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Women and Globalization

UNPAC member Jennifer de Groot in Quebec April 2001Group of 6 Billion Meetings
Calgary, AB
June 21-25, 2002

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Jennifer deGroot, coordinator of UNPAC's Women and Economy project recently attended the G6B counter-conference which preceded the G8 meetings in Calgary June 26-27, 2002.

As barricades went up around the latest secretive and elitist meeting of the world's political and economic superpowers, a very different gathering was taking place only 50 km away. Not the G8 but the G6B, a conference organizers hoped would capture the will not of 8 men but of 6 billion people - the entire global citizenry. Nearly 1500 people gathered over five days to discuss the impact of the G8 economic policies on the world's poorest peoples, and to share their collective belief that a different world is possible.

I attended this counter summit to hear how my sisters and brothers from around the world are responding to the economic fundamentalism perpetuated by liberalized trade. As a citizen of Canada, I felt called to listen to how policies put forward by my own government are impacting peoples around the world. At the same time, as one who works hard to create alternatives in my own community, I welcomed the opportunity to hear of economic alternatives being created in villages, neighbourhoods, and country-sides across the globe.

I heard stories confirming my suspicions that the economic policies discussed by G8 leaders create a world in which human rights violations are not only commonplace but acceptable. Statistics such as 300,000 African lives directly lost due to the diamond industry (and 2-3 million indirectly)… or the fact that the G8 countries supply 80% of the arms that Africans use to kill each other… or the one million African students who lost their teachers to AIDS last year. These will stay with me.

At the same time I refuse to brush over as insignificant the stories of re-creation that are taking place in different corners of the earth, efforts to repair what has been broken and create communities in which all people have a place and there is no need for killing. Sareth Fernando of Sri Lanka talked of a society devastated by World Bank policies and enforced trade, and the work he is doing to re-create a country true to its Buddhists roots in which, "Greed leads to suffering and accumulation is foolishness." Thandiwe Nkono of Zimbabwe described her experiences empowering rural citizens to create their own means of self-reliance in a country in which 2/5 of the adult population is HIV+. Nyararai Magudu's arms into ploughshares project has already collected 200,000 of Mozambique's 10 million illicit arms and turned them into art pieces.

These were powerful stories of hope for me.

I was also encouraged by the strength of the African speakers' demand that instead of a New Partnership for African Development (NePAD) - the plan which Canada's Prime Minister planned to promote at the G8 meetings - the old partnership be dealt with fairly and with consistency. Africans repeatedly asked that the debt be cancelled to end the obscenity of more money going towards debt-repayment than on health and education. Emily Sikazwe of Zambia put it most clearly: "There is a terrorism that has been unleashed on our people for years. That terrorism is debt." Sikazwe pleaded with Canadians to end the burden of unfair debt saying, "Through the tears of African women, we have paid."

Africans also demanded reparations for slavery and colonization. Zimbabwean Davie Malangiza asked, "It says we should start the race of liberalization as equals but how can we when our leg was broken during colonization?" Finally, they asked for an end to the arms trade. All but two countries in Africa spend more money on arms than on health and education, arms supplied by G8 countries and often given as a form of "aid." The strength of a people devastated by centuries of oppression who now find themselves as the latest pawn on a few leaders' chess board, provide a powerful example of resistance.

"It is time for you to wake up and see what is done in your name," was the message I heard from Tanzanian human rights defender Tundu Lissu. Canadians were repeatedly urged to speak to our elected representatives encouraging them to adopt economic policies that create life rather than death. As I left Calgary, the red carpet was literally being rolled out over the tarmac while the Queen's Guard marched forward to welcome an honoured guest before he was flown off to Kananaskis in a four helicopter entourage. Other temporarily grounded passengers expressed awe and admiration. The scene was pregnant with despair - to see such opulence after all I had just heard.

I could hardly feel more helpless. One conference speaker asked me, "Do you think they'll listen to any of our ideas?" I didn't know how to respond. It hardly seems likely. Yet our current system is in crisis. I have heard the people crying out, and I have seen the earth resisting. If Africans can hope and imagine, so can I. I came home with renewed vigour to continue the work of creating alternative communities but also to speak to my elected representatives and share the stories I had heard with them and others. This becomes my awesome responsibility.

Next day I spend an hour lying "dead" with a dozen others on the scorching sidewalk in front of a busy downtown Winnipeg office-building as part of a "Die-In" aimed to demonstrate the effects of G8 economic policies on the most vulnerable of the world's citizens. I lay with sweat pouring down my face and eyes closed, vulnerable to the whims of security guards and pedestrians' heels, trusting that my unmoving body would be a message of resistance to a world with more greed than imagination, more helplessness than hope. An hour later I "awoke" to speak with the press who wanted to know how I would persuade people who didn't care that they should care. I answered that I had no choice. I have heard the cries of the people. I must speak.

For more information:
To read the Recommendations for G8 leaders that came out of the G6B conference as well as Stephen Lewis' powerful speech which opened the conference, visit G6B. To learn more about the G8 visit G8 Action Kit.

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