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Awid Feminist Forum

in WORLD, 13/01/2009

Overview Awid Feminist Forum

The 11th Feminist Forum, 14 till 17 November, Cape Town, South Africa - The Power of Movements

The main theme was how to strengthen feminist movements, how to overcome its fragmentation and how to expand strategic alliances with other movements.

The Forum gathered about 2000 women from 144 countries around the world.

Each day opened with a discussion theme in the plenary, followed by a wide selection of workshops. At the first plenary Nadine from Meem (Lebanon) was one keynote speaker and her outstanding intervention on lesbian and feminist movements was noticed by all people present.

ILGA financially supported 4 representatives to be present during the Forum. More than 20 LGBT organizations were present at the forum. Our aim was not only to participate in the sessions but to ask specifically whether or not LBTI women are included in various women's movements/networks and if they were not, to remind the different women's groups to do so. The workshops attended touched upon subjects such as disability, sex workers, feminist youth, sports and women, sexual and reproductive rights, women and HIV/AIDS, etc.

Below the feedback on a few workshops that we would like to share with you.

Speaking Out against homophobia, Hate, Claiming Justice, Celebrating rights
Akinyi, Women in Action, Galck, Kenya
Gloria Careaga, ILGA Co-secretary general
Dawn Cavanah, Forum of Empowerment of Women (FEW), South Africa
Chanda, Friends of Raika, Zambia

Fikile Vilikapa (CAL, South Africa) moderated the workshop and requested the audience to give feedback and share experience on how to work with present and new allies. It was noted that during the forum we hardly spoke abut sexual rights and sexuality in general. It seems that these issues are not included in the present feminist agenda. It was remarked that young feminists are more open to trans issues. There were about 60 women at the workshop, which was troubled by some Muslim religious fundamentalist women. However the moderators and the speakers managed to keep the workshop under control. Following this incident, all the LBT women present decided to join as solidarity the workshop held later in the day by ASWAT, Palestinian gay women and MEEM, Lebanon.

Towards building a Queer and LGBTQI women movement in the Arab World/
This workshop was also attended by more women that expected as the doors had to be left open to welcome as many participants as possible. 3 representantives from Aswat, Palestinian gay women, and 2 representatives from Meem gave an overview of the organization, underlined the biggest political and social challenges and some of them testified on the difficulty to live their own homosexuality in this context. The question was raised as if the LGBT movement does really need to be visible. According to the representatives of Aswat, the LGBT movement in the Arab world may be invisible for a long time, but it does not mean it does not exist. You do not need to be completely out to support other women.
The two organizations are building links with other groups around the world, all the audience demonstrated interest and support to those young and brave activists.

Disabled Women Speak Out, Learning to be allies to the most marginalized women
Women, disabled, Queer: Working Together for our Sexuality and Rights

At the first workshops the speakers mentioned the difficulties faced by disabled women: denial of sexuality of disabled women, bringing to difficulties in access to sexual health care, women living with disabilities in an HIV/AIDS context and the impact of poverty on disabilities. However, none of them spoke about LBT women and how to reach out this other discriminated group of women.

At the second workshop the speakers spoke about how we construct our desire and how, in our societies, sexual intercourse is only seen within a heteronormative framework. Disabled women have sexual desire which is as varied of a non disabled person. Many disabled people are not informed about their sexual rights, which in many cases brings to many forms of sexual violence, including rape. According to them disability is a feminist issue, though they felt unwelcome in the past. People are frightened of disabled people, as they fear that something similar happens to them. They also spoke about fluidity of disability, which does not remain unchanged throughout your whole life. And they spoke about the body, how disabled people perceive their own body and the idealistic conception of it in our societies. There are many similarities between the type of discrimination faced by disabled women and LBT women and the two movements would mutually benefit in working together.

Leadership Development and Constituency Building of Women's Organizations: The Experience of the Doorbar Network
This session discussed the building of a network, called Doorbar, of many different women's groups (housewives, commercial sex workers - CSWs, indigenous women etc) in India. This was not always easy or successful especially where the groups' goals were different or expectations of gains were not met. Women were encouraged to be part of not just one successful organization but of two or more, in order to help build up the groups. Lessons learned were that it was important to develop the organization and not just the leaders. On the question of inclusion of LBTI groups, Doorbar network presenters said that there is still a lot of prejudice against the LGBTI community. CSWs were initially also discriminated against but after electing some of them to leadership positions in Dhaka, they came to be more accepted. The network is working towards reducing prejudice and including All women in the network.

Art as Advocacy: Creative Propaganda – The One in Nine Campaign
South Africa has a strong and vibrant history of struggle expressed through art. The One in Nine Campaign has drawn on this history and other creative and performing arts when advocating for rape survivor’s rights. Participants were taken through the use of art as propaganda in advocacy. They then made placards and banners advocating for the end to violence against women. The LBTI participants made a large banner reading “ All Women Embrace Us. Lesbians are Women Too.” We deliberately chose these words because we felt that the LBTI community still has not been included and integrated properly into the larger women’s movement. These banners were to be used during the protest march the following day.

Building Synergies across Movements: Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV/AIDS
Coordinators of this international advocacy project presented their global and regional experiences from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, focusing on the specific joint advocacy actions developed among diverse networks to improve international and regional advocacy on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and HIV/AIDS. The panelists presented problems, challenges and lessons learned in promoting this project, focusing in particular on these controversial issues: 1) sexualities and vulnerabilities; risk groups? 2) abortion and sexual and reproductive rights; 3) adolescent sexuality education; 4) gender-based violence; 5) prevention and treatment approaches; 6) vertical vs. integrated financing programs. One of the issues touched on was the invisibility of LBTI in the fight for HIV / AIDS epidemic. Emphasis was placed on South-South cooperation and partnerships which is fundamental for improving international advocacy.
Some consensus points were that we should:
a) Adopt a comprehensive approach to prevention & treatment that addresses underlying sexual and gender power.
b) Strive to eliminate barriers such as sexual taboos (e.g. sexual orientation that is not ‘mainstream’) & restrictions to sex education.
c) Support sex workers rights & use harm reduction approaches and eliminated links between commercial sex work and human trafficking.
d) Influence policy makers to address intersections between gender based violence and HIV.

Protest March – The One in Nine Campaign
The theme of this march is to draw attention to the murder, rape and violation of women human rights defenders around the world and the failure of the criminal justice systems and governments globally to provide redress and justice. Central to the theme was a call for an end to impunity for perpetrators of these crimes. The delegates marched through Cape Town with their placards and banners and submitted a petition to the woman mayor of the city. Police offered security for the campaigners throughout the march and the mayor gracefully received the petition.

The AWID Forum ended with a session of panelists who gave a general summary of the past sessions and recommendations for all the delegates as well as a way forward. Among them was the need to include lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and intersex women in all aspects of our work and end our prejudices. The forum was a marvelous event that allowed participants to network extensively whilst also informing them on a broad spectrum of social sectors and issues.

Thank you to Akinyi for her assistance in compiling the above report.

Patricia Curzi – December 2008

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