. Yet most peace processes and post conflict reconstruction initiatives fail to include them. In addition, militarisation of society has a direct link to the repression of dissent, and the limiting of social and political rights. This impacts other key areas such as anti-globalisation and the rise of fundamentalisms.

These three themes for the 2005 FD presented key challenges, but also reinforced the necessity for increased transnational feminist organizing, and the establishment of strategic links with other social movements. The Feminist Dialogue provides a democratic space to nurture this necessity, and to ensure that women are not further marginalized and excluded by social movements. The commitment of the Co-ordinating Group for the FD extends through to 2007, and they are hoping that many other feminist organisations can become involved in this process as they learn from each experience and build on the strong foundations that currently exist.

You can visit the Feminist Dialogue website at:


[1] Santiago, M. 2004. Building Global Solidarity through Feminist Dialogues. Available from

[2] See Feminist Dialogue website at:

[3] Ibid.

[4] Santiago, M. 2004. Building Global Solidarity through Feminist Dialogues. Available from

[5] Concept papers from the 2005 Dialogue are available from the website: