Black Feminists Raising Fists and Demonstrating at the Opening Plenary

On Our Current Realities & Co-Creating a Feminist Future at the 2016 AWID Forum

Ed.note: This post is part of a series we’re running this month as part of a media partnership with the Association of Women in Development (AWID) to cover their semi-annual Forum. The 2016 Forum took place earlier this month in Brazil and explored diverse perspectives on “Feminist Futures: Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice” with a focus on voices from the Global South. 

Activist Flavia Dzodan said it best — “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.”

As feminists, many of us understand that movements for anti-oppression are only possible when we recognize the multiple aspects of identity and experience that compound and complicate our marginalization and privilege.

While it’s simple enough to digest that the way people experience oppression differs, it’s far more complex to examine what intersectionality actually looks like in practice. How do we build collective power while recognizing, not downplaying, our unique struggles? How do we reform current structures to ensure that everyone is given a seat at the table? What does an integrated, feminist response to gender-based violence look like?  

These were just some of the pressing questions explored in the opening plenary of the 2016 AWID Forum — “Our Current Realities” — in Bahia, Brazil earlier this month. This powerful plenary brought in a host of leaders in international movements for social justice to share in a collective celebration of victories, acknowledgement of wounds, navigation of complex realities, and strategizing of a feminist future.

In exploring old and new threats to rights and justice and how they are changing or expanding, each panelist shared thoughts on contemporary political struggles in their region. It is clear that from Honduras to Bosnia, to Egypt and Kenya and more, many of our struggles are similar, though illuminated in varying ways: post-war trauma, increased militarization and religious conservatism, criminalization of trans bodies, the erasure and devaluing of feminist work, and taking care of ourselves and others within activist movements.

It is easy to confine our thinking of feminist struggles to those we can understand in our national contexts, but hearing the panelists at the AWID Forum was a stark and important reminder to always think bigger. It is similar mechanisms of sexism, oppression, and state-sanctioned violence that are to be critiqued when trans activist Joe Wong discusses the horrors and prevalence of corrective rape in Thailand, when African feminist scholar Awino Okech shines light on the questionable neoliberal obsession with female entrepreneurship across the continent, and when Bosnian advocate Azra Causevic details the way nationalism is used to commodify women’s bodies. Only when we commit ourselves to understanding how global structures of patriarchy and violence affect our communities in disparate ways can we begin to form collective strategies for fighting back and building the futures we deserve.

A highlight of the panel was the discussion of the dazzling possibilities for change when we build collective power and enrich our movements by recognizing how we may learn from one another. Moderator Sonia Correa of Sexuality Policy Watch noted how the larger feminist framework has been propelled forward by queer activists who encourage thinking beyond binary notions of gender-based oppression. I was reminded of the powerful linking of arms this past February between Black Lives Matter and the reproductive justice movement, wherein the Trust Black Women Partnership issued a solidarity statement, concluding:

“We seek community, fellowship, and connection with Black Lives Matter, and we know that we must stand together or fall separately. Our lives are at stake. To realize a future where Black Lives Matter, we must Trust Black Women. To Trust Black Women is to affirm that Black Lives do Matter. So we say, in the same breath, in the same freedom song: Trust Black Women. Black Lives Matter. Together we march toward justice for us all.”

The aligning of Black Lives Matter and reproductive justice leadership is notable because it recognizes the synergy between the groups’ missions and broadens the scope of each to more strategically connect issues of racial and economic justice to bodily autonomy, misogyny, and legislation. It is integrated, intersectional responses such as these to structural issues of oppression and injustice that will move us forward into new ways of thinking about the meaning of solidarity.

It is clear that when we lay the foundations for a unified, radical feminist future, the possibilities are endless.

Photo Courtesy of the 2016 AWID Forum

NYC

Senti Sojwal is an India born, NYC bred writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer. She graduated with a BA from Hampshire College in Gender Studies & Politics, and has worked with NARAL, The Civil Liberties & Public Policy Program and its sister program PopDev, and has written on feminist issues for Mic, Bustle, and What NOW, the blog of the National Organization for Women's NYC chapter. She currently works at Sakhi for South Asian Women, an advocacy organization that supports immigrant survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence through an array of culturally competent services and programs. Senti loves 90s pop, a bold lip, and is always hunting for the perfectly spicy Bloody Mary. She lives in Brooklyn.

Senti Sojwal is a writer, reproductive justice activist, and feminist organizer based in Brooklyn, New York.

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