Suspending disbelief and imagining something new: gender justice and a feminist future

Two girls smiling. Vanuatu Family Health Association

Preethi Sundaram, IPPF’s Policy and Advocacy Adviser blogs about her impressions from the 2016 Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) forum held in Bahia, Brazil

Where to begin on summing up the 2016 AWID Forum? It simply cannot be summed up. It was delightful, joyous, challenging and disruptive. Unlike many other international gatherings, this did not feel like a conference. Rather it was an experience, a process, a space from which feminist collective solidarity and power was built.

There are many things that the AWID forum has gifted me with; I want to mention just three things (out of the many AWID forum takeaways) that I will take with me from Bahia.

  1. AWID celebrated the power of our diversity and collectivity. Being in such an affirmative and inclusive space, with women from all corners of the feminist movement, built collective strength, power and solidarity. We stood together as a diverse movement; as trans people, sex workers, black women, disabled women, indigenous women, queer women, rural women and listened and learned from each other’s experiences. We heard the struggles and learnt of the resistance of women from around the world and understood that they were our struggles too. Dilar Dirik, a Kurdish women’s rights activist, spoke vividly about how, in the face of militarisation and increased violence perpetrated by ISIS, women are organizing and are resisting. She reminded us that “our struggle against fascism is a struggle for all women around the world”.
     
  2. Intersectionality came into sharper focus for me more than ever. The intersections of disability rights, climate justice, poverty, young feminist organizing, black feminisms, sexuality and sexual rights (to name but a few) were dissected and then magnified. Through this came something new and exciting; the necessity to respond to intersections of marginalization and to build solidarity across movements as part of actively growing the feminist movement. This means holding discomfort and understanding how our privilege feeds the discrimination of other women. For example, we cannot talk about sexuality and sexual rights without recognising the locations of privilege or discrimination that different groups of women experience. A session run by CREA on sexuality and disability stands out. Disability rights and feminist activist Nidhi Goyal shared her experiences of bridging the gap between the disability rights and feminist movements, and how women living with disabilities are marginalised within both the disability rights and women’s movements. The session challenged heteronormativity, able-ism and disablist notions that people living with disabilities are either asexual, hypersexual or somehow not having sex in a “normal way”. A woman I met at the forum, Somer Nowak , made a point on intersectionality that really stuck. She spoke about how we always look at intersectionality from the dominant hegemonic perspective, when we really ought to be doing things the other way round. In our framing, let’s start from positions of marginalisation instead of privilege and work from there.
     
  3. The final thing that really struck me was AWID’s ask of us to suspend all disbelief. We were enabled, through the programme, the plenary and the sessions to imagine a feminist future. It’s not often you get to dream, but here we were encouraged to. Fearless collective, a collective of artists and activists who speak out on gender based violence, ran an incredible plenary session that patched together women’s feminist imaginings for the future. Through film, performance and women’s testimonies of their hopes, fears and dreams, we created a future based on the values, the politics and relationships that we want for ourselves.

As the AWID forum ends, we are left with hope and purpose despite the immense work ahead. As was said many times throughout the forum: joy is at the heart of resistance. We will keep resisting.

Thank you AWID. It has been a privilege, in every sense, to be a part of imagining a feminist future.