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:





Envisioning feminist futures: GADN's newest project tackles alternative development from ideas to outcomes

In June 2016, GADN released a pack of papers under the banner of Feminist Development Alternatives, the product of many months’ deliberation around the question of what feminist visions of development might look like – and what steps we need to take to achieve them. This project was an opportunity for GADN’s members and allies to take a step back from the priorities and imperatives set by government agendas, funding possibilities and news cycles to reflect on why and how we each engage in gender and development work.

Very early on, it became clear that this project could not take the form of a single paper, a single vision for feminist development approaches and ideals. Thus, the Feminist Development Alternatives project comprises seven papers, plus an overview paper that roots the project in GADN’s core mission and values. The pack inspired a members meeting in July 2016, where a wide selection of GADN’s members and allies shared their own concerns, aspirations and ideals for our work as gender and development specialists.

Here are some of the questions that the Feminist Development Alternatives project has raised, through the papers themselves and the discussion that they have inspired.

Co-optation of feminist language and goals

Almost across the board, there is concern amongst advocates for gender equality that feminist ideals have been co-opted in the service of other goals. Where we have advocated for women’s rights as an inherently good thing, we increasingly hear that empowerment promotes economic growth, peace or family wellbeing, perhaps to the detriment of women’s rights work broadly writ. As contributor Zohra Moosa of Mama Cash said in our meeting, we need to think in terms of checking power and be clear that women’s rights matter because women’s rights matter, not as means to any other goals.

Fragmentation of the gender and development agenda

This issue finds expression in two key areas: the ever-increasing drive towards project-based rather than core funding, and the compartmentalisation of agendas into bite-sized, decontextualised pieces. Diminishing funding pots for gender equality and development more broadly have bred a need for demonstrable and immediate results, binding practitioners to a set of pre-approved themes and goals and stifling more durable, comprehensive, sustainable feminist work and thinking.

At the same time, agendas like ending violence against women and girls has fragmented into a piecemeal set of goals including sexual violence in armed conflict, domestic and intimate partner violence, female genital mutilation/cutting and so forth. A more holistic and contextualised approach that acknowledges the pervasive and systemic nature of violence in women’s lives would seem to be in recession. Many in our networks are calling for a more integrated feminist agenda, as Neelanjana Mukhia highlighted in her contribution to the debate.

Supporting women’s rights organisations – in the UK and in the Global South

A number of contributors spoke about how smaller women’s rights organisations are being edged out by larger international NGOs and private sector actors like philanthropic foundations.

These voices call for more of us to walk the talk on our principles with gender audits, assessments of how we’re approaching the funding landscape as a sector, and even new alliances with other networks and feminist organisations at home and abroad.

Some attendees advocated for greater engagement with activists, academics and networks in the Global South – giving platform to feminist voices, and especially those that aren’t often heard in our circles, by inviting and promoting feminist speakers, citing feminist sources in our reports (no matter the subject matter) and sharing the stage with allies wherever possible.

Walking the talk on intersectionality

As Neelanjana pointed out, gender inequality exists within a neoliberal system where different inequalities and oppressions intersect. Race, gender, sexuality, social class and ability, amongst other axes of repression, can come together to create barriers to equality that are more than just the sum of their parts. The structures and institutions that make these injustices possible and propel them forward will need to be addressed before we can see real equality. This is another area our members encouraged us to build alliances with UK-based and Southern feminist networks, and especially with feminists of colour around the world. By seeking out and amplifying their voices, we can give them a platform to speak back to the UK development sector and challenge all of us to improve our work.

Continuing the conversation

Amidst considerable change and uncertainty, GADN is taking this opportunity to continue this conversation about feminist ideals and approaches to development. We hope the pack of papers captures the spirit of debate around these issues, but that debate does not end here. We invite your input and engagement with the papers and the question of Feminist Development Alternatives in a spirit of optimism.

The space below will function as a discussion platform for all of us where we can share concerns, questions and ideas on feminist development principles and practice.

How can we best express that women's rights matter because women's rights matter?

What needs to change in how we do our work as gender advocates?

How can we account for women’s intersectional identities?

Join the conversation and share your ideas for a better, more feminist vision of development.

Now is the time to be brave!