Two Mills professors and three Mills students joined over
100,000 people representing 152 countries, at the World Social
Forum in Mumbai, India, Jan. 16-21, under the slogan “Another World
Professors Julia Sudbury and Margo Okazawa-Rey accompanied
students Joy Liu, Sheela Bringi, and Renee Byrd to a gathering of
singing, dancing, and drumming anti-globalization and peace
activists from all over the globe.
The World Social Forum is an open space that brings together
movements and organizations from around the world to debate crucial
At this year’s forum, over 1,200 panels and seminars were
scheduled which dealt with a rainbow of themes including: promoting
the anti-war movement against imperialist occupation; the effect of
economic globalization and the growing disparity between rich and
poor; and the rights of women, minorities, and indigenous
Okazawa-Rey and Sudbury together spoke on two of the many panels
at the forum dealing with women’s issues: “Women Against
Imperialism” and “Incite-Women of Color Against Violence.”
“This year, women’s presence was particularly strong,” said
Okazawa-Rey. “Women’s issues were very much on the forefront.”
According to Okazawa-Rey, women workers are being exploited
overseas by the forces of economic globalization. The term
globalization is applied to the
process by which industrial and technological production is sent
overseas to countries like China, Thailand, the Philippines, and
India for cheaper labor.
Sudbury said, due to the current political climate, the urgent
need to advocate for women’s rights around the world has been
compounded by the “disproportionate impact on globalization against
women.” She described Third World women as the primary workers in
the free trade zones, who work in poor conditions for very little
Not only are the women exploited for cheap labor, said
Okazawa-Rey, “women bear the burden of keeping families together in
times of war and economic downturns.”
In addition to the current plight of women in a time of economic
globalization, the WSF also focused on India’s national crisis- the
suffering of its poorest people, the indigenous Adivasi and the
Dalit, as witnessed by the masses that attended the WSF. Women with
small children were commonly seen begging in the streets, as their
people struggle to obtain basic needs such as water, land, and
Ethnic Studies student Bringi said seeing first-hand the
suffering of the Dalit and Adivasi became very personal.
“In India, I come from a privileged caste and class,” she said.
“Normally, I would never get the opportunity to exchange ideas with
such a vast cross-section of society in India. I’ve been to India
quite a few times, but this is the first time I addressed my
family’s history in India.”
Bringi said she began an internal exploration of caste, class,
and race, after learning about the struggles and victories of the
Dalits and Adivasi.
Since the forum, “I’ve been coming to terms with my family’s
history as oppressors,” she said.
For junior Liu, her learning experience at the WSF became very
personal as well. Of Taiwanese heritage, Liu felt compelled to
attend the Tibetan workshop.
“It was a good way to get a perspective on the Chinese
Liu said. “The Tibetan women were raped, their temples
destroyed, their men killed, yet they are still committed to
When not speaking on panels or attending workshops, the Mills
women gained a deeper understanding of the threads of issues that
surfaced at the conference from the variety of demonstrations held
outside the forum.
“Half of my learning was outside lectures and panels,” Bringi
said. “Outside, people were protesting all the time. They weren’t
just marching, there were songs, drama, and art.”
Bringi described a group of people in a circle singing Hindi
folk songs. There were women in the middle who were dancing and
engaging the crowd.
“A woman reached out to me and pulled me into the center,”
Bringi said. “I felt connected to these people.”
Sudbury emphasized the importance of cultural performance at the
Forum. “With at least 150 languages, cultural performance can
transcend the barrier of language, the strength of the human spirit
is very inspiring,” she said.
These women who represented Mills College in India, brought back
with them much more than memories and vivid stories, they have
lessons to share and a powerful message.
Senior Byrd believes that Americans need to make a commitment to
“Realizing that poverty in Third World countries is directly
related to our wealth and privilege as Americans is not enough,”
Byrd said. “That realization has to translate into a commitment to
fight environmental terrorism.”
Okazawa-Rey said that her experience in India reinforced the
importance of raising awareness in the United States of the impact
of globalization overseas.
“For me, it brought home the enormity and importance of the work
of feminists based in the U.S.,” she said. “We benefit enormously
by it [globalization].”
Okazawa-Rey said that American benefits include military and
corporate control over other countries. The rhetoric of this
domination, she said, is in the invocation of “The American
Americans also benefit, according to Sudbury, by being able to
by cheap clothes from the Gap or cheap electronic goods made by
Sony in sweat shops.
“The everyday lifestyle enjoyed by Mills students is a direct
outcome of the exploitation of Third World women under
globalization,” said Sudbury.
Okazawa-Rey said that domestic issues cannot be addressed
without dealing with foreign policy issues in women and ethnic
studies. She said that while billions go to U.S. military spending,
funding for needs such as schools, healthcare, and shelter are
“‘War on Terrorism creates more insecurity domestically… more
wrath from people around the world,” said Okazawa-Rey.
Sudbury believes that Mills student activists are thinking
transnationaly, as demonstrated by Liu’s initiative to get funding
to support sending students to the WSF. Liu applied to obtain an
Irvine Student Research Grant, which is a $400 per student grant
awarded to ten students a year who meet the criteria.
“I hope it becomes a regular occurrence,” Sudbury said. “It
would be great for women to attend next year in Brazil.”
For more details on the forum please attend the two feedback
sessions on Feb 29 and Mar 4. Other resources are Women of Color
Resource Center in Oakland,Incite: Women of Color Against Violence