Reflections on AWID 2016: A feminist future is on her way

By Anna Tenuta, Campaigns and Communications Manager

“We have a saying, ‘resistance is life.’ We believe that without resisting, we are not living.” – Dilar Dirik, Kurdish Women’s Movement

Every four years, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) brings together grassroots women’s rights leaders, women human rights defenders, women’s funds, political leaders, researchers, artists, and more for their International AWID Forum. On September 8, over 1800 people—including members of Global Fund for Women’s team, as well as several board members, grantee partners, and advisors—arrived in beautiful Bahia in northeastern Brazil for four days of learning.

The theme of this year’s forum, Feminist Futures, was quite fitting as attendees embraced creativity, collaboration, and imagination. Together, we spent four days in a beautiful setting with a challenging context imagining the type of futures we want. In the Feminist Internet Exchange Hub, we imagined a feminist Internet and talked about online harassment and privacy, and in the Young Feminist Activism Hub, we were encouraged by the vibrancy of young women leading movements and advancing women’s and girls’ rights in their communities.

We also took time to look back at what has happened over the past few years. We remembered and honored women human rights defenders who the world has lost recently at a beautiful art-driven tribute. Women human rights defenders were in the spotlight throughout the forum in the WHRD Hub, where Global Fund for Women spotlighted the launch of our #DefendHer campaign and joined in actions to support a few of the incredible activists that were noticeably absent from the AWID Forum. Activists from Honduras, including Miriam Miranda from Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), led a moving vigil and call for justice for Berta Càceres, the Honduran human rights and environmental activist who was murdered earlier this year. Our sisters from Nazra for Feminist Studies in Egypt led an action for Mozn Hassan, Nazra’s founder and Global Fund for Women’s board member, gathering moving messages of solidarity and raising awareness of the need to continue to be loud and demand action in light of Mozn’s travel ban.

The closing space for civil society was on many people’s minds at the Forum—we spoke with several of our grantee partners and advisors from Kyrgyzstan to Argentina to Turkey about the crackdown they’re facing, how they’re navigating new challenges, and why international solidarity is more important than ever. The current political and economic crisis in Brazil was palpable, and our chants of “Fora Temer!” echoed those in protests around the country on Brazilian Independence Day on September 7th, one day before the official Forum began. We spoke with many activists and women’s groups in Brazil leading the bold struggle for racial and gender equality whose fierce determination make us feel hopeful for the beautiful, diverse country’s future—and reminded us all of the importance of investing in them and standing with them from all corners of the world.

The Forum also focused largely on the need for more resource mobilization to grassroots women’s rights groups and creative and cross-sector collaborations to drive much-needed funds to groups and activists. We met with many resilient and inspiring women in the Feminist Resource Mobilization Hub, where our President and CEO Musimbi Kanyoro spoke on the need for investing in movements. In the “Money & Movements” plenary, we heard from several inspiring panelists on lessons learned and challenges ahead for funding women’s rights movements. Sipokhazi Mthati from Oxfam South Africa called on everyone to take a cue from young women activists in the audience and “turn lemons into lemonade”—comparing the funding landscape for women’s movements globally to “bitter lemons”.

We launched our #DefendHer campaign with a photo booth, calling attendees to share messages of solidarity for the incredible women human rights defenders featured—a few of whom were at the Forum and minor celebrities! The messages we received from women in around the world are so moving—we can’t wait to share them with you!

For those of you who were at the AWID Forum, it was an honor to share the space with you and learn with you, and we hope you left feeling recharged in your activism and movements. For those who could not be there, you were there in spirit and solidarity, and we hope this update helps to shine some light on what happened there.

We were constantly reminded in meeting incredible women from all over the world that if the gathering in Bahia these past few days was any indication, our future is going to be feminist, bold, artistic, colorful, resourceful, and resilient.