FSE/ESF Forum social européen/European Social Forum - Globalisation, Gender and Power, Public Goods and the Privatisation of Social
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Memoria Viva // Paris 2003 Reports // Against neo-liberalism, against patriarchy //

Globalisation, Gender and Power, Public Goods and the Privatisation of Social [en]
30 January 2004

The organisation of this seminar can be placed in the context of the current mobilisation of social movements and NGOs in Europe and worldwide to put pressure on their governments and international institutions such as the WTO and the World Bank not to subject the provision of basic services and goods, such as education, health and water to the market forces and the law of offer and demand.


Main issues for debate

The seminar will focus on an analysis of the forms of privatisation and its results (including corruption) throughout Europe on democratic participation, the state, distribution, employment and the environment. Furthermore, it will take a critical look at those policy instruments used by international institutions, such as the World Bank and the WTO (through GATS) to promote liberalisation in the services’ sectors in the countries of the South, bringing in specific case studies of the impact of these policies on women’s livelihoods.

At international level, GATS and any trade policy on liberalising the services’ sectors have important gender implications as they intervene in:

- women’s role as paid/unpaid service providers, as workers and consumers;
- human rights access to social services and public goods;
- control of resources which constitute livelihoods and public goods which are crucial prerequisites for development.

The discussion on an alternative agenda will link feminist and left strategies in an analysis of how to safeguard social/basic services and public goods in Europe but also, of how to put an end to those WTO agreements and policies (see GATS) that remain ‘fundamentally’ opposed to the principles of social, gender justice and democracy.

Alternative proposals

Social and gender justice, the provision of basic needs, environmental protection and human rights must be given preference over trade rights;The concept of global public goods should be used as alternative approaches enabling sustainable economic and social development;The provision of social/basic services should subordinated to democratic decisions, while communities and societies must be enabled to decide how to organise their public services;WTO negotiations on GATS must be transparent and democratic guided by the needs/priorities of citizens men and women.

Implementation proposals

Articulation of an alternative agenda to GATS and privatisation of social services-public goods/ Development of multiple feminist strategies/replies to the neo-liberal WTO/EU trade agenda with focus on GATSDevelopment of advocacy agenda/actions that will put political pressure on European governments and the European Commission to exclude and protect essential and social services from GATS negotiations and establish a framework which will regulate and hold TNCs accountable for their practicesSocial mobilisation, Campaigns, Awareness raising work


Genoveva Tisheva (BGRF) presented the disaster of water privatisation in Sofia, Bulgaria; Christa Wichterich added the general background to the topic of gender and GATS and Gisela Duetting moderated this workshop: Christa noted how the private sector externalises social costs (by making jobs more ‘flexible’, creating more part-time jobs and ‘informalising’ jobs). With GATS, social services such as water, health and education will be transformed into commercial goods sold in ‘supermarkets’; this means, services will only be accessible for people who can afford them.

Women are affected as users of (more and more expensive) services, as workers in social services and as unpaid care workers in the households and communities. Christa proposed a number of strategies:

- Scandalise the lack of transparency;
- Work with parliamentarians showing how they are bypassed;
- Be more visible and think about spectacular actions;
- Deconstruct the neoliberal emphasis on individualism;
- Reclaim empowerment;
- Put human rights before free trade and commercial rights.

"We need new forms of democracy" summed up one of the 70 participants in the workshop. To find democratic spaces, to reach out to ordinary people, to the millions in front of their TVs, to make use of the media remains a challenge. Experiences with different forms of democracy and women’s roles in it were most lively debated, emphasizing women as agents, not as victims.

The participants agreed that the state has lost power to the private sector (and to supra-national institutions). But as it is still politicians who decide to privatise, who sign contracts with private companies. We, as social movements and citizens, must keep them accountable. Moreover, states are still the signing parties in human rights conventions, and we should continue pointing out the discrepancies between human right treaties and GATS.

Looking for new democratic possibilities does not mean going back to the old fashioned state control of public services. Furthermore, corporations must be addressed and their preference for only ‘voluntary’ means of self regulation challenged. In many countries there are experiments of linking social movements, organised (women) workers and consumers of public services.

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