Toward a More Inclusive Forum

As my first experience as a participant to the WSF Nairobi, my feeling was one of elation and exuberance as we joined the opening march as a delegation of peace women representatives from throughout the world. To be freely shouting slogans for peace and democracy and to demonstrate freely for what we stood for, as we joined thousands of like-minded groups and individuals, was a liberating experience.

In the following days, the logistical hurdles were significant. But our mood was sustained by the charm of meeting each other – women who were incredible pacifists and others we chanced to hear and meet in the venue or the workshops. I listened to the radio to see how much news coverage the WSF had and, surprisingly, even on the Nairobi FM news the coverage was poor. And it hardly existed on the CNN and BBC.

It was apparent that significant logistical support and prior organizing was necessary for someone to take advantage of the forum. Bigger organizations and church-based organizations had a presence. Smaller organizations had little presence or could not make themselves visible in the same way. It was also clear that even the local Kenyans could not participate owing to logistical costs at the venue, including food. Although we personally didn’t experience it, we learned that security was also a big issue at this particular WSF.

Therefore, the biggest achievement of the WSF is to have created alternative space for civil society groups and voices. It is disappointing, though, that the Forum didn’t have enough media visibility, and therefore the impact seemed to be localized to those involved.

In my opinion, the Forum has become too institutionalized on one hand and is also too defused on the other. How can we enable participation beyond the access/equity divide globally? Those from the north can participate to shop or experience, whereas those from the south cannot choose to participate individually. Where does the outcome and collective consensus make an impact at the level of transformation of global and local policy and politics? If it happens, what is the mechanism to communicate it broadly so that it empowers all those who have invested the time and energy at the Forum?

If I could push it in one direction I would work to make the Forum even more inclusive and have an impact at the level of global politics and policies that are threatening the world environment in every sense. Host country participation and commitment for necessary WSF infrastructure and success is mandatory, so that the forum is facilitated rather than becoming a debilitating or a challenging experience.

Rita Thapa is the founder of Tewa, a foundation in Nepal working for the empowerment of rural women, and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus (www.fpif.org).