Veronica Milhan-Forrester
Concluding Discussion

Democratic change and social reform processes taking place in many parts of the world provide new opportunities for women to truly shape democratic change. This was one of the conclusions reached at the international workshop organised by the International Department of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in Bonn on October 21/22,1992.

At the end of the two day brainstorming session, women experts from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Germany drew several important conclusions. Firstly, the realisation that problems facing women are not restricted to a specific country but are a worldwide phenomenon. Secondly, these common problems can be better solved through cooperation and solidarity between women throughout the world. Thirdly, that women have a different understanding of the concept of power and regard democracy, too, in a much broader sense, encompassing not only politics but also social and economic affairs - indeed, also relationships within the family. Fourthly, that women must continue to press for increased participation in all forms of decision-making and gain a greater say in every aspect of life, be it political, economic or social. It is only in this way that women can actively contribute to fashioning a better and more just world.

Participants attending the workshop repeatedly stressed the need to intensify international cooperation between women's groups. In this respect they particularly welcomed the initiative of the FES to organise such a workshop. It was also further questionned whether a similar seminar could be held next year and several participants also suggested the need to establish working groups.

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Through Networking We Can Help Achieve Further Change

Brigitte Adler, a member of the German parliament, stressed the need for women to be involved everywhere, because women's affairs concern all aspects of life. "We need networks, she said, so that we can remain in touch with one another and continue to learn from each other." The workshop had shown, she said, that women from the Third World and from industrialised countries face the same problems. "Women's issues, she argued, can be solved in one world." In view of the enormity of the tasks involved, Brigitte Adler warned against trying to solve all issues in an isolated manner. She suggested the need to consider distributing various tasks amongst women's groups - a factor which would require intensified networking. "One thing is clear, she said, we should not leave this topic of democratization to elites who try to instrumentalise parliaments; we must intervene everywhere." Many other participants also stressed that solidarity is more than just a word. Women can learn from one another and thereby solve problems which go across national boundaries.

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The Problem of Finance

How can networking and women's projects in this field be more effectively financed? Nuria Nuñez, director of the Instituto de la Mujer in Santiago de Chile, pointed out that it is very difficult to obtain financing for this type of work. While funding is available for "traditional" women's projects, women's projects in the political sphere are not regarded as being politically interesting in Germany, she said. Taking up the question of funding, Dr. Carola Donner-Reichle from the German Protestant Association for Cooperation in Development (EZE) pointed out that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are increasingly concerned with women's issues. If official development aid is not forthcoming, she strongly advised women's groups to approach the NGOs.

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Lobby Work Required More Than Ever

On the economic front, Dr. Ludgera Klemp, in charge of women's affairs in the international department of the FES, warned that the model of neo-liberalism is increasingly gaining acceptance in many countries. Neo-liberal market policies and the restructuring of state budgets lead, she said, not only to substantial deficits in the educational field, in the basic health services and to a generally unjust distribution, but also to a global redistribution of work which increasingly burdens women. Few experts and politicians question, she said, the repercussions of these policies on the rights of women, the food situation of children and the development of female employment opportunities ( e.g., the destruction of jobs in the fields of health and education and the increase in the number of women working in the free trade zones). As a result, women must actively elucidate their needs and press for reform. Intervention and lobby work is required more than ever.

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Helping the Youth

How can younger women be more directly involved in the process of shaping democratic change? One participant reported that she had been involved, a few years ago, in the "model" United Nations. This model of the UN General Assembly involves school children from all over the world. While many mixed delegations and some solely male delegations attend such sessions, she reported, that in her own experience, no solely female delegations had taken part. How can women, therefore, encourage young women to become involved and help shape their own views on gender issues? Many participants felt this to be an important point for consideration. María José Lubertino Beltrán stated that many years ago in Argentina a group of young women were instrumental in shaping the feminist movement. Today, further consideration is being given to this question and it has been noted that young women have a "resistance" to developing gender consciousness on account of the "socialisation process". There is a tendency for female and male youth to act together but a 'youth women's association' has been formed. "We think this is a risk group in terms of double discrimination, both youth and women." In the Philippines the younger generation also played a very important role during the student movement of the sixties and seventies. Christina Valte, however, noted a general trend of conservatism amongst young people in countries which were previously radical - the United States, European countries and also the Philippines. "The younger generation have to define for themselves how they want to contribute; this must be determined by the students themselves", she said. Dr. Maria Nzomo also felt that the problem of youth should be tackled more consistently. "From the Kenyan experience, youth is going through a crisis. We have a responsibility to act as a model and involve them in activities and help them organise their own organisations."

It was a lively two-day debate which strengthened international solidarity. Women from the North gained the impression - which they verbally expressed - that women from the South are `one step ahead of us'. The realisation that women's problems concern not just one country but transcend national and indeed continental barriers strengthened the participants conviction that women's networks must be increased. As Frene Ginwala said, we are operating from a common base and from the understanding that women in politics must operate from organising women in the broadest sense. "How lucky we have been, in a sense, in South Africa that we have come late to democracy and so we have this opportunity to restructure society, rather than patch it up, which other people are having to do."

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List of Contributors

María José Lubertino Beltrán: Union Civica Radical, Argentina

Eva-Maria Bruchhaus: Consultant on Development Policy Issues

Frene Ginwala: Chairperson of the Women's Coalition, South Africa

Mildred Lesiea: Chairperson of the ANC Women's League,Western Cape Region, South Africa

Christel Nickel-Mayer: Member of the Board of Directors of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation

Dr. Maria Nzomo: Chairperson of the National Committee on the Status of Women, Kenya

Eva Rühmkorf: Former Minister Responsible for Federal Matters of the State of Schleswig-Holstein

Christina K. Valte: Harnessing Self-Reliant Initiatives and Knowledge (HASIK), Philippines

Ani Widyani Soetjipto: Women's Study Programme at the University of Jakarta,Indonesia

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