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Journey to Feminist Justice

After the last AWID Forum in 2012 and the four years of action, activism, and anticipation that followed, we are back together to forge our feminist futures. Here are some of the memorable moments that bring magic to this journey and meaning to our movements.

Four years later – a four-month delay – and finally we convene to forge our feminist futures!

I was drained and very much in need of rejuvenation and recommitment to our shared goals.

The energy was palpable – I felt it at the gates of Sauipe, and in every corner of our space. I tossed my things in the room and ran down to register, no sign of earlier jetlag or accumulated work fatigue. It didn’t take three minutes before I heard my name called from a balcony above. This was my 4th AWID Forum; I knew I would find old friends, and meet new ones. How to explain to someone who has never shared this feminist moment that I’m able to make more friends here in four days than I’ve made in four years?!

The Forum opening was powerful – and every plenary was both a celebration and a battle-cry. Each day began with a fearless feminist message, filled with activist anticipation. For our self-care message, I wrote about my dog – my remedy for activism exhaustion! What to do with it? Let it love you and refuel you. Why it works? It is a reminder to be present and to wag our tails for small joys. After all, feminism is not a destination, it’s a process. And a long one at that. If we do not wag for the small stuff, we won’t survive.

We built a collective space with a foundation that was inclusive, intersectional and equal.

How to go back to reality after that? We have to be explicit in the ways we talk about the intersection of our feminisms with all fights for justice. Through each dynamic speaker and in every session, I gained a morsel to savor, a piece with which to build my peace. And, like broken glass, these pieces might not be much on their own, but together they form a mosaic of stories, struggles, and strength.

We were reminded that our diversity must not be a source of fear. We exchanged stories of the ways in which nationalisms use and commodify women’s bodies to occupy public spaces, which is happening now more than ever. We were warned of the dangerous global trend in breeding regimes that regulate gender, sexuality, and our rights to our own bodies. We heard horrors of “corrective marriage” and “corrective rape”, stories that boil my blood and sharpen my claws. What we need here is COLLECTIVE outrage. How do we fight all these abuses?

And where is the humanity in humankind? We came together as movements to reconcile human beings to save that humanity. We are witnessing the rise of fundamentalisms, the increase of violent extremisms, and the closing of our feminist spaces. And the fear is that our feminist fights for human rights, equality, social justice, end with a lowest common denominator that fails us all.

Every detail was deliberate: the bathrooms, the pronouns, the advocacy placemats while we ate, the energized activist spaces, and the rejuvenating wellness spaces. An all-gender bathroom is a small gesture that speaks volumes – even a pee can be political!

The message was one of acceptance.

It’s ok, just be whatever “you” you want to be but perhaps can’t be “out there”. Phew.

At the Forum, identities are reinvented and boundaries are erased. It made me think of a line by the legendary Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:

“And we have countries without borders, like our idea of the unknown, narrow and wide…”

Fomenting a feminist revolution is tiring work – good thing we were fueled by big buffet feasts and every imaginable coconut-based dessert created! I arrived a sceptic and left a coconut-convert. One cannot think about shifting the power paradigm on an empty belly.

And the water…a long stretch of beach, and pools everywhere I looked (when lost between locations!). Isak Dinesen reminds me that:

“The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears or the sea”.

Water is good for the weary activist soul!

As we so often say, none of us are free until all of us are free.

And the AWID Forum does not exist in a vacuum. So why Bahia? None of these choices were haphazard. AWID deliberately wanted to raise awareness of the challenging landscape in Brazil, with neoliberal forces gaining political power and reducing feminist spaces. Our presence in Bahia enabled us to discuss the intersection of racism within the feminisms context. 

This was the first Forum for the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, and I was determined to share our work with anyone willing to listen! During the Forum, we launched our awesome animated activist song for gender equality – Bi Ideh, which means “In My Hand” in Arabic. The song asks:

If you’ve seen injustice and you did not move
Then through the years, what will improve?

And that’s the power of AWID for me – moving together to counter injustice. 

About the author

Lina Abirafeh is an AWID member, a feminist activist, and “an accidental academic”. She is the Director of the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World (IWSAW) at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon – the first of its kind in the region. Prior to joining the Institute, Lina worked on gender issues in development and humanitarian contexts – mostly on gender-based violence in emergency settings - in countries such as Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Haiti, Democratic Republic of the Congo, amongst others. SHe received her PhD from the London School of Economics and published a book based on her research entitled “Gender and International Aid in Afghanistan: The Politics and Effects of Intervention”. Lina gave a TEDx talk in London on the search for women’s safety in an increasingly-violent world, encouraging us all to “Start Where You Stand” to end gender-based violence.  

AWID Forum