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Gisèle Saurette-RochGlobalization of human rights

A Franco-Manitoban, Gisèle Saurette-Roch spent the first years of her life on a farm in rural Manitoba. She now lives in St Boniface where she works as a social worker. Gisèle is the oldest of 11 children and the mother of four children herself. Gisèle has been a single mother for the past 14 years.

Gisèle says:

In July 2000 I heard of a new World SOCIAL Forum being organized to counter balance the World Economic Forum. The organizers planned to host 2500 participants, delegates representing peace and social justice groups, environmentalists, equality-seeking non-governmental organizations (NGO's). The first WSF was to be held January 25-31, 2001 in Porto Alegre (Brazil), a city that had championed participatory democracy for the past decade.

Myself, I had worked to organize our local World March of Women action in Winnipeg and Manitoba, and had been terribly disappointed in the lack of media coverage of this powerful world movement. I felt compelled to go to this World Social Forum to share our experience of the World March and to build on its momentum. Some 15,000 persons from all over the world came to participate in the inaugural World Social Forum under the slogan "Another World is Possible!"

In an effort to facilitate inclusiveness, the registration fee was $50.00 US$ per delegate (quite a difference from the $30,000 registration fee of the World Economic Forum!), but observers could participate in approximately 400 workshops, that first year for little or no charge. In the aftermath of the Seattle protest of the World Trade Organization meeting in November 1999, the organizers hoped to provide a forum where people share their experiences, concerns and successes so that we could learn from each other and strategize actions and ways to challenge the current world order which scorns democracy and undermines sovereignty of nations.

People say we're anti-globalization but for me, the World Social Forum is an example of the good that globalization can do. I am not anti-globalization, I'm for globalization, globalization of human rights, social justice, environmental standards, labour standards, living wages. I am really afraid that what the economic globalization does through free trade deals do is give license to corporations to go to the lowest common denominator, the lowest environment standards, the lowest labour standards, the lowest wages, and that just makes people very vulnerable. Free trade is freedom for who? Human rights are for humans, for people. Advocates of free trade seem to want human rights for corporations.

Delegates at the first WSF were invited to return the next year to further the gains achieved and to strategize further an alternative agenda that puts "People before Profits!" In the meantime we were asked to go to Quebec City in April 2001 for the People's Summit of the Americas" preceding the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) meetings.

To my amazement, approximately 60,000 participants were in attendance in 2002, of which more that 15,000 were registered as Youth. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations sent his own personal representative. Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Green Peace International, Amnesty International, Medecins Sans Frontières were all registered and contributing to the discussion.

The WSF, suddenly, was a force to be reckoned with. Spokespeople for the World Economic Forum wanted to have debates with the organizers of the WSF. By 2003 there were 100,000 participants including over 30,000 registered at the Youth Encampment. In the meantime, the World Economic Forum suffered considerable setbacks in view of the scandals of major American corporations which have seriously undermined the public trust.

The World Social Forum is a powerful vehicle which has the potential to provoke change and re-awaken democracy among the peoples of the world.

To find out more visit World Social Forum.

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