Four Days with 1800 Feminists in Brazil: My Awesome AWID Experience

By Dana Preston, Program Manager for Gender-focused initiatives, Hispanics in Philanthropy What does building #FeministFutures mean to you? That’s the question I mulled over during the 17-hour plane ride to Bahia, Brazil for the 13th Forum hosted by AWID, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development.. This Forum is the space to collectively take stock of the women’s rights movement from around the world. As HIP’s program manager for gender-focused initiatives, I felt very lucky to get sent to this convening of more than 1800 feminist activists from 130 countries. Over four days, these voices weaved together into a global perspective on the state of gender equality. And when I say global, I mean simultaneous translation into seven languages kind of global. I have to admit that joining a meeting of so many formidable feminist activists made me slightly apprehensive. Where do I, a 29-year-old white woman from upper-middle class U.S.A., fit into the global fight for women’s rights? A master’s in gender and development and a job where I address this issue from my desk doesn’t necessarily fit the human rights defender profile I had associated with the AWID Forum. But throughout the four days in Brazil, I was constantly reminded of the collective sisterhood that exists between the world’s 3.5 billion women. That feeling was palpable and electrifying. awid plenaryDuring one of the main plenary sessions, we were asked to turn to the woman sitting next to us and share our hopes for the youngest person in our lives. I turned and was instantly intimidated by the older and wise-looking woman from Papua New Guinea. I felt silly when I teared up as I shared my hope with her that my future children value social justice, no matter their walk of life. She took my hands in hers, looked into my eyes, and instantly sent comfort my way. There was so much beauty in having our female solidarity transcend our different world views and experiences. WHRD tributeAnd that sentiment repeated itself throughout the entire Forum. Defending women’s rights is no easy task in any part of the world. It is so important that we take care of our fighters. Hearing Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter talk about collective self-care as a strategy for defending women’s rights and ensuring that our fighters are safe, healthy, and appreciated was inspiring. Her comments made me think about how I can apply those strategies with my friends and colleagues who work tirelessly from their respective trenches to achieve gender equality. And the Forum reminded us to be experts and activists in our own contexts. This was an especially big takeaway for me, reminding me that supporting women human rights defenders, which I do through my work of supporting women-led and women-serving nonprofits in Mexico, is just as important as being one herself. fora temer Because of the diversity of the participants, the Forum’s content was equally varied. In addition to the daily Forum-wide plenary sessions, each day we got to choose between 15 and 20 concurrent, participant led sessions. The printed agenda became an extension of my body. Always within reach, it helped me navigate the Forum and make hard decisions like choosing between Imagining a Feminist Internet, Climate and Gender Justice, and the Fierce Backlash of Religious Fundamentalisms! The truth is that the whole Forum felt like a get together of brilliant people trying to fix the world. While some could write it off as a summit of angry feminists (and probably much worse among internet trolls), the Forum critically examined some of the biggest problems facing humanity today. Presenters analyzed global trends like reduced spaces to defend human rights, transnational corporations’ land grabs, and the rise of militarization, to name a few. And not just with a gender perspective. The Forum looked at the intersectionality of identities that further marginalize people. Think indigenous woman. Then think, indigenous woman with a disability. Then think about a migrant indigenous woman with a disability who is also a sex worker. The Forum included the presence, voices, and perspectives of these feminisms and beyond, spanning generations, nationalities, and religions. graphic art awid While at times these challenges seem insurmountable, the Forum invited us to suspend our disbelief and imagine #FeministFutures. For me, that means the women’s rights movement has access to the financial resources it needs to advance the agenda. It also means that ‘’progress’’ as we know it does not trump the rights of entire communities. And finally, it means that women win, once and for all, absolute autonomy over their bodies. These #FeministFutures consider the wellbeing of EVERYONE, not just women.
As a nonprofit professional and human being dedicated to gender equality, the AWID Forum confirmed many things I already knew, made me question some pre-existing beliefs, and, finally, introduced me to new ideas, people, and stories I will carry with me forever. So now, I’d like to ask you, what does building #FeministFutures mean to you?
sex worker fashion show