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Peggy Antrobus

The Social Summit in Copenhagen has served mainly to expose the unwillingness of our governments and international institutions to confront the contradictions in the current socio-economic and political structures that are perpetuating and deepening poverty, injustice, and environmental degradation everywhere in the world. Some of us dared to dream that this Summit might open the door to a recognition that strategies adopted to deal with such problems over the past 30 to 40 years have not worked and that it is time for a new approach. However, after tremendous effort to get a document acknowledging this obvious fact we are left with a declaration that, despite progressive rhetoric, promises only a continuation of the neoliberal policies that many of us have come to see as the core of the problem.

Since 1985, women have been at the forefront of the critique of the neoliberal development model. More particularly, in the past five years we have seen many feminists move beyond concerns with what might be defined as "women's issues" to address other critical global concerns from the perspective of women's experience and aspirations. In so doing we have become clear that the current model of economic growth does not create an enabling environment for the elimination of poverty, the creation of productive employment, or the promotion of social integration. Rather, it has concentrated power, including control of the media, in institutions of global capital that place the interests of corporate and military establishments before those of people. The security of people and the planet has deteriorated accordingly.

Furthermore the present global system places the South at a significant disadvantage in trade and imposes conditionalities through structural adjustment programmes that victimise the poor, especially women. The systems of national governance that neoliberal policies have advanced, increasingly protect the privileges of the few and promote the interests of financial capital over those of social capital - with a resulting decline in public services for the marginalised and excluded. To maintain the economic hegemony of the privileged few, resources that should be devoted to development are diverted to the military to keep the system's victims in line.

In the resulting climate of economic instability - drug trafficking and crime thrive unabated - underpinned by an environment of increasing intolerance, fragmentation of communities, and ethnic violence. As their individual survival is threatened by deepening poverty, large numbers of women, men and children are being forced to sustain the economic interests of a profit-motivated elite, at the cost of their individual and family security.

As our understanding of the underlying causes of these conditions have grown, members of the women's movement have come to conclude that it is not enough to work only at micro or sectoral levels, we must as well enable grassroots people to make the link between their daily experiences and the macro-economic policies and global trends behind these experiences. The need for this link is underscored by repeated examples where constructive and otherwise successful efforts of grassroots people have been undermined by the macro-economic policies of governments and the structural adjustment programmes of the IMF and World Bank.

We now see the need for a three-pronged approach: reform the state to make it more accountable to people, challenge the market to be more responsible, and strengthen the ability of the institutions of civil society to hold both governments and markets accountable to the human interest. We must speak out against the contradictions and build public awareness of their implications.

In each instance, of course, women must ensure their equal representation and active participation in the processes of defining priorities, implementing solutions, and monitoring results. To this end, women are increasingly taking on leadership roles in their communities, countries and in global institutions to advance priorities that are in the interests of both women and the broader community. It is only through a true partnership between women and men that we can expect to accomplish the changes necessary to safeguard both our livelihoods and the environment.

PCD Forum No. 35 May 1995

Peggy Antrobus is a founder and the general co-ordinator of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN).

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