Regions Refocus 2015 Launches at Ford Foundation in New York

On Monday, 26 January, Regions Refocus 2015 – a new initiative housed at the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation – was officially launched at an all-day event at the Ford Foundation Headquarters in New York City.

Tonya Haynes of CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network leads the teach-in for Session 2 on “Sexing and Gendering Development,” at the Ford Foundation during the Regions Refocus 2015 launch.

Bringing together leading activists, civil society representatives, and policymakers from each region of the world, the launch addressed fundamental issues of development, climate change, and overarching economic and social structures and their regional manifestations. The Regions Refocus 2015 report, a collaborative publication detailing the outcomes and initiatives emerging from nine regional workshops held by civil society and policy-makers in eight regions of the world, was released on 26 January to coincide with the launch.

Through dynamic dialogue with high-level UN representatives and staff of Permanent Missions to the United Nations, the Regions Refocus launch presented important regional perspectives, centered around core tensions of the global development discourse. The launch began with welcoming remarks from Anita Nayar, Director of Regions Refocus 2015, highlighting the need to rebuild regional and feminist solidarities between movements and in dialogue with states. Anita mentioned specific obstacles to restructuring economic, ecological, and social relations towards justice: an unstable international financial system, a multilateral process that fails to regulate private capital, and an unprecedented level of public-private partnerships that accelerate the scramble for resources, assets, and markets. Keynote addresses were delivered by Professor Sakiko Fukuda-Parr of the New School and UN Assistant Secretary-General Thomas Gass, who engaged in a spirited question and answer period following his remarks.

The first session, “Fetish for Foreign Direct Investment vs. Economic Determination,” began with a teach-in by Dereje Alemayehu of Tax Justice Network-Africa, who situated FDI within the context of significant net outflows from the African continent. Should FDI drive, or supplement, national development processes?, Dereje asked, pointing to problematic tax privileges given to foreign companies that “blur the distinction between investors and scavengers.” These conditions are particularly significant in the context of an unprecedented global investment boom, with up to 8% of global GDP invested and positioned as a magic bullet, illustrated Heinrich Boell Foundation’s Nancy Alexander. The lack of community participation in investment decisions, preferential treatment of foreign investors over domestic industry, and stymying of self-determination must be amended to ensure FDI supports – rather than supplants – domestic growth, development, and employment, the roundtable concluded.

Pointing to the structural and social implications of sexuality and gender as intrinsic aspects of human life and interaction with the development paradigm, the second session focused on “Sexing & Gendering Development.” In her teach-in, Tonya Haynes of CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network spoke to the “multiple and contextual valences of power,” and the ways in these affect women, LGBTQI people, and young people in the context of unequal North-South relations and lingering economic crisis. The discussion around Tonya’s presentation emphasized the impossibility of divorcing macroeconomic policies from consideration of social context and the embeddedness of gender and sexuality in “defining access to, movement through, and exclusion from the development system,” in the words of Richie Maitland of Groundation Grenada Action Collective. Challenging the instrumentalization of women and the reduction to language of “empowerment” rather than rights in the post-2015 and Financing for Development political spheres, participants spoke of the need for new articulations and regionally-grounded understandings of sexuality and gender articulation, including in countering the imperialism of Euro-American constructions of LGBT identity throughout the globe.

The final session, on “Reclaiming the State vs. Corporatization of Governance,” began with a teach-in from noted Peruvian economist Oscar Ugarteche, who provided an overview of the “crisis of multilateralism” in the context of shifting geopolitical and economic power relations. The interventions during the roundtable following Oscar’s teach-in centered on the role of private interests in shaping governance at national and multilateral levels, including the “corporate capture” of the UN. In this context, civil society and government representatives framed the rise of movements for direct democracy, evidenced in specific participatory governance mechanisms in the Caribbean and through uprisings in the “key transitional context” of the Arab States, according to Heba Khalil of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights. The tensions between democracy and development, and ongoing contestations of corruption and crony capitalism, arose as cross-regional themes in the discussion. Participants evidenced the questioning of current conditions of governance and failures of representative democracy, calling for a breakdown and rebuilding of the nexus of state-business relations. The concluding emphasis was on the role of the state as the uniquely accountable duty-bearer, on the UN as the sole legitimate democratic multilateral arena, and on the need to strengthen civil society in the face of shrinking space and increasing persecution.

Through its innovative perspective on transformational regional to global policies, Regions Refocus 2015 presented a unique intervention into the intergovernmental spaces of the UN. The initiative and its discussions brought much-needed breadth and regional specificity to bear on the contested and complicated international landscape that will inform this year of negotiations in the spheres of sustainable development, financing, and climate change. Moving forward, Regions Refocus 2015 will share a series of video interviews with launch participants, and will engage and facilitate dialogue with finance and economic ministries in each of the regional consultations hosted by the UN Regional Commissions leading up to the Third Conference on Financing for Development.

Watch the webcast archive of the Regions Refocus 2015 launch.

Read the Regions Refocus 2015 report.

See also Barbara Crossette’s article in PassBlue, available here.