Social Watch Responds to the Global Crisis at its Fourth General Assembly

SW approved its Strategy Document and elected its new Coordinating Committee. These were some of the many things accomplished in the General Assembly held last October in Accra, Ghana. The Assembly, besides approving the strengthening of activities on the regional level and the expansion of the network, reaffirmed the United Nations as the principal target institution for the work of SW and rejected the further empowerment of illegitimate groupings such as the G-8 and G-20.

With the vibrant colors, pulsating rhythms and rich culture of Ghana as a backdrop, Social Watch held its fourth General Assembly in Accra from October 27-29 of this current year. The General Assembly is the highest decision-making body of the Social Watch (SW) network, and on this occasion approximately 100 civil society activists from over 50 countries attended the gathering in representation of their respective SW national coalitions. The Assembly delegates used the opportunity to share experiences, to discuss issues related to the functioning of the network, and most of all, to construct joint strategies on the regional and international level to combat the social, environmental, and gender-based impacts of the financial crisis which continues to devastate the economies of developed and developing countries alike.

The Assembly commenced on October 27 with the opening remarks of Dr. Rose Mensah-Kutin, Coordinator of the Network for Womens’ Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), which jointly with the Third World Network-Africa (TWN-A), played host to the event. In her speech, she welcomed the Assembly participants and urged them to work together in order to contribute to the formulation of alternative responses to the crisis from a rights-based perspective. Following her address, Social Watch Coordinator Roberto Bissio addressed the delegates, emphasizing the need for more resources for poverty eradication not only in order to comply with international commitments such as the Millennium Development Goals but also as an effective way to stimulate the global economy. The opening session concluded with remarks by John Mahama, Vice-President of the Republic of Ghana, who decried the fact that the global crisis was reversing the substantial gains in poverty reduction achieved by the Ghanaian government in recent years, and called upon the civil society representatives at the Assembly to see governments as key partners in the struggle for economic and social development.

The first day of the Assembly continued with a keynote address by Dr. Yao Graham, Coordinator of TWN-A, which focused on the challenges faced by Social Watch in the current political context, defined by the re-emergence of the State as an actor in economic policymaking and the transition towards a more multipolar world in the face of US economic and military decline. Following Dr.Graham´s presentation, the delegates participated in an interactive “coffee-table” discussion session which allowed them to get to know each other and compare experiences and expectations regarding the Assembly and the Social Watch network in general. The day’s session concluded with presentations given by the Social Watch Secretariat and Coordinating Committee, highlighting how the network has grown both qualitatively and quantitatively since the third SW General Assembly in 2006, which led into discussions held by regional caucuses.

On the agenda of the second day of the General Assembly were the thematic workshops and thematic strategy sessions, which served as spaces to exchange experiences and knowledge as well as to generate ideas for the formulation of the “Social Watch Strategy Document and Framework of Activities” for the 2010-2011 period. The thematic workshops, centered on topics related to financing for development, gender rights, climate change, anti-poverty policies, human rights and budget analysis, and social indicators, were facilitated by members of the SW network from Germany, USA, Bulgaria, Ghana, Zambia, Belgium, Mexico, Brazil, Philippines, India and Italy. As a concrete result stemming from these workshops, it was decided to establish permanent working groups on the six topics mentioned previously which can coordinate actions and stimulate capacity-building efforts among all Watchers working on these themes. The thematic strategy sessions which followed were divided into four groups, focused on advocacy, communications, capacity-building, and mutual accountability, whose final recommendations were then sent to the Strategy Document drafting committee, led by Watchers from Belgium, Palestine, USA, and Germany.

On the third and final day of the event, the Assembly delegates debated and approved the final version of the SW Strategy Document, which highlights the principles, goals and objectives of the network, and will serve as a guide for the advocacy and campaigning work of the network until the next General Assembly is held in 2011. In particular, the document reaffirms the United Nations as the principal target institution for the work of SW and rejects the further empowerment of illegitimate, exclusionary global groupings such as the G-8 and G-20. It also calls for a strengthening of SW activities on the regional level, the expansion of the SW network to countries particularly in the regions of Central Asia and Eastern Europe, and the development of mutual accountability mechanisms which can help to improve the quality of SW national reports and increase communications among the network.

Following the adoption of the Strategy Document, the Assembly participants cast their votes to elect a new SW Coordinating Committee for 2010-2011, whose mandate is to provide political leadership for the network and oversee the implementation of the decisions taken at the General Assembly. The Watchers elected to the new CC include: Emily Joy Sikazwe (Zambia), Edward Oyugi (Kenya), Gustavo Luna (Bolivia), Norayda Ponce Sosa (Guatemala), Himanshu Jha (India), Marivic Raquiza (Philippines), Genoveva Tisheva (Bulgaria), Mirjam Van Reisen (Belgium), Nancy Baroni (Canada), Tanya Dawkins (USA), Allam Jarar (Palestine) and Yasmin Ismail (Egypt). The culminating point of the General Assembly was a public forum held at the Accra International Press Center, which focused on building solidarity among struggles for social justice and human rights in Africa and around the globe. The optimism and enthusiasm were pervasive both at the public forum and the Assembly as a whole, proving that the hope among civil society for systemic changes to the current financial and economic system is far from dead, and that with concerted action, a world without poverty and gender discrimination is still possible.

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