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With the emergence of DAWN feminists at the NGO Forum at Nairobi in 1985, Third World women found a voice that was to challenge and change the discourse on women and development. By locating women’s experience of development in the colonial and neo-colonial contexts and the macro-economic policies that reflected this colonial relationship, DAWN introduced an analytical framework that was to change the terms of the debate on women’s issues worldwide. The DAWN network’s continuing analyses of the interlocking, systemic crises of debt, deteriorating social services, environmental degradation, food insecurity, religious fundamentalisms, militarisms and political conservatisms grew out of the experiences of poor women living in the countries of the economic South. It provided the global women’s movements the tools for advancing south feminist perspectives on all development issues, from environment to human rights, from population to poverty.

As a South feminist network concerned with economic justice, gender justice and democracy, the importance of moving beyond theory, or what we in DAWN prefer to call analysis, to practice or activism (what we tend to call advocacy) has always been clearly understood within DAWN. It has always described itself as a network of scholars and activists from the economic South and has always worked at the intersections of feminist scholarship/activism and of critical feminist policy analysis/policy advocacy.

DAWN has 4 main research themes:
4. Political Ecology and Sustainability (PEAS)

These areas form DAWN's core analyses and provide the focus for the network's global advocacy efforts, which are aimed at influencing debates around development thinking and policy, securing the gains made through the UN conferences, working for greater accountability and radical restructuring of and global governance institutions and multilateralisms, and promoting gender analysis in progressive development organisations, networks, and social movements.

A specific project is for the DAWN Analysis Team to move forward a global conversation on issues and challenges for feminist advocacies in the aftermath of earth-shaking shifts brought about by global crises of finance, climate change and consumption. The variety of responses across the economic south from Asia to Africa to Latin America and how these interact with emergent South-North dynamics in multilateral policy responses are critical starting point. The DAWN women will catalyze thinking on how a south feminist inter-linkages perspective such as that offered by DAWN might respond to the challenges for alternatives.


Development Debates in a Fierce New World: Re-Imagining Feminist Politics and Strategies in the Global South (Download the Concept Note - Pls cite DAWN when using this material)

Twenty-five years have passed after DAWN published its seminal contribution to development debates entitled “Development, Crisis and Alternative Visions: Third World Women’s Perspectives,” by Gita Sen and Caren Grown (1986) that examined “in great depth why and how strategies designed to achieve overall agricultural growth and industrial productivity have proven to be inimical to women (p. 16)”. At that time, DAWN wrote about converging systemic crises that arose from erroneous development policies and emphasized that “the solutions to the systemic crises that are being put into place (viz., structural adjustment programs) are creating a major reproduction crisis, especially in the indebted Third World countries…Particularly, in the context of the debt crisis, the interests of poor women appear to lie in joining their voices to the struggle for a more structurally sound international and national economic order (p. 66).”

By the 1990’s economic strategies have changed and now favored the intensification of trans-border processes of production, exchange and consumption as well as the global expansion of finance, knowledge and the services sector. The creation of a global capitalist market along neo-liberal economic logic went into full swing. The structural adjustment programs of the 1980s which laid the foundation for the rapid integration of national economies into a global market governed had now been overtaken by the rules of an emerging World Trade Organization and of new regional free trade agreements / economic partnership agreements that consolidated a number of disparate bilateral trade and investments treaties of the earlier period. A novel economic blueprint called the Washington Consensus was put in place. After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, a Post-Washington Consensus or an augmented Washington Consensus attempted to present itself as a more benign version. All these economic shifts underpinned the crafting of a new world.

The first decade of the 21st century has been marked so far by two unprecedented critical events: the ‘war on terror’ and the global financial crisis. In the wake of these two events, armed conflict, violence, terrorism, national security, migration and religion; and transnational capital, labour, and economies have come to preoccupy national and international, regional and national politics and given rise to public policies that have had an immediate effect on the lives of ordinary citizens. In their wake, issues of livelihoods, poverty, human rights, freedom of expression and mobility, identity and sexuality have come under pressure and been radically altered.

Today, we hear development economists and policymakers pronouncing the demise of the consensus. This may be true. However, DAWN believes that although the consensus may be dead, a new world had already been born – a world that is full of shaken premises, complicated contradictions, serious fractures, severe backlash, broken consensuses, and uncertain outcomes for the world’s women especially women from the economic South. 

What about the current context of multiple converging global crises – economic, financial, food, fuel, which reflects a major crisis – which all point to the unsustainability of the capitalist model of production and consumption.

The threads and thematic issues of the planned DAWN debates derive from the contextual issues discussed above and will revolve around a central question that has been raised by Peggy and Gita in 2004, and has become even more crucial at this juncture: “What is the social project of the global women’s movements and is it larger than identity politics? Does the feminist social project go beyond the project of the movement for global economic justice? And if so, how?”

The DAWN Development Debates 2010 takes place 25 years after DAWN was launched and builds upon two other DAWN publications that followed its seminal work. The first produced at the turn of the century was the “Marketization of Governance: Critical Feminist Perspectives from the South,” edited by Viviene Taylor (2000). In this volume, DAWN called for challenging global economic institutions and re-issued the call for feminists to reclaim governance through alternative visions. The other is “Interlinking Politics, Policy and Women’s Reproductive Rights: A Study of Health Sector Reform, Maternal Mortality and Abortion in Selected Countries of the South,” edited by Sonia Correa (2006).

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