What do I take away from four days of Association for Women’s In Development forum? What will I take away of submerging myself in the current feminist debates on what is happening around the globalised world – in a time of transformation, wide felt economic crisis, deeply divided value systems embedded in culture, tradition and religion, scarcities of all kinds, political upheaval (revolutions taking place, but uncertainty of what will come in return) and environmental problems that have taken a turn for the worse? Several things have stuck with me, and in a time of sound bites I noted several small quotes that were good reminders of the rights we have and how we need to keep fighting for them.
The basic remains the same: ‘The body is the core’, the battle ground for women remains the control over their body, control over what they do, how they do it, and with what kind of intention they do it. To find personal freedom it starts with owning your own body and making sure it is free of violence, free from harassment and free from challenging your sexuality.
‘the right to bodily integrity, the right to be free of violence, the right to health’
In using their body to work towards personal fulfilment, women have to first of all take care of themselves. Self-care is the key to address the concept of ‘time poverty’. Economic poverty in itself exists, but when women are able to establish their economic empowerment by generating their own income, it doesn’t mean that their quality of life has improved. Their precious time, the only resource that doesn’t cost anything to acquire is burdened with more and more responsibilities, leaving little to no time for themselves. Real control over body and time, comes when she has sufficient income for a reasonable wage and real equal division of care or the liberty and opportunity to decide how she wants to organise this in the family and social spheres of her life.
‘the right to work, the right to leisure’
One of the choices a woman can make is to do sexwork. Whatever my personal or anyone’s inclination is towards sexwork, sexwork is work. A woman who goes into sexwork, when there is no situation of coercion or exploitation, makes a decision to economically empower herself. The how and why are circumstances or reasons which are not for me or you to judge. All we need to know and hold in solidarity is their fight to be part of society, as one Indian sexworker said: ‘Sexworkers don’t fall from the sky, they are part of society.’
‘the right to dignity, the right to be free from discrimination’
An area that has conquered society is the use of ICTs. An ICT that often claims to be free of political values, but the question is: what is the political economy of ICT and what does it mean for feminism? Moreover how do you use it safely and to your advantage – and how can we ensure this vital resource for activism, or actually for any person living in the globalised world, is not restricted by governments to hinder the advancements of rights? In the end revolutions are not made by Facebook. ‘There’s facebook and there’s people who use facebook who make the revolution happen.’ A gathering like AWID remains necessary, we can communicate over the net, have virtual activism, but to strategize and organize you need to meet, you need to get out there and tame the beast in person.
‘the right to information, the right to privacy, the right to political participation’
And whatever you plan, women can and will make a difference when they stand up. In Egypt, after years of advocating for political freedom in February 2011 the revolution ousted Mubarak. Their conclusion of years of planning was: ‘Wow, that wasn’t in our logical framework.’ In other words, you can plan all you want, but the unexpected can still happen, if people stand up, and create the opportunity to fight peacefully – more importantly women and men side by side – then change is possible.
‘the right to equality’
So the last quote is the easiest and at the same time feels near impossible: ‘Let’s go, let’s get it on!’ Keep on working at it, the need to develop alternative economic models that serve both women and men alike have a long way to go, but a meeting like this, makes me understand there are ways to go forward. Starting with more awareness and understanding of the issues through discussion, research, campaigns, sharing of knowledge on for example the meaning of the current crisis, pervasive militarism, failure of the ‘green’ economy and so on – And as we are seeing now, this can lead to an increase in funding for women’s issues. We need to keep on at it, as it is people who make revolutions, and ensure all the possible means like Facebook – using it safe and with care from our own strategic perspective – are used to support that cause.
‘the right to development: to transform rights into action!’