Shalini Nataraj, Global Fund’s Vice-President Of Programs reflects on her recent experience at the historic AWID Forum that brought together several constituents of our network – donors, grantees, board and advisors.
Last month a team of us from the Global Fund participated in the largest gathering of women rights activists, women’s organizations, academics, donors and opinion leaders - the triennial Association of Women’s Rights In Development Forum, “The Power of Movements”, in Cape Town, South Africa. It has been really exciting and interesting to come to South Africa at this time – with Obama as President-elect and South African politics posing severe difficulties to the women’s movement here if Jacob Zuma, President of the African National Congress, is elected President.
To be in a place where the indefatigable spirit of resistance to brutal oppression finally triumphed, was a tremendously moving experience for most of us who were visiting this country for the first time. However, the loss of the iconic Miriam Makeba, who helped bring the South African struggle to the world stage with her music, was deeply felt, and one of the highlights of the AWID experience was an impromptu memorial to her legacy. Another highlight that vividly illustrated the power of women coming together, was a march of women from all over the world with their South African sisters, to demand an end to violence against women in South Africa. Perhaps the most interesting development of all might be the catalyzing of the idea of a women’s party in South Africa to implement a feminist alternative to the failing, scandle-ridden political system in that country.
The AWID forum was also a vital opportunity for us to meet face-to-face with local grantees and other members of our network. Together with some of my colleagues, I visited grantees in Johannesburg before arriving in Cape Town, where we had pre-forum discussions and consultations on a range of issues such as feminist leadership with our grantee partners and peer organizations. On the eve of the forum, we celebrated the anniversaries of several women’s funds at a grand reception held at the African Gold Museum. The event, with amazing music and great food, was attended by over 250 people including all 28 women’s funds of the world, and Lynn Brown, the Mayor of Cape Town.
The AWID Forum brought together over 2,000 women. A well organized forum, it was however overwhelming to wrap one’s head around information from a plethora of panels on every conceivable subject related to women’s issues and rights.
The most valuable and energizing part of the conference was the networking, meeting with grantees and peer women’s rights organizations that were only names in e-mails before, and catching up with others we know well to catch up and share where we are with our organizations’ evolution. To know that the Global Fund for Women has played such a big role in the lives of so many women and organizations to find solidarity and build collective action through the forum, is truly gratifying.
After the conference, together with Muadi Mukenge, Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, I traveled to Zimbabwe. We felt that it was very important to show solidarity with our sisters in Zimbabwe who are facing unimaginable challenges that threaten to completely undo every gain for women’s rights since Zimbabwe’s independence. We had an amazingly inspiring visit with the Girl Child Network, where the intelligence and courage of the young girls who are members of GCN’s girl’s clubs left us filled with hope for the future of the country. We also met a range of grantees who attended a day-long meeting to share challenges, opportunities and strategies to deal with the continuing and new threats to women’s rights.
In the coming weeks, we will continue to update you through our web site with the strategies and plans of actions that emerge from GFW’s participation in this ground-breaking gathering of women’s rights activists and supporters. The input we have received and the information we have gathered during the Forum and in our meetings with grantees will shape how we do our grantmaking not just for the rest of this year but for the implementation of our new strategic plan over the next few years. We look forward to sharing what we’ve learned with all of you.
Vice-President of Programs
Photos Courtesy: Rucha Tadwalkar