Asian Social Forum Report

By Nozomi Bando
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism, Japan Committee

"Another World is Possible"

This is the slogan of the World Social Forum (WSF).

The WSF is a forum where people who are active in fields such as peace, the environment and human rights, gather to express "anti-globalization" with demonstrations, seminars, film and music performances etc. The forum initially began as a counter-conference to the World Economic Forum of Davos in Swizerland (*1), which was attended by political and economic elites. The WSF has been held annually in Porto Alegre, Brazil, since 2001. The third forum was held from January 23rd through 28th this year. Regional versions of the forum have also been organized. The Asian regional forum was held in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh State in India) from January 2nd through 7th, 2003, as the Asian Social Forum (ASF). While I did not feel that many people attended, the total number of participants according to the organizers was around 60,000 (*2). My feelings may have been due to the fact that seminar and workshop venues were quite dispersed. Individuals and wide range of organizations from Japan that are concerned about peace, the environment and human rights etc. also participated in the Forum. The Buraku Liberation League (BLL) and the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR) were among those delegates.

There were six main themes in the ASF that were discussed daily in the 164 seminars and workshops. The themes were: 1) Peace and Security; 2) Debt, Development and Trade, Finance and Investment; 3) Nation state, Democracy and Exclusions; 4) Social infrastructure, Planning and Cooperation; 5) Ecology, Culture and Knowledge; and 6) Alternative and Peoples Movements. Two other conferences were held in parallel in two main sites daily. I participated in two programs as a member of the BLL. One was the seminar "Dalits, Other social groups and Globalization", which was held in one of the main sites, and the other was a daily lunchtime event called "People's Voice".

I felt that the history of the Buraku liberation movement, the significant improvements it has made in the conditions faced by Buraku people, and as-yet unresolved reality of discrimination against them are slowly being recognized. In my opinion, this was as a result of the active commitment of the BLL to the UN human rights protection mechanisms and other relevant meetings including the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The BLL and IMADR have established a network with Dalit activists, who were the core organizers of those two programs, to fight against discrimination based on caste and descent. I think that one reason for the invitation calling for participation from Japan this time can be found in this fact. The unique character of Japan as an economically developed Asian country may also have lead Dalit activists to strongly encourage our participation.

I presented a basic background of Buraku discrimination along with an outline of the new problems being faced by Buraku communities as a consequence of globalization. Measures to ensure stable employment, which is considered as one of the central Buraku issues to resolve, have been implemented in every Buraku community since the Cabinet Dowa Policy Council submitted its recommendation in 1965. These measures have had a positive effect. However, circumstances have been unfavorable since 1990. While it is true that Japan is suffering an economic downturn, the degree and speed of damage are not consistent between Buraku and non-Buraku communities. A survey of the actual conditions of Buraku communities conducted by the Osaka Prefectural Government prominently shows that economic recession has caused serious damage to employment in Buraku communities. I also pointed out that the situation suggests that the BLL will take a leadership role in the creation of a society where human rights are respected. We must understand that the situation being faced by Buraku people is faced by many other minority groups that suffer from discrimination against them, and is also a question of Japanese society as a whole. At the same time, we should recognize a possible transformation from Dowa measures to general measures that target promotion and protection of human rights. I was asked to include into my speech challenges after 2002 (the expiration of the Law for Special Measures for Dowa Projects). The audience seemed to be interested in my presentation regardless of the prediction that I would stress continuation of Dowa measures.

IMADR sponsored a seminar discussing "women and poverty" related to gender insecurity caused by trafficking. We listened to comparative reports on trafficking and other forms of exploitative labor from a number of Asian countries such as the Republic of Korea, the Philippines, Nepal, India, and Sri Lanka. The reports clearly described a situation in which human rights and the security of women and children are in the peril under globalization and militarization. Whereas the implications of caste-based discrimination and trafficking in South Asia drew special attention from the audience, they confirmed the following common aspects of the issue and the importance of jointly advancing the fight in Asia against trafficking, which constitutes multiple discrimination.

The common aspects are:

  1. The trafficking of persons embedded in global market trade;
  1. The commercialization of women and children in both sending and receiving countries;
  1. The presence of "Rest and Recreation Facilities" in military bases and its relation to sex tourism.
The participants in the seminar, numbering almost one hundred, were especially impressed by the seriousness of this issue when they heard the testimony of Dalit women who were victims of trafficking and who joined the seminar with Ms. Burnad Fathima Netesan, a board member of IMADR.

The main duty assigned to me was to report on the reality of Buraku discrimination and the effects of globalization in two programs: "Dalits, Other social groups and Globalization" and "People's Voice". Taking into account the fact that most of the participants were from developing countries, it was considered important to ensure participation from the BLL, as people are interested in finding out more about the reality of groups that face discrimination against them and the effects of globalization and neo-liberalism in economically-developed countries like Japan.

Before the forum, I wondered if it was just going to be a merrymaking event where people acting under separate and varied themes, such as peace, the environment, economics and politics, were actually gathering for one theme: anti-globalization. I was doubtful as to whether or not people would be able to find common challenges. People tend to meet under the banner of anti-globalization and shout, get angry and march together with chanting. I felt that there was enormous significance in IMADR's presence at the forum with the voicing of the issues of human rights, racism and multiple discrimination. Attention to the WSF by the media and people in every region has been increasing year by year. The fourth WSF will be held next year in India. The slogan of the forum is, "We must build another world by ourselves now", rather than "Another World is Possible". It is powerful slogan that expresses heartfelt anger and the will to create our own future.

*1) The Davos Conference
The Japanese Minister for Economic and Fiscal Policy and for Financial Services, Mr. Heizo Takenaka, attended the Conference this year.

*2) 14,426 individuals registered, including 780 foreign representatives, while 840 separate organizations registered. A number of volunteers also participated. (source: "Hahei Check", No. 124, January 15, 2003 and "People's Plan", No. 21, February 2003)

For further information on the Asian Social Forum 2003 and World Social Forum India, please visit