The Bamako Polycentric World Social Forum (WSF) kicked off yesterday with a 70 percent of people being women from all walks of life.
The day, which started with registration, met women, including the grassroots and traditional women, in big numbers. The forum has been characterised by women dressed in new West African dress looking very smart and admirable as they participated in the march carrying different banners and chanting solidarity messages in their local languages and French.
The Bamako WSF has an African face attached to the forum just like the Indian social forum has an Asian face and the Brazilian social forum has a Latin American face.
In an interview with the Genderit.org, Corinne Kumar from El Taller International in Tunisia said that she found out about the forum via e-mail and internet, and the national and regional platforms.
Marthe Arama Mali, a participant at the WSF, mentioned she heard about the forum after the cotton and gold sell through her network. She said that other women who do not have access to the internet heard about the forum by word of mouth through their networks or women’s movement.
Arama however pointed out that it was not very easy to register as the participant following the lack of broadband access in Africa as the database on the web site required people to download the form.
She also emphasized that the database behind the WSF website requires very good internet connection, while majority of Africa relies on dial up.
For many women who do not know how to read and write or even using the internet, the use of the internet registration was done by their networks.
Corinne explained that the Bamako WSF committee assisted the participants to get visas at the airport thanks to the letter of invitation, which could be easily generated via the internet in either French, English or Portuguese. Thereby she thinks the registration via the internet was quite revolutionary and simplified the process of registration and invitation letters.
She was also pleased that all the embassies where well informed about the Bamako WSF event, and even the Mali ambassador based in Tunisia helped them to search for cheaper accommodation and and to proceed their visa applications.
Many women joined the march to raise voices saying another world was possible.
Awa Coulibary, a street vendor in Mali, said she is happy to see and be part of the Bamako WSF march. She was aware this would come as she heard this on radio and television. Since she is selling fried groundnuts, she also hope to make some business here.
Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, a chaiperson of Nigeria Social Forum (NSF), explained that women from Nigeria learnt about the Bamako WSF from the Femnet mailing list and the internet, and passed this information further to the local list serves such as the Women Organisation for Representation and National Cohesion (WORNACO).
She noted that when people learnt about WSF in Bamako they started asking about the participation i and where they can get funding. One of the organization, which has supported some women to attend the forum in Mali, is the Global fund for women.
According to Abiola the grassroots women from Nigeria are missing in the forum since they do not have access to email. "Lack of access to the internet hinder women’s development. It denies them to get information that can be useful to them," said Abiola. She underlined women’s movement use the internet to research especially on issues such as the women’s rights.
For the first time in the WSF process, the journalists from the African Flame newspaper will be reporting apart from English and French in three African languages, including Kiswahili. Many women participants in Bamako WSF speak only the local language Bamanan and Fulfulde, which are also covered by the African Flame newspaper.
Local languages coordinator, Souleymane Niang from the African Flame newspaper, declared they had to install a special software in order to be able to print in the two widely spoken languages in Mali (Bamanan and Fulfulde). She add their main motivation was to provide information to the local people particularly to women, who were marginalised everywhere in the world.