Collected reflections from Amadé Sucá, Denis Kalekeni, Andrew Mbega and Julie Juma
This was the 12th edition of the World Social Forum (or the Fórum Social Mundial in its original Portuguese) since the first one in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. It has in the past been held in Brazil, India, Kenya, Senegal, Pakistan, Venezuela, Mali and Tunisia - now Montreal, Canada. It is a space to build concrete alternatives to the neoliberal socio-economic model and alternatives to politics based on the exploitation of human beings and nature.
ActionAid's expertise has been in tackling the root causes of poverty, so when we create projects and campaigns around education, when we work with partners to support grassroots organisations, and see the wider problems hindering progress - we call them out!
And so, attending one of the largest social conferences in the world, ActionAid's education team have had the issue of tax justice high on our agenda. Tax is what enables governments to invest in education, and investment is needed to ensure that education is equitable. Indeed, how can we say that the right to education is being met for all, if girls are dropping out at a higher rate than boys?
We had the honour of being joined by our friend Denis Kalekeni, who is General Secretary to the Teachers Union of Malawi, as well as colleagues from ActionAid Tanzania, Malawi, Vietnam and elsewhere. We were in a strong position to make the case for providing education to the poor people of the world and how that can be achieved. With the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by world leaders not so long ago, the pressure is on to make good on promises made.
In true WSF tradition, the conference kicked off with a march. We joined in with parade and song, with placards and banners. It was a mix of protest and celebration, there to loudly demonstrate that the current economic and political model is failing. Another world is needed.
Partnership-building, solidarity and advocacy are crucial for us here, building alliances between the sometimes disparate peoples who have a stake in improving education internationally. Although tax is to a large extent a national issue, we know from research and experience that international treaties can have huge impacts on a nation's ability to claim funds through taxes. These treaties often include the provision of tax holidays and loopholes for the benefit of multinational companies. Those missing funds could otherwise be directed towards financing our education systems and creating an enabling environment for learners, particularly girls.
In order to connect with the groups in attendance at the Forum around this issue, we had a stall set up near the centre attended all through the day, every day, by staff, directors and board members from throughout our federation. That way we could provide information to people about our aims and make connections with people. We also took the opportunity to encourage people to share their support on social media around the #TaxPaysFor hashtag. And such a wonderful surprise - hearing the excited call of "Hello ActionAiders!" from around the corner we were greeted by our former CEO Joanna Kerr!
We participated and ran many sessions throughout the week, connecting with people, sharing our experiences and joining in solidarity. The problems the world faces are clear to so many people in attendance.
Elites are capturing the state and commodifying all public goods and services: education, water, seeds, land, energy, agriculture, health, science, technology and infrastructure. It is neoliberalism and market fundamentalism that are taking over our land, our lives and our countries. Destabilization and militarization of countries using political, economic and diplomatic means with the intentions of making business is the prevailing path by the so called 1% elite group, and this challenge is being felt by all. Angelo Gavrielatos of Education International, speaking at the Response to the Privatization/Commodification of Education Knowledge session, concluded by saying:
“The greatest threat to quality public education which should be free and universally accessible is privatization and commercialization of education.”
Our colleague Jenny Ricks led a session on this wider, unifying aim titled Building a movement to fight inequality. This movement that ActionAid is helping to build between organisations aims to tackle inequality that lies at the heart of these diverse issues; the inequality that creates and widens the power gaps between elites and everyone else, that robs the people of their voices when it comes to important, structural problems. You can see a video of the session below:
On the fourth day of the conference, a protest march was held by the government buildings against the denial of visas to many would-be participants from the Gambia, Mozambique, Palestine, Senegal and Zambia. The names of those countries had been written on the floors, a reminder of the solidarity needed throughout our movements.
On the final day of the conference we attended to the Parc Jarry, where we met in our thematic convergence assemblies to announce our declarations. These would be our learnings, our key actions and the way forward. We rushed into the Right to Education tent, arriving in time to listen and contribute to the final education theme outcomes. English, French and Spanish were the most used languages. This is the World Social Forum’s diversity - and it is so beautiful!
To date millions of girls in developing countries continue to be out of school because their parents are not able to pay for school fees and their governments are not able to mobilize domestic resources to fund quality education. We must all strive to make sure that our governments honour their commitments on the SGDs, especially on quality, public and inclusive education.
Therefore we ultimately agreed that social movements must lead the struggle for a genuine solidarity economy. Civil society groups will ensure people-oriented research is done to inform equality, equity and fair public policies that promote a life of dignity for all. Corporations must pay fair taxes under tax justice frameworks to be universally established. Governments must reclaim their legislative and redistributive role in public services and goods. People must lead the development of alternatives such as food sovereignty, domestic financing for free, inclusive, and quality public education for all. Rights of indigenous, refugee and migrant communities must be respected as prescribed in the global conventions. We committed to nationalize, globalize and radicalize (with non-violent methods) the struggle whenever needed to expose and challenge the fundamental contradictions of the current global economic system. We have to condemn, to boycott, to demonstrate, to denounce and to raise our voice for effective changes in policies, practices and attitudes at all levels to address injustice, inequality and apartheid. When we agreed on all this, we all stood up and clapped. This is it!
We have our commitments, our action plans and calendar of events. It is up to us to commit and make the effort to transform those plans into practice and those changes into reality so that we can live in the world we all deserve.