GADN at the AWID Forum: what have we learnt?

A number of GADN members attended the AWID Forum in Brazil. The Forum, titled ‘Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice’ brought together almost 2000 activists from 130 countries for four high energy, inspiring days in the beautiful setting of Costa de Sauipe, near Salvador da Bahia. There is an array of blogs and articles on the Forum, you can review the highlights on Twitter search for #FeministFutures and #AWIDForum.

GADN co-hosted a session called ‘Making the economy work for women, not vice-versa: learning lessons from challenging macroeconomics for gender justice’ which attracted a good crowd even though it was at the end of a very busy first day. The session presented the work we have carried out so far in the context of the GEM project and explore with an open discussion the challenges feminists faces when advocating to neoliberal institutions. The main takeaway from the meeting was the need for feminist to educate themselves on economic issues and to start proposing alternatives, rather than limiting ourselves to critiquing the current model. The issues of climate change and planetary boundaries was also part of the discussion as well as a major theme during the Forum, exposing the degree to which the current economic model is destroying lives and the planet.

Dinah Musindarwezo, Ana Tallada, Chiara Capraro, Patricia Miranda Tapia, Emma Bürgisser at the event organised by GADN  Making the Economy Work for Women, Not Vice-versa: Learning Lessons from Challenging Macroeconomics for Gender Justice

Dinah Musindarwezo, Ana Tallada, Chiara Capraro, Patricia Miranda Tapia, Emma Bürgisser at the event organised by GADN Making the Economy Work for Women, Not Vice-versa: Learning Lessons from Challenging Macroeconomics for Gender Justice

We have asked GADN members who attended the Forum to share their highlights and what they will take back to their own organisations as well as to GADN.

A celebration of strong and diverse feminist movements: we are many!

For all of us, the main highlight was being able to witness the strenght and diversity of the global feminist movement. Diversity and solidarity were  at the forefront with strong participation from women living with disability, LGBTI activists and sex workers. Another strong aspect was intergenerational dialogue: there was a strong cohort of young feminists, very much walking side by side with the older generation. We saw intersectionality in action:  this does not mean erasing diversity in name of a common cause but drawing strengths from that diversity and building relationships that can show us a glimpse of that better world we are fighting for. It means looking for and building common ground and supporting each other. It was clear by being at the Forum than an intersectional space requires a lot of work to be built and the value of a space free of judgement where emotion, in addition to expertise and experience counted, was felt by all.

Another important theme of the Forum was the need to organise across movements, to bring a feminist perspective into broader social justice movements as well as learning from those challenging structural issues of economics, climate change, the shrinking space of civil society. In particular a strong case was made on climate change as an issue we can no longer ignore.

The context of Brazil’s parliamentary coup provided a powerful reminder of the current global backlash against human rights, which is a gendered process, partly as a result of how far we have come. The threats and violence faced by women human rights defenders were brought alive through powerful stories from  indigenous women in Latin America standing up to mining companies to those in the Middle East who are criminalised because of their activism for civil and political rights.

One of the main challenges hovering over all, is the issue of  funding for women’s rights organising. This was one of the main strands of the Forum with many donors present who heard directly from grassroots activists in a safe space. Hopefully the conversations will lead to different practices and more resources reaching those who are working at the coalface in very challenging contexts.

Building solidarity and  creativity, valuing relationships and diversity

For many of us what we are looking forward to bring back into our own organisations is a more intersectional approach and an intention to nurture relationships with diverse constituents of women’s movements, in particular women living with disabilities. This resonated as well with the need to build solidarity especially at this time when so much is under threat we must work together and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.  This means learning from the struggles the past to inform our present strategies and tactics. Another important issue was the use of technology and art to advocate for women’s rights as well as to build solidarity and communicate across borders.

We all found the Forum was a challenging and important opportunity to critically reflect on our position as Northern feminists working in development institutions vis-a-vis the struggle of our sisters.

We are also keen to bring these same reflections back into our contribution to GADN. On the one hand, to strengthen our own capacity to be inclusive and intersectional and learn from Southern women’s rights organisations. On the other, to invest more in working across movements, especially with those who are working on alternative social and economic models for a fairer, feminist world.

If you want to read more from the perspective of those who were there the following are links to members' blogs:





Companies have much to offer when it comes to helping female entrepreneurs in developing countries access markets

Ongoing research into controlling cassava diseases in Africa may boost crop yields. The main beneficiaries of this could be female processors of cassava crops — but only if improved yields come alongside better market access. 

One interesting initiative, combining the private and not-for-profit sectors, shows how training can help women raise their incomes by overcoming market challenges.

In Africa, women are largely responsible for processing cassava into locally consumed products such as gari (toasted cassava flour) or tapioca. Once uprooted, the crop's rapid perishability makes further commercialisation difficult. In Ghana, for example, around 40 per cent surplus is produced because of limited access to commercial markets. [1]

These female processors need better processing equipment, such as crushers used to make flour, in order to reach new markets with processed products such as higher-quality cassava flour, sugar syrups or livestock feed components. [2]

Investment firm Goldman Sachs and the Goldman Sachs Foundation funds an initiative that aims to improve growth-oriented small businesses owned by women across the developing world. 

The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women project involves a network of local NGOs and academic institutions training women in entrepreneurial skills. Partner institutions, local businesses and Goldman Sachs employees offer support including mentoring on business skills. Female graduates of the programme own small businesses in diverse industries such as agri-business, construction, retail and food services. 

One beneficiary is Kabeh Sumbo from Liberia. Her firm sells locally processed vegetable oil to nearby restaurants and hotels and to the public. Since graduating, Kabeh has applied for a loan to expand her business, taken on six employees and opened two warehouses. 

Christine from Rwanda, another programme graduate, runs a banana wine business. She has ambitious plans to buy equipment and triple her workforce over the next two years. 

Goldman Sachs is not the first company to promote female entrepreneurship alongside the voluntary sector. Others include Mondelēz International, the GB Group or Accenture. [3]

But more businesses still can learn from such initiatives. Earlier this month, Justine Greening, the UK secretary of state for international development, called on UK businesses to join the "development push", specifically recognising that "investing in women is hugely powerful". [4] 

Kabeh and Christine's stories show how a blend of the corporate, voluntary and, in this case, academic sectors can bring major results for small-scale female entrepreneurs.


Henrietta Miers

Henrietta Miers has worked across Africa and Asia as a gender and social development consultant for 15 years, specialising in gender policy. She is senior associate of WISE Development, a consulting company that focuses on boosting the economic opportunities for poor women.

Small Scale Tech Can Transform Women's Lives

Small-scale technology can help women to raise their status and increase their income and education.


Western development agencies' lukewarm attitude to the role technology can play in poverty reduction does not serve women well. NGOs like Practical Action specialise in community-owned technology that is small-scale, labour-saving and cost-effective and often most benefits poor women. More support for such technology projects could transform women's lives.

Practical Action is not alone. The electrification of remote villages in the north of Pakistan, introduced by another NGO, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), shows how three simple ingredients — running water, community organisation and some technical know-how — can help women.

The district of Chitral and the Northern Areas of Pakistan lie where the Karakoram, the Himalaya and the Hindu Kush mountain ranges meet. When AKRSP first arrived in this isolated area in the 1980s, it found villages scattered up mountainsides with erratic or no connection to the national grid, and local people demanding electricity. Until then, light came from pinewood torches and expensive kerosene lights.

AKRSP introduced micro-hydroelectric technology using water from the region's fast-flowing rivers to generate energy. In Chitral alone, 209 'micro-hydel' systems had been established by 2012, bringing electricity to more than half of the population. Villagers themselves build and maintain the systems.

Community ownership is central to making this technology work. Village organisations, in which women are active, contribute towards installation costs and decide on connection fees, energy charges and subsidies for the poorest households. Some committees charge more for electricity-hungry appliances such as washing machines, and restrict their use in the evenings when lights and televisions are on to prevent system overload.

For women, gone is the drudgery of time-consuming household chores such as washing clothes and churning butter by hand. Eye and respiratory diseases from kerosene and pinewood torches have declined, especially among women who spend much of their time at home. Electric light enables women to spend more time turning the local wool, shu, into products that form their largest source of income. Television — for example through the Allam Iqbal Open University, in Pakistan — has opened up education for women where a strict culture of purdah (the practice of concealing women from men) confines them to their village boundary. [1]

NGOs such as Practical Action and AKRSP show that small-scale technology can benefit women in a number of ways.



[1] Ummar, F. and Khan. A.S. Electrification Benefits Women in Chitral, Pakistan (ENERGIA News, 2006)


Henrietta Miers

Henrietta Miers has worked across Africa and Asia as a gender and social development consultant for 15 years, specialising in gender policy. She is senior associate of WISE Development, a consulting company that focuses on boosting the economic opportunities for poor women.