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BIRTHING JUSTICE: Challenging Globalization Head-On: Women Confronting Poverty

Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Manahan.

By Beverly Bell
June 1, 2012

Welcome to Birthing Justice: Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives. The series features twelve alternative social and economic models which expand the possibilities for justice, equity, and strong community. They are based in the US, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Some are national-level, some global-level. Some are propelled by people’s movements, some forced or adopted into government policy. In first-hand narratives, women describe their role in having created the models and show us their unique perspectives and challenges in the movements.

Below is the tenth narrative of Birthing Justice.

Mary Ann Manahan helps rural women in the Philippines build their knowledge, strength, and political voice. Here she speaks of how women are creating alternatives to violence and poverty in their lives. They use strategies for change that start at the household and community, and then connect to the global level, so they can confront the crippling impacts of globalization.

Mary Ann Manahan | Manila, Philippines

It’s very inspiring for many young feminists and young activists like me to see how, in the midst of globalization, the most vulnerable women are using collective action to build their strength. These are people who are considered victims, who’ve faced decades of being battered by wrong agricultural policies and by their husbands, of not being taken seriously by the government or even by their male counterparts in the farmers’ movement.

Women are called “shock absorbers” because they are the first to feel the crises caused by the economic and social insecurity of globalization, and right now specifically by the financial crisis. Essentially, the global economy is being run on the backs of women, especially women in the global South.

But, even in the most vulnerable sector of society, women have strength. They get it from within their family and from interacting with fellow women.

In my many interactions and dialogues with women in the rural and informal sectors – not only in the Philippines but around the world – I see women bonded by the same ideals and vision: they need to get out of poverty and they can do that through concerted political action. And they hold the long vision that they can actually change the world.

Many of the women that I work with are trying to link what’s happening at the local level, through their lived experiences, with the national and global levels. They see that their problems are no longer limited to their localities or communities. Since globalization has made the issues global, so too are their strategies, solutions and alternatives – but also while trying to change their government and emphasizing the importance of the local economy. What they do is to try to understand the bigger picture, locate themselves in it, and see how they can get out of the situation.

Trying to grapple with very complex processes and how they traverse household and community levels, you would be surprised that the women actually get it right away. They say, for instance, “When the global food crisis struck last year, it was really difficult for us to get cheaper rice. So as a coping mechanism, we moved the schedule of eating to have a brunch – no snacks anymore – and then dinner.”

One strategy the women have used is information and education campaigns. They go house-to-house and talk to women in the communities. They call for a meeting in someone’s house. They normally open up with topics that are very dear to the heart of the women or issues that plague their communities.

Another important piece is confidence-building. Having been battered so much, they don’t normally have the confidence to present themselves as women of knowledge, or women who can actually insist on their rights. Central in their interactions is women’s rights and the importance of changing gender relations.

Once they have enough knowledge and confidence, another strategy is doing trainings to improve their skills in light of government policies. They’re now ready for a much bigger arena of engagement: collectively going to the mayors and local executive to insist, for example, that we have a policy where 5% of the budget goes to gender and development projects. They also want to be recognized formally as stakeholders who should be consulted when it comes to the development projects and policies that will affect them and the whole community. Many of the women leaders engage with national congress in passing pro-women and pro-reproductive policies. Rural women have also pushed for recognition as agrarian reform beneficiaries and as farmers.

Another strategy which is equally important is networking and coalition-building, linking up with other sectors in Filipino society. These women understand that they can learn a lot about what can work in their own circumstances from other experiences. At the same time, you know, there’s a lot of strength in numbers. They see that as long as they’re together in a collective, they can have a louder voice. In 2001, recognizing the need for an all-women network, they built a national coalition of rural women. That coalition is actually making a lot of dents in getting support services for themselves as farmers and producers, at the local, national, and even the global levels. These women are carving out a space to survive collectively in this very tumultuous time. It’s a very beautiful experience.

To learn more about Mary Ann Manahan’s organization, Focus on the Global South, please see www.focusweb.org.

Inspired? Here are a few suggestions for getting involved!

• Challenge yourself to make conversations about the workings of international financial institutions interesting and useful. Global Exchange’s Global Econ 101 webpage (www.globalexchange.org/resources/econ101) and the International Forum on Globalization (www.ifg.org) can help.
• Get involved with campaigns such as those to halt the expansion of the World Trade Organization (WTO), stop new trade agreements and renegotiate existing ones, end Fast Track, and cancel global debt:
o Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, www.citizen.org/trade
o Our World is Not for Sale global campaign, www.ourworldisnotforsale.org
o Citizens’ Trade Campaign, www.citizenstrade.org/ctc
o Democracy Is for People campaign of Public Citizen, www.democracyisforpeople.org
o Jubilee USA, www.jubileeusa.org
• Help build economic justice and power for workers. Learn about and engage in campaigns and organizing efforts through these organizations:
o Jobs with Justice, www.jwj.org
o US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, www.usworker.coop
o United Students against Sweatshops, www.usas.org
• Work for US policy that supports women around the world and their families. Learn how through Women Thrive Worldwide (www.womenthrive.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1117&Itemi...).

And check out the following resources and organizations:

• Gender Action, www.genderaction.org
• Institute for Policy Studies, www.ips-dc.org
• International Forum on Globalization, www.ifg.org
• Center for Economic and Policy Research, www.cepr.net
• Focus on the Global South, www.focusweb.org
• War on Want, www.waronwant.org
• TIGRA: Transnational Institute for Grassroots Research & Action, www.transnationalaction.org
• World Development Movement (UK), www.wdm.org.uk
• Global Economic Alternatives Network, www.altecon.org
• Multinational Resource Center, www.resourcesfirst.org
• CorpWatch, www.corpwatch.org
• Respect for Democracy Campaign, www.respect4democracy.org
• Multinational Monitor, www.multinationalmonitor.org
• Corporate Accountability Project, www.corporations.org
• Anna Couey, “Hands-On Corporate Research Guide,” Data Center, 2001, available online at: www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=945
• John Cavanagh and Jerry Mander, eds., Alternatives to Economic Globalization (Berrett Koehler Publishers, 2004)
• “The Story of Citizens United v FEC,” directed by The Story for Stuff Project, 2011, available online at: www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-citizens-united-v-fec


Discover more ideas and download the entire Birthing Justice series here.

Beverly Bell has worked for more than three decades as an advocate, organizer, and writer in collaboration with social movements in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S. Her focus areas are just economies, democratic participation, and gender justice. Beverly currently serves as associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and coordinator of Other Worlds. She is author of Walking on Fire: Haitian Women Stories of Survival and Resistance and of the forthcoming Fault Lines: Views Across Haiti’s Divide. You can access all of Other Worlds’ past articles here.

Copyleft Beverly Bell. You may reprint this article in whole or in part. Please credit any text or original research you use to Beverly Bell, Other Worlds.

Mary Ann Manahan is the third from left in the front row. Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Manahan.
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