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Amplifying Francophone voices

Claudy Vouhé

In 2008, for the 11th Forum in Cape Town, Genre en Action (Gender in Action) launched a mobilization  in  partnership  with AWID, which  increased  francophone  participation.  The project was recreated in 2012 for the 12th Forum in Istanbul, by way of the Francophone Village. For the 13th Forum in Brazil in 2016, we are determined to pursue these efforts. But what have we learned since Cape Town?

The role of Francophones at the AWID Forum

AWID was launched in 1983. I first heard about it in 2002. Two activist friends were returning from the ninth AWID Forum in Mexico, happy with the experience but disheartened with the absence of francophones‐ “There were two of us,” they commented, “maybe three.”

I went to the tenth AWID Forum in Bangkok in 2005, invited by Bridge (University of Sussex/Brighton, GB) as a member of the international steering committee.

What I had in mind was making new connections to develop the Genre en Action network, newly formed at the end of 2003. But I was faced with disappointment: barely 40 Francophones were present (80 francophone registrations out of a total of 2,000). Of the hundreds of sessions taking place during the four days, only eight had French‐speaking presenters and only three sessions were organized by Francophones (Senegal, Rwanda, DRC). There were no Francophones in the plenaries nowhere near good enough. Something had to be done!

In 2008, for the 11th Forum in Cape Town, Genre en Action launched a mobilization in partnership with AWID, which doubled francophone participation: over 100 Francophone participants were present! With the support of the International Organisation of La Francophonie (IOF) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Genre en Action funded 50 Francophones, ensured broad media coverage in French, and organized one session and two caucuses. The project was recreated in 2012 for the 12th Forum in Istanbul, through the Francophone Village. For the 13th Forum in Brazil in 2016, we are determined to continue to pursue these efforts. But what have we learned since Cape Town?

Expanding beyond Francophone circles

Firstly, francophone feminist and women’s organizations are fond of international exchanges and want to expand beyond “Francophone circles”. Calls for mobilization were very successful, and the applications far exceeded our means.

Secondly,  language barriers  are  real: English dominates  and  Francophones  are left  on the margins of the international network of ideas and organizations. The Francophone Village  was  an  attempt  at  openness,  but  French  is  even  more  difficult  for  non‐ Francophones than the other way around! Also, in Cape Town and Istanbul, we found that  feminist  debates  that  enliven,  or  divide,  feminist  movements  “elsewhere”  are marginal, if not taboo in francophone  communities, especially in Africa: contraception, abortion,  diverse  sexualities  (LGBTIQ,  sex  work/prostitution),  masculinity, intersectionality. As a result, francophone feedback and concerns sometimes appear as “backward”. In fact, in Cape Town and Istanbul, few francophone sessions were selected (according  to  proposal  evaluators,  they  are  not  innovative  enough)  and  (still)  no Francophones in the plenaries!

Finally, it seems that Francophones are more interested in anglophone topics than the other way  around (with the  exception  of “women from the Arab  Spring”). In the  end, “the  rest  of  the  world”  is  unaware  of  the  concerns,  challenges  and  strategies  of francophone women, especially African women. So many challenges for Genre en Action!

Shedding Light on our Specific Challenges

The contexts of francophone Africa (Northern and Sub‐Saharan) are very different from Asian or Latin American contexts, even from East Africa. There are no BRICS countries (‘emerging  economies’  such  as  Brazil,  Russia,  India,  China  and  South  Africa)  in  West Africa  and  rural  issues  are  central  concerns,  especially  women’s  access  to  basic infrastructures.  Crucial  challenges  for  francophone  feminists  (such  as  female  genital mutilation, rape as a weapon of war, the combination of religion/tradition, land conflicts between nomads and farmers, the weight of French Africa in the economy) are poorly known  “elsewhere”.  The  AWID  Forum  can  help  shed  some  light,  provided  that organizations find a space to talk, and “others” come to listen.

However, the  selection process for the AWID Forum is very  competitive. Francophone “branches”  of  international  organizations  are  better  represented  than  solely local/national  organizations,  who  need  information,  resources,  and  connections.  How can  we  bring  in  new  faces  and  voices ”,  and  ensure the  crucial  renewal  of  ideas  and generations?

One might think that in francophone countries, gender has been tamed, that it’s become the work of “big” NGOs, institutions, even States, rather than feminist uprisings. It may seem that the demands of feminist activists, particularly those that challenge States, are numbed  by  UN  processes  and  “funders”  and  collusion  between  civil  society  and governments. But under this façade, I am  convinced that there are vibrant, young and free francophone feminist forces. They  all have their place  at the AWID Forum, in the global village of feminisms!


About the author

A multifaceted feminist and co-founder and President of the French network Genre en Action from 2009 to 2014, Claudy Vouhé promotes the convergence of activists and professionals taking action on gender equality ( not simply on women’s rights or equality between women and men). She is committed to working in a cross-cutting and multidisciplinary manner, at various levels.  

AWID Forum