Women gather to fight corporate power Human rights endangered, League for Peace claims

July 28, 1998|By Jamie Smith | Jamie Smith,SUN STAFF

Several hundred women from around the world are gathered in Towson this week to fight the power -- and the power, they say, is in the hands of corporations and banks.

Concerned that the global trend of large businesses with more control over money than ever before is endangering human rights, the 83-year-old Women's International League for Peace and Freedom has devoted its 27th Congress to the issue and possible solutions.

"We want to create a globalization process that is really distributing the wealth better, instead of marginalizing more and more of the world," said league International President Edith Ballantyne, a Canadian citizen who lives in Geneva.

"We need to work for a society where there is more justice, more sharing of resources," she said. "We feel that unless we can begin to change some of these [problems], we will destroy our planet."

The triennial congress is being held in the United States for the first time since 1980, when it was in New Haven, Conn. The event -- which began last week at Goucher College and runs through Friday -- features speakers, workshops, a Peace Camp for children and a rally in Washington tomorrow to protest economic policies. The women -- and men -- in attendance represent more than 30 countries.

During the panels and discussions that began yesterday, speakers highlighted problems they see with the current global economic system.

"Corporations have made of themselves the primary defining force on the globe," said Virginia Rasmussen, co-chair of the league's U.S. section committee on Corporations, Trade and Democracy.

"They define what is [of] value and what is not. They subject the natural world to assault after assault until it can't rise up in the springtime," she said.

Njoki Njehu, public outreach coordinator for the 50 Years is Enough Network -- a group opposed to the way the International Monetary Fund tries to reduce countries' debts -- said the fund's work in Africa has led to billions of dollars pouring out of countries to pay creditors, while education and health services are cut.

The only available jobs pay little, she said. "People work very hard, very long hours, but they don't seem to get ahead, they don't seem to get anywhere," said Njehu, who is from Kenya.

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom traces its roots to 1915, when a group of suffragettes held a conference in the Netherlands to protest World War I. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jane Addams, a volunteer who devoted her life to helping the underprivileged, was the league's first international president. Another active, early member was a Goucher College professor, Gertrude Bussey.

Before the event ends Friday, league members will decide what steps they will take to help reduce global economic problems. One of those problems, according to Marianne Brun, a member of the league's German section, is that merging corporations have eliminated many jobs in Europe.

"We don't see at the moment when there's ever going to be employment, and the young have a hopelessness that leads to violence," said the Berlin resident. "All our lives are being ruled by the corporations now. Our governments hardly have the power anymore to protect us."

Pub Date: 7/28/98

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