Posted by Preeti Mangala Shekar
The “it” is human rights. And what better place than Istanbul to spend eight intensive days debating the sticky subject of sexuality and gender. Last month this metropolis of mystic love and European modernization played host to the third annual Sexuality and Gender Rights Institute (SGRI), organized by Global Fund grantee Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action (CREA).
CREA organizes cutting edge institutes for human rights activists from around the world; linking the work of academics and policy-makers from the global north and south to activists and grassroots organizers on the ground. This was the first ever to be held outside CREA’s home bases of India and the US.
Selected from a pool of over 250 candidates, I wore two hats: as a member of the communications team at the Global Fund and as a feminist journalist. In this avatar, I had the incredible opportunity to understand the deep connection between sexuality rights and human rights. My fellow participants ranged from advocates at the UN, Human Rights Watch and Hivos, to grassroots leaders, scholars, and women’s rights activists from 19 countries – from Kyrgyzstan and Kenya to Indonesia and Iran.
The training institute comprised not just intense lectures but some heated debates and hands-on workshops by instructors specialized in anthropology, human rights law, media studies, among other fields. Highly provocative, the training challenged a lot of our dearly held beliefs. Many of the issues we discussed made us participants realize how even as progressive feminists, we sometimes fail to have a critical historical lens in our analyses and organizing, and this can have a detrimental impact on our work. During the eight days, we grappled with issues like child sexuality and sexual rights of children; how we tend to leave out disability rights and the sexual desire and needs of disabled people; how along the way, even the most progressive women's groups have problematized or even marginalized the rights of sex workers and trafficked women; and how a blanket demand for censorship of pornography and trafficking are inadequate solutions for the rights of the men and women navigating these systems.
The biggest eye-opener? How much work we women’s rights activists still have to do. The struggle for rights and justice is ongoing and evolving. I realized that while we may have powerful tools and technology today to aid us in our work, we still have a lot to learn from the work that activists have already done. We need to build on their work, and stand on their impressive shoulders, so that the next generation can learn and build from the mistakes and the wisdom of the past.
Preeti Mangala Shekar is the Communications Associate at the Global Fund for Women. Photo Courtesy of Preeti Mangala Shekar.