What can ensure that globalization is a truly progressive force that allows us all to live in a world where, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, the winds of the world blow freely all about us, but we are not blown off our feet?
My answer is simple: women.
In my years of working at the Global Fund for Women, the largest grantmaking foundation in the world that focuses exclusively on advancing women’s rights internationally, I have had the privilege of hearing from thousands of women’s groups. These groups work on such issues as the environment, health, education, water rights, inheritance rights, trafficking and early marriage. In their work they are fired by a very different imagination—a vision of a world that is not defined by brute force or military power. They are able to envision a world where conflicts are resolved using words instead of weapons. They are able to conceive of a world where a truly “free market” will decide that the value of a teacher or child care worker is reflected in a salary that shows how much society truly values children, education and community over profit margins.
What enables women to imagine such a world? I don’t believe that it’s some genetic gift of superior insight. Rather, because women have been excluded from power for so long and marginalized in so many cultures across the globe, they are able to rethink the paradigm that appears self-evident to others. No matter where they live or what religion they practice, women are “global” in a way that men have never been: the experience of bearing and raising children, of nurturing and caring for the sick and the old, and of preserving life, is true for women everywhere.
As we look for ways to re-imagine our economies and our governance structures, women may be able to help us shape priorities and values that will in turn be reflected in the marketplace. Women are able to offer a new vision of how such a world might be organized, where collaborative and cooperative systems would replace “old-fashioned” industrial-age models of competition and ruthless exploitation. Human security—of person, of food, and of shelter—would replace narrow militaristic definitions of national security.
The Global Fund’s own experience provides some evidence of this possibility. Our mission is to advance women’s human rights and to amplify the voices giving birth to this alternative vision—namely, women’s groups around the world. Theirs is a truly twenty-first-century imagination of globalization, one that is in harmony with the word “global”—that values mother earth, and is round, warm, all-encompassing, inclusive, borderless. At another level we seek to model this alternative vision as an organization, inverting the traditional hierarchical model of philanthropy by opening it up to participation by all who seek to create social change, and transforming relations between North-South and Grantee-Donor to a network of equal partners who respect and trust one another.
It is often said that our greatest weakness is also our greatest strength. In the case of women, perhaps their long-term and systemic exclusion from the broader economy and from roles of public leadership is exactly what offers them the ability to imagine a future where, in the words of environmental activist and scientist, Vandana Shiva, “they can refuse the choice between centralized controlling states and centralized controlling markets and demand decentralized democracy for local communities, vibrant lived democracies that are possible for humanity across the world.”
Gandhi once said, “It may be long before the law of love is recognized in international affairs.” For his dream to be realized we will need women’s vision, imagination and participation to transform the global economy. Only then can their ripples of change bring about a tidal wave of lasting transformation and a truly ethical globalization for all.
Kavita N. Ramdas, president and CEO of the Global Fund for Women since 1996, is a recognized leader in the fields of women's rights and philanthropy. Before joining the Global Fund, Kavita supported both domestic and international programs in economic development and population issues as a program officer at the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago.