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Suspending disbelief to imagine feminist futures

Posted on 25/09/2016
By Reineira Arguello Sanjuan
Photo Credit: Reineira Arguello Sanjuan

In times when the collective power, enhanced by social media, has echoed an increased public skepticism of politicians and institutions, would you suspend your disbelief?

Would you suspend your disbelief despite the fact that in the 21st century as a woman and a representative of the world’s majority population, you still have to fight for equal pay and create a movement such as Say Her Name?  #SayHerName, which campaigns against police brutality and violence against black women, challenges the Afro-feminisation of poverty as is the case for Afro-Brazilian women. This is a world where we still have to advocate for sexual health, reproductive rights and gendered budgets.

With this defiant invitation the organisers of the 13th Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) International Forum brought together more than 1,800 feminists and female human rights defenders from around the world. The Forum included grassroots activists, human rights advocates, representatives from multilaterals such as the Commonwealth Foundation and policy makers.

It was four days of intensive discussions in the form of plenaries, side events, caucuses, small gatherings, story-telling sessions, dance and cabarets, in which representatives of multiple feminisms accepted one of the challenges presented to the Forum: to design ways to govern our own village.

Governing our village

In response, Forum participants envisioned a village in which policies finally work for the realization of women’s rights, and all women’s choices. A village in which diversity would be valued and the fluidity of our identities on gender, sexuality, and more would be recognised. Religious fundamentalism would not have any say in the definition of policies in this village, as its governance would be secular. 

Representatives from the black feminist forum brought to the village epistemological analysis that challenged colonialist notions of history, and the passivity and lack of agency with which African women are depicted. They presented art and story-telling as a political act able to reaffirm different notions of identity where blackness would be celebrated, a village in which all life matters.

With a feminist internet, and perspectives from indigenous knowledge, the village would improve the interaction between humans and planet, and a deeper sense of gender justice would have the final say on the distribution of resources.

With a firm rejection of militarized responses to 21st century global challenges a feminist village would seek alternative ways of conflict resolution salvaging fundamental principles of participatory democracy to redesign the functioning of political systems and institutions, which have to be better able to address systemic dynamics that perpetuate power imbalances and reinforce discrimination.

Increase solidarity amongst movements as a democratic response to reach the envisioned feminist futures

With the complexity of the current reality, it is no longer possible to pretend that a recipe for change is in the realm of a political actor, an institution or a movement. There are multidimensional issues affecting women’s lives and a multidimensional response is required to make a reality of the envisioned feminist futures.

While the  women’s movement recognized the significant role played by global frameworks in amplifying demands of the women’s movement, for example: the Commission on the Status of Women established to promote the advancement of women throughout the world; the historic Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, it is still clear that women’s demands are being left behind and women’s rights continue to be ignored.

AWID showed that women are not waiting for change to happen passively. With a call for an increased solidarity amongst movements, feminists are working actively to make change happen. The suspension of our disbelief led us to imagine a feminist future, however a consistent element of reality during this exercise was the strength and clarity of women’s voices, and the certainty that working better together as a movement is central to achieving the transformation envisioned by feminist futures. 

Reinera is an expert on women’s rights and gender, with more than 20 years of work experience in international development.