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The politics of women’s bodies enter into the Forum’s debate

vendredi 15 novembre 2002, par Malin Björk

During the second day of the European Social Forum the realities of women’s bodies entered into the political discussions. The women’s activists made it clear that the political struggles must include the elimination of different forms of oppression and violence that target women’s bodies.

The political actors and the struggles within the movement of the movements are usually presented and thought of as ’bodiless’. This is because men rarely or never have to speak about their bodies – the male body is implicitly understood as the ’universal’ body of humanity. And as it is not subject to all kinds of repressions and violence, it becomes irrelevant to speak about the autonomy over ones body as a basis for political struggles.
It is therefore not a surprise that the politics of bodies have not been raised at the Forum other than in the workshops organised by women’s activists. During one of the morning plenaries, specifically focusing on women’s struggles against liberal globalisation, women were given the space to express their continuous struggles for women’s human rights, especially the ones related to women’s bodies. Several participants highlighted that women’s bodies are often the very target of different forms of oppression. For example, one out of five women in Europe have sometime during her life experienced violence from her partner or other close person. It was pointed out, that this form of oppression will not be eradicated automatically with ending other forms of oppression in a liberal economic system. Neither will women automatically be given full reproductive rights to freely decide over their bodies, as the Irish and Polish feminists witnessed about.
In Ireland, a country held forward as the model for economical development, as the ’European tiger economy’, it is still completely illegal with abortion unless a woman is virtually dying. In Poland, another country with extremely restrictive abortion laws, the ’left’ government now in power made a deal with the Catholic church to keep the current restrictive abortion laws in exchange for their support for another political project, namely EU Membership. And this although they during election campaign had promised to change the abortion law and to re-establish women’s right to determine over their bodies.

Trafficking in women

Women’s bodies were also the centre of discussion in the interventions on trafficking in women. Every year hundred of thousands of women bodies are trafficked over borders by criminal networks to serve male buyers (mostly in Western Europe) of women’s bodies in prostitution.
In an afternoon workshop the issue of prostitution was the topic of discussion. Unfortunately one must say that the discussions fell into the trap of liberal discourse. Apart from a very limited number of interventions highlighting the commodification of women’s bodies and the neo-liberal functioning of the market that trades in women’s bodies, most contributions reduced the issue to one of individual choice (or not). However, a smaller number of participants, mainly young ones, did also call for a greater interrogation of the demand-side of the prostitution system, i.e. men’s behaviour, and their self-claimed right to buy women in prostitution.

What about men’s body ?

Although not as strong voice as one would have wished during today’s meeting, some women did call on men to question their body politics as well. Because although they rarely acknowledge it, they do practice a body politics – often the politics of silence and non-action in relation to the oppression women’s bodies are subjected to. Or sometimes as active exploiters of their dominant position – buying women in prostitution and beating their partners. It is time that men start to acknowledge that their embodiment (in a male body), position them in relation to women in society, and that feminists are awaiting men to also take action against male violence against women and firmly reject the ’right’ to buy women’s bodies in prostitution. Women in their turn, will continue to raise the issues of body politics as long as our bodies are not safe, and as long as we have to live under a system of masculine sexual domination in different forms.


Malin Bjork - 8 novembre 2002

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