The World Social Forum (WSF) has opened in India amidst hopes of finding answers to some of the world’s most pressing issues.
The World Social Forum is the grassroots answer to the annual World Economic Forum, where Western politicians, corporate bigwigs and other power brokers schmooze in Davos, Switzerland.
This forum in Ghatkopar, one of Mumbai’s suburbs, focuses on social issues affecting the world’s poor and powerless. Over six days, the event will host hundreds of meetings and workshops on globalisation, militarism and racism.
Organisers say about 2,660 organizations from 132 countries will attend this week.
At its opening, it was packed with such activity it could be said to be an indicator of the participants’ strong desires to see changes in the right direction; after all the 2004 Forum is entitled: "Another world is possible".
There was a colourful celebration featuring drum beating, singing and dance to represent the 100,000 participants who have been drawn from around the world to contribute.
For their hosts, India, it was a time for ordinary citizens to be heard as well as to experience different cultures from across the globe.
Among other groups, the forum is witnessing a strong Dalit presence – one of India’s most marginalised social groups.
"This gathering gives me hope that we will be able to live our lives in dignity and peace someday," said Vidi Thillana, a Dalit woman attending the forum.
"It might not happen in my lifetime, but if we continue to stand in solidarity and gain inspiration from everyone else, my children will have the opportunities that I am fighting for."
It is also an opportunity to forge alliances and observe how issues are being addressed in other countries, with attitudes towards gender sitting at the top of this year’s critical list.
For African delegates, the desire was for every continent to unite and fight globalisation and imperialism.
Fatoumata Traore, a delegate from the west African country of Mali and the Africa Social Forum, said the fight against some of the problems that Africa and the rest of the world is facing is not going to be won unless continents co-operate more closely.
She stated it was unrealistic for the forum to produce concrete results by its conclusion, but that it could provide a platform for people to make alliances and understand the issues more clearly.
She stated that while people knew the effects of globalisation, imperialism and other related issues, they did not properly understand their consequences.
"This is not the time for Africa to stand alone but to work with the rest of the world to find solutions," said Traore.
This view was echoed by her colleague Timnit Abraha who stated that she hoped and expected the world to listen to what the little man and woman in the world is calling for.
She said she hoped forum delegates would take away with them a clearer picture of injustice and issues arising from some of the world’s biggest problems, including, she said, the Structural Adjustment Programme, which "is one of the reasons many people continue to live in debt and poverty".
Other themes up for discussion are: "Land, Water and Food Security", "Globalisation, Global Governance and the Nation State" and "Militarism, War and Peace".
Issues of trade are also going to be discussed in a World Trade Organisation (WTO) workshop as well as Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in a Taking IT Global (TIG) workshop.
The forum will conclude at the end of the week with a demonstration against the US occupation of Iraq.