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The WSF 2007

sexta-feira 26 de janeiro de 2007, por ,

The seventh annual World Social Forum (WSF) ended in Nairobi, Kenya
yesterday with thousands of delegates marching from the city’s Korogocho
slums to Uhuru Park. This year’s Forum drew together an estimated 60,000
participants from all over the world and was said to be the ’most
international’ [1] of the forums, partly because African delegates were
able to attend in large numbers because of this year’s location.
Nevertheless, the start of the Forum saw demonstrations by some Kenyans who
said that they were disqualified from participating as they were unable to
afford the registration fees. Their action, with its rallying call of ’Free
Everything’ persuaded the Forum’s organizing committee to allow them free

Order amidst chaos?

The World Social Forum is held to coincide with the annual World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where major global economic policies are
shaped without the input of the majority of the global population. The
World Social Forum is synonymous with anti-globalization and
anti-neoliberalism. While some people would like to see this Forum come up
with concrete counter-measures against the prevailing global economic
order, others celebrate the Forum’s mish-mash of events on different
aspects of social justice. This year’s meet featured about 1500 different
workshops, cultural performances, dialogues and other events. The Nairobi
Forum was characterized by chaotic schedules. There were delays in the
registration process which was disorganized. Many of the events were
cancelled, rescheduled or moved to different venues without adequate
notification to participants. Sometimes translation was not available for
people who did not speak English.

One of the criticisms raised about the WSF is the absence of a clear
unified agenda from the globe’s civil society for the way forward. Altaf
Ali Bhimji says the Forum needs direction and ’if it attempts to be all
things for everyone it can end up being nothing for anyone.’ [2] According
to Beate Wilhlem of the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development, it is
alright to discuss concerns over social injustices, but it is also now
necessary to develop possible solutions. [3] On the other hand, since the
first Forum in Porto Alegre, there has been a tension between the Forum
being a space for the mobilization of direct action against all that Davos
stands for, and it being a space for reflection and debate. [4]Like its
predecessors, this year’s Nairobi gathering took the latter path. It did
not ’seek adherence to one central idea capable of attacking the dominant
ideology. Rather it accomplished its basic objective of respect and
appreciation for the diverse citizen’s initiatives and ideas.’ [5]

For some, the World Social Forum serves as a space to affirm a sense of
solidarity with other movements around the world. In a speech on the final
day of the Forum, Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai said ’When you work with
poor people, you get discouraged but that changes when you meet other
people who face the same challenges as you are dealing with. You know then
that you are not alone.’ [6]


The Nairobi meeting was not without its contradictions. Not only were
prospective participants who could not afford the entry fee initially
barred from the Forum, less well-off food vendors were allocated less than
prime spots at its venue, the vast Kasarani Sports Complex. Hunger and
thirst during the five day event were ’costly’ [7] The best spot at the
Forum was secured by Nairobi’s Windsor Hotel, whose owner, Kenya’s Minister
for Internal Security is nicknamed ’Kimeendero" [the Crusher] for his
notorious role as a British colonial collaborator. The five star prices
that the hotel was charging for food and drinks were out of the reach of
most participants. [8] Most other food vendors were allocated a place at a
food court on the periphery of the meeting place, which many participants
did not know existed. Some participants also found the registration
procedure an irony; participants were required to buy Celtel mobile
telephone lines and airtime. The PIN number for the line then became the
participant’s registration number.

The Women’s Question

As in many other spaces, women’s issues continued to inhabit the margins of
the World Social Forum. One observer states that the ’feminist struggle
still seems to be something by women for women.’[9] Although women were
about half of the participants, like in previous Forums, women’s rights
were not cross-cutting issue in most of the discussions. Workshops on
feminism or gender equality were attended mostly by women, and other events
were more often than not led by male panelists. At the Feminist Movement
Building session, which was co-supported and organized by the coordinating
group of the Feminist Dialogues, participants resolved to attend sessions
on topics other than gender and women’s rights, and push the feminist
agenda there.

A major concern at past World Social Forums, echoed in the just concluded
one, is the levels of violence and insecurity that female participants
encounter including sexual harassment and rape. Prior to the Nairobi
Forum, Onyango Oloo, the national coordinator of the Kenya Social Forum and
a member of the WSF 2007 Secretariat proposed that there be a concerted
effort to campaign against rape and violence against women within and among
WSF delegates. He urged that all Forum delegates be sensitized about rape
and violence against women as a ’manifestation of sexism, misogyny and
patriarchy- concepts that are totally alien to the WSF charter.’ [10]
However, this did not happen.

For the third time, the Feminist Dialogues were held for a few days prior
to the opening of the World Social Forum. A number of young feminists
appreciated their inclusion in this year’s Dialogue. Fernanda Grigolin, a
Brazilian and member of RedLac, a Latin American young women’s feminist
organization which was on the Feminist Dialogues organizing committee said
that the space created by the Dialogues was vital in informing the
participation of feminists in the WSF. She also believes that the feminist
voice is growing more audible within the World Social Forum even though
there is some way to go.

WSF direction

Despite the divergence of activities and areas of focus, at the closing of
this year’s World Social Forum one recurrent call was for debt cancellation
by rich countries. Saida Ali of the Young Women’s Leadership Institute in
Kenya says that many of the young people she interacted with at the Forum
repeated the call, saying that they should not have to pay for debts
incurred on their behalf ?sometimes even before they were born - by
undemocratic and despotic regimes. She says that moreover, repayment
conditions are oppressive. This year’s forum saw the active participation
of a large number of young people. During the closing ceremony there were a
number of artistic performances highlighting the injustice of the global
economic order.

The World Social Forum is regarded as the antithesis of the World Economic
Forum and there have been calls for a clear anti-neoliberalist agenda and
plan of action to emerge from the WSF. While not everyone agrees that it is
necessary for the annual event to have such a clear focus, many agree that
it serves as an important space for dialogue and sharing of experiences.
According to Jean Rossiaud the results of the World Social Forum will be
seen in the future, since ’basically, the most important things happen
between forums.’[11]



1. ’Swiss not convinced by World Social Forum,’ NZZ online, March 26, 2005.

2. ’VI World Social Forum: A constructive criticism.’

3. Ibid 1.


5. Ibid.

6. ’From Kasarani to Uhuru Park.’ Daily Nation. Friday, January 26, 2007

7. ’A menu of protest.’ Terraviva. Wednesday, January 24, 2007.

8. Ibid.

9. Daniel, Patricia. ’Is another world possible without the women’s
perspective?’ Peace Journalism, January 18, 2007.

10. Oloo, Onyango. ’Gendering the WSF Nairobi 2007 Process.’ A paper
presented at a public forum on ’Gendering the WSF process,’ on May 25,

11. Ibid 1.

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