Thursday 23 January

Area 4: Political power, civil society and democracy
Panel 3: New and old social movements, spaces of confluence and tension, locally/globally

By Dieuwertje Huijg

I am sitting here as a member of NextGENDERation, an European network of students of women's studies, gender and feminist studies. The network was set up, in 1998, out of a desire to create a space where it is possible to share reflections on the power mechanisms of partriarchy and heterosexism, and the way they intersect with racism and economic inequalities. We understand "women's studies students" in an inclusive way, relating to anybody with an interest in women's studies, gender studies and feminist theory.

The network focuses on the access to higher education and the production of knowledge. This interest can be developed in an university context or in other contexts, such as autonomous women's studies centers, women's documentation centres and libraries, feminist collectives and assocations.

The NextGENDERation network has a transnational character. It came out an European context, and remains focused on this context. The website and the mailing list are means through which the network acts, it is a non-physical space where information is exchanged and discussions are held.
But also real-life meetings in smaller groups are organized. There have been workshops and performances, which appeared to be places of energy and inspiration.

The Mission Statement expresses what the network stands for. The one-dimensional concept of theory and practice is been refused. Like Adrienne Rich said: "By Women's Liberation, we understood nothing more or less than the struggle for a society free of all domination."

We work from the idea that knowledge is situated, that one acts from one's own location. That there is no hierarchy possible between the struggles against sexism, racism, and heterosexism. That power mechanisms, based on gender, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and geopolitical location, are interwoven and cannot be analysed or politicized separately.
Inside higher education, as well as outside, we distance ourselves from the idea of the university and the access to education as an ivory tower. Neoliberalism aggravate all these power relations. We resist the neoliberal idea of higher education, as a training-place for the labour market.

One of the NextGENDERation working groups, the "Rethinking University" project, focuses on higher education. In the "Bologna Process", the European educational system has been analysed and examinated. Under the title "Towards the European Higher Education Area", which the European authorities want to build by the year 2010, the attractiveness and the competitiveness of the European Higher Education should be increased on the international level. Thus giving space to the labour market to dictate the needs.

One of the NextGENDERation member once mentioned how women's studies in Belgium is being adapted to the market. Private companies become its main financial motor. This makes one wonder what will rest from the indepent character of theorizing gender. Another member told about her own position as a women's studies researcher on the university. The university does not hire her directly, and 'frees itself' from the responsibilities as an employer. This makes her position really insecure. This points out the neoliberal idea of flexibility and the supremacy of the market, which is influencing in another way the lives of women, as well as the thinking about women, gender and feminism.

The GATS, the General Agreement of Trade in Services, will reinforce and institutionalize the privatization of higher education already started by the Bologna Process. Because of the obligation to compete with private and other universities, the tuition fees are increasing, and companies are influencing the curriculum more and more.

Even though the higher education system, acoording to the Bologna Declaration, should be more open to people from other countries, in reality there is a strong distinction made between European Union-members and non-European-Union-members. In the Netherlands, where I am situated and located, there was an increase from almost 750% of the expenses on the residence permits for non-European Members. Six months ago, people from non-EU countries paid about 60 euro now this increased till 430 euro. European Union-members do not have to pay tuition fees, and only have to pay about 30 euro for a residence permit.

The GATS is extremely important for women and for people of colour in Europe. Since they are the groups often working in the service sector. Their position will weaken strongly with the privatization of their jobs. The women's movement nor other movements, at least in the Netherlands, do seem to pick this up so much. Neoliberalism as well as globalization is still a 'new and unfamiliar subject'.

The smaller NextGENDERaton groups work on an autonomous and decentralized basis, where theory and practice are interwoven. FeminismS, as well as the intersectionality of the different axes, are central to politization, to activism.

There is no hierarchy in struggles,
and there is no struggle which can wait till "after the revolution".

When the European Social Forum last year was being prepared, one of the NextGENDERation members told, the "we" were allowed to join, ... though somewhere on the side walk. It resulted in the representation of the black movement by a black man, and the women's movement by a white woman.

From this frustration, and from the urge to create a feminist space on the European Social Forum, the NextGENDERation decided to organize the workshop "Missing Links, feminism and globalized resistance." This had to be, and was, a place for discussion. A physical place to brainstorm about resistance, to find new partners and make new alliances. Three missing links, in- and outside the area of women's studies, came up.

First, the missing link between the educational institutions and the social movements were talked about in a subgroup. Questions were asked on how we can make our institutions of higher education into centers of critical thinking and resistance? How can the critical knowledge generated by the social movements transform our institutions of higher education?

The second focus was the missing link between the different axes in Women's Studies. Everyone agreed that intersectionality should be inherent to Women's Studies. That gender, as well as ethnicity, sexuality, religion and class should be horizontally included as instruments for analysis in thinking and acting.
From my own experience I notice that, in the courses which are not explicitly about non-Western regions, about ethnicity and/or gender, the white, western male is still the standard author of the literature, as well as the object of writing.

The third focus was globalization and feminism and the women's movement. Here three missing links were mentioned, which, at the same time, mean three feminist struggles.

  • 1. Within the women's movement. We should struggle to implement intersectionality. The once dominant idea that the oppressed, the woman is equally oppressed as all woman, and therefore cannot oppress others, was an illusion, and perpetuated hierarchical relations between women. The unprivileged positions, as well as the privileged positions should be analysed and changed!
  • 2. Within the neoliberal globalization. Neoliberal globalization results in the feminization of poverty. Black and indigenous women, lesbians, women with more precair jobs and lower educational levels, and women living in unprivileged regions in the world, do have to carry double or triple burdens.
  • 3. And thirdly, NextGENDERation, as well as other participants of the European Social Forum, were confronted with another struggle. Namely, the struggle of the different axes within the anti-neoliberal globalization movement, the Movement of Movements. There appears to be a dominant archaic and anachronistic idea that The Revolution Will Solve All Our Problems. Our, in this context, apparently means the white, western, heterosexual man, whose female partners are washing his clothes when he is doing the revolution for her, as well as for all the other non-whites, non-heterosexuals, and non-females. Of course, there are things learned from the past, and the non-norm persons and groups do have their own spaces and conferences, but their struggle, our struggle is not implemented as a natural struggle of all in the Struggle of the Struggles.
  • On this workshop was decided, together with the World March of Women, to start the organization of the first European Women's Forum, anticipating the European Social Forum in november 2003 in Paris, France. The idea is to create a physical space, where feminist, intersectional ideas, actions, energy and inspiration will give a strong impulse to the women's and feminist movements. And that it will give the opportunity to change the starting point of the European Social Forum.

    The neoliberal paradigm wants us to believe that we as individuals are responsible for having children, for migrating, for seeking asylum, for being lesbians, for wanting free, good and non-capitalist education for us and our children, for working in free export zones, for living in poor neighbourhoods, for having the wrong religion, for choosing a job in which we earn less than men, for not being emancipated. "We are the others", and if "we" want to join "them", "we" have to change "our" lives, since "we" have the free choice to do that.
    The classical resistance paradigm, resulted in a hierarchy in the struggle of the privileged and non-privileged.

    The Feminist slogan "The personal is political" gains new meanings. Neo-liberalism, as well as the male, white, heterosexual, permanent resident, rich and western situated norm should be turned upside down and inside out. The illusionary split between the private and public, reinforces the polarization between the "norm" and the "others."

    In the Netherlands, the axes of ethnicity and gender are tried to be polarized and used against each other. The so-called "multicultural debate", turns into an ethnic debate. Religion, or actually the islam, is used to avoid the use of the concepts of ethnicity and race. The "emancipation of the white, western woman" opposed to the "oppressed muslimwoman", is used as a means to disqualify religion, the islam, but in fact "the other" ethnicities and nationalities, like Maroccan and Turkish people. The norm (read: the white often not-emancipated, male politicians) presents western, european and white feminism as their achievement from the past, from which one should measure "civilization."
    Gender and ethnicity are only talked of in terms of money, statistics, security and "stages of cilvilization." Emancipation got neo-liberalized, and our societies polarize.

    We as young feminist do not buy these nonsens, these excuses. Yes, there have been acievements in emancipation, but not enough. And no, we do not want to be used for the neoliberal anti-multicultural propaganda. All personal is political!

    The idea that one speaks, thinks and acts from personal locations, from situated knowledge, should be implemented in the Struggle. The idea of the Movement of Movements is misleading, and we should speak about the MovementS of Movements!

    On the NextGENDERation-list we work with the concept that affinity is what people unites, from which they can compose a group and/or a struggle. Commonalities in position, identity or location can make people come together, temporarily or structurally. It can result in a discussion, an activity, and this can result in a struggle, in influence and in change. It is the strategy of autonomy and decentralization, through which on certain physical points a group is composed to put words into action.

    The politics of affinity can work as a way to resist neo-liberal globalization, to fight against patriarchy, racism, heterosexism and classism. And at the same time it can give people the opportunity to meet each other in their struggle without excluding the other, and the other struggle. It would be great if we all 10.000s who are now in Porto Alegre at the third World Social Forum, really would be part of the same Movement and of the same Struggle. That through commonalities we would be united. The reality is that this ideal concept did not, and does not work. There is no hierarchy in differences or commonalities. Nor in the struggles pro and contra this.

    We should make alliances, we should find each other on points of convergence, and we should unite our struggles on points of affinity. We all should relate the position of the other to our own's. We all have to implement the different axes in all our different struggles.

    Don't wait for their revolution.

    We want it all and we want it now!!!