Reflections from Kemly Camacho Jimenez, AWID 2016
Thanks to the support of the IDS at the University of Sussex, the Cooperative Sulá Batsú was present at the 13th International Forum of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) which took place in September 2016. AWID is an international, feminist, membership organisation committed to achieving gender equality, sustainable development and women’s human rights. On this occasion more than 2000 people gathered from all corners of the globe, all cultures, all genders, all contexts and all struggles with a common commitment to gender justice, sustainable development and women’s rights.
The celebration took place in Bahia as a tribute to and recognition of the historical struggles of black women, their organizations and feminist movements throughout the world. Two days before the Forum the Black Feminist Forum was organised to celebrate the achievements of black populations all around the world and to analyse the new challenges for justice and equality they face.
“People who are in prison, who are in psychiatric hospitals, on the street, who have diabetes or other health problems are mainly black people. The question is: how to take care of ourselves? The system will not take care for us.” (Brazilian black woman, participant at AWID).
“They urgently demand a deep reflection to collectively understand what is happening with black populations. Why is it happening? Who are the black populations of the world? Where are they? And they propose strategies such as Grandfathers” and Grandmothers’ Day, to understand their origins and recover andrevalue historical values and principles of black communities to question why negritude matters. Making these populations more visible is a type of resistance, of counterculture.
The AWID forum became a huge tribute to diversity, in a celebration that shows how humans can live in equity, stimulating and enhancing the different things that each person brings to the whole rather than enforcing standardization which is what our consumer society imposes on us. This meeting demonstrated the need to unite deeply in diversity to keep the joy that constitutes the power source driving any transformative pathway. How can we be happy, if we are not true to our identity? How can we build the complex paths toward better worlds if we do not feel solid in our roots with all our peoples around us?
Many different proposals based on concrete actions and real struggles were exchanged at the AWID Forum. Particular emphasis was put on the urgency to claim back our imperfections: the right we have as women to not be perfect. Women must urgently stop to suffer the tremendous pressure to be the most beautiful, the sweetest, the most intelligent, the most self-sacrificing, the most loving, the less fat, the less thin which we are subjected to everywhere in the world. The pressure for perfection is often immobilizing and demands that women invest incalculable time to try to achieve that perfect being that ‘we ought to be’.
In this huge forum full of heart, this claim for imperfection was been accompanied by the urgency of self-care:the right to look after ourselves physically, spiritually and morally. The proposal is for collective self-care, full of love and understanding between equals, and carried out using ancestral knowledge that we all safeguard in our own histories, in our own hearts and bodies. This concept of self-care is not based on any profitable individualized self-help business nor on the decontextualization of ancient practices.
“How do we continue with our struggles and demands without harming ourselves, without endangering our own lives and without ending up exhausted and at risk.” (Young Egyptian activist imprisoned for her feminist struggles and participant at AWID).
The AWID Forum manifested strongly the right to diverse sexualities and to diversity in general. All contexts showed violence towards voices, bodies, hearts and minds that support, live or promote diversity, creating scary places to live one’s own sexualities. The structural difficulty of all regimes to accept that there may be something beyond the gender binary (male-female) was one of the cross-cutting issues in all discussions and proposals in this global forum. Undoubtedly this clashes strongly with religious fundamentalisms which are expanding on the planet and are accompanied by oppressive regimes around the world.
“The public space is very oppressive for lesbian, trans, inter or queer people, we are seen as criminals. It was not until I looked at other women in the eyes that I could lift my eyes from the ground and embrace activism for the rights of diverse people. Looking into each other’s eyes and telling each other how beautiful we are is an act of resistance”. (Young lesbian, participant at AWID).
The right to pleasure and love
It is also necessary to claim back the right to pleasure and love. Without judgement for wanting to love and feel and without any space for abuse and sexual coercion. We are all different, we have a right to different pleasures.
“May no one ever force us to do what we do not want to do and may no one ever judge us for doing what we want to do. Reclaiming the right to pleasure and sexuality of the elderly, of persons with disabilities, of all people. May there always be rights to and conditions for sex and pleasure”. (Young blind woman, activist for the rights of disabled women and participant at AWID).
Space for advocacy
Do the State and institutions provide a space for advocacy? This was a recurrent question with multiple answers according to the various contexts. For many, the state and institutions do not represent a possible space for advocacy. The question acquires profound validity in situations such as Brazil, Honduras, Paraguay in Latin America where there have been legalised coups or in Islamic contexts where repression against women by the state itself is unacceptable. Is it possible to find ways within these institutions to advocate for equality, for the rights of women, for diversity and the sustainability of the planet?
There were many negative answers but also many new alternatives that women have built, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. Autonomous governments, communities organized locally with their own rules, rescuing ancestral organisational forms: these are some of the responses and the alternatives that some people have used in their attempt to destroy the social fabric imposed by States, corporations, the media and fundamentalist religions.
“We Kurdish women can never relate the state to peace or democracy. We are forming our own local autonomous governments and in each one of them we have women to defend our rights. We cannot negotiate with those who have excluded women. We defend ourselves. We are no victims or poor things. We choose a liberation that starts at the local level, from daily life. For example, we have created our own educational system based on ethical principles and shared history. We do not accept limits. Sometimes it is hard to imagine futures, but we do not stop dreaming”. (Young Kurdish leader, participant at AWID).
Democracy is work in progress, always under construction. We are living in times of fragile democracies and weakened political powers against the growing power of corporations. We need to rethink and build new democracies. Democracy is an ongoing struggle.
Climate change and justice
Climate justice is impossible without gender justice. The 2000 participants agree that it’s now time for all human beings to join hands to save the planet.
“Some of the islands of Indonesia will soon disappear because of climate change, what should we feminists do to oppose this threat to our planet and our own lives?” (Environmentalist from Indonesia and participant at AWID).
And climate change is entirely related to the development models that have been imposed to us. We are losing our common goods, our ancestral wisdom that enable us to have a healthy and sustainable relationship with other beings that inhabit the earth and with the planet itself. The moment that we stop producing corn and beans, that we cease to grow the food our families consume,we are in danger. This is about the survival of humanity.
“Why do we insist on a development model that destroys the place where we live. In the name of development, a death plan is being set up. Ancient cultures are being destroyed because they show that other worlds are possible, that other forms of life can exist.” (Indigenous peasant woman from Honduras, participant at AWID).
Climate change can provide an opportunity to challenge the current development models and build new alternatives from local climate justice groups.
Conflicts and defence of territories
The territory is the body of indigenous women. In armed conflicts around the world indigenous women have been the most affected populations both internally and externally. Breaking machismo has not only been a struggle with non-indigenous people, but also within the same indigenous populations.The alliance with women from other cultures has been very important to develop leadership and build the political capacity of indigenous women who now lead their community movements to defend their territories.
For indigenous women harmony with nature means harmony with their own body. Ancient knowledge provides the protection against the immense challenges faced by indigenous people who defend their territories against extractive development models. Harmonization amongst women, with nature, and with spirituality are their main tools for resistance.
Imagine that another world is possible.
Communicating feminism, joining up with other movements we have never been close to, popularizing feminist ideas so that everyone understands, are fundamental challenges. Connecting feminist politics with environmental, financial and economic policies. So that feminism does not create fear, but cohesion and is the answer to whoever wants better worlds and a living planet where all peoples and beings co-exist respecting each other. Our proposals are not reaching everybody, every consumer and citizen. Efforts should be made so that all people understand how capitalism works.
Feminism has not been able to create alarm about extractivism of tangible and intangible common goods which causes the death of humanity. Feminism has not managed to do enough to communicate that other worlds are possible, that new alternatives, new ideas, other options should be created that are not based on inequality and exploitation and that go well beyond what is being proposed to us as the only possible way. There must be a globalisation of solidarity. We have to find other languages and find answers in art and culture to go beyond the words, connect with feelings, commitments, spiritualities, hearts.
“The identities of Tunisian women became invisible. No cultural specificity was visible. We felt the need to say again that there is not one single type of woman. And we have used art to avoid using words. That’s why we created our own festival which at first lasted one day and now lasts three. It began as a community event in Tunisia and now spans across several countries. We decided it was necessary to tell the world that Arab women are not victims, we are not poor things, we are strong, creative and we are fighting. In order to give visibility to women in this region in a positive way we use all artistic expressions. We make collective art from our own identities.” (Young organiser of the artistic festival of Arabic women in Tunis and participant at AWID).
May we never stop imagining, we do not want to hear that alternatives are already built and defined and that there is only one possible way to build humanity. We have to have a higher goal for building alliances amongst diverse people and that common goal is the defence of life. Let us summon joy to imagine those better futures that we are building today. “Joy is the heart of resistance,” said Berta Cáceres’ daughter.
Kemly Camacho Jimenez is a researcher working with BRIDGE at IDS.