Huge protests met the ‘World Congress of Families’, a gathering for anti-LGBTQI, anti-abortion and anti-feminist groups and people that was held this year in Verona, Italy, 29-31 March. (Trans-)Feminists and others organized many activities, including a big rally, to show that the views of these ultra-conservatists only represent a small minority. Jennifer Ramme and Evgenia Ivanova took part in the activities on behalf of WIDE+ to express our feminist solidarity (see picture on right). And we joined to exchange with our sisters and other siblings, in order to improve our current work in contributing to feminist movement building in Europe.
World Congress of Families: an extreme group of elites
A congress of thousands of people, where practically all speakers are men and they introduce themselves with the number of babies they have conceived, while receiving applause for their ‘accomplishment(s)’. It is hard to imagine, but this is happening on the first day of the World Congress of Families. This, now annual event, doesn’t beat about the bush in attacking abortion, same sex marriage and feminism: their solution to all possible current ‘problems’ is forcing everybody to follow the, in their view, only legitimate model of a patriarchal nuclear family in which women are obedient baby-machines married to men under (a Christian) god, while some link it to their racist and xenophobic rhetoric and to forbidding divorce.The trans-feminist message is a belief in plurality: everybody should be free to choose their own form of family and one form is not better than the other
The Congress was also a home for the neo-Fascist Forza Nuova who supported the Congress and organized several parallel events.
The Congress is made through a coalition building of elites in the political and religious domain, supported by business elites and aristocrats. Its focus is currently on Europe, since the past years’ Congresses all took place in a European country, with gatherings in Georgia (2016), Hungary (2017) and Moldova (2018). Almost half of politicians that have been present at the congresses, come from far-right parties in five countries: Hungary, Italy, Poland, Serbia and Spain. There have been at least seven cardinals participating, along with aristocrats from Austria, France, Portugal and Germany. And some of the speakers are politicians in power, such as Victor Orbán in Hungary. In Verona, Matteo Salvini, the country’s deputy prime minister from the far-right Lega party, was the headliner with the main message that if Italians don’t have more babies, Italy’s identity is at threat of being replaced by the children of migrants and that is why abortion and migration need to be halted.
While there is currently a strong focus on Europe in this process, the connections behind the Congress go well beyond, linking extremist conservatives in this continent with those in the US and Russia that are donating money to European efforts, such as the extreme right party VOX in Spain. It has the acceptance and support of different Christian branches (Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox). According to a Catholic news-site, the Vatican Secretary of State said that: “we agree on the substance [of the Congress], but not on the methodology,”.
Sadly, this kind of coalition building seems to have some success. Similar arguments and strategies come up in different countries to attack women and progressive values. For example, Bulgaria (last year) and Slovakia (last month) both turned against the Istanbul Convention, the treaty to adopt and implement minimum standards to prosecute violence against women that is currently in the process for ratification in Europe (different stages in different European countries). The fallacy given by the specific bodies that rejected the treaty in both countries, was that the treaty used the concept of ‘gender’, which would open the door for legalizing same-sex marriages and the promotion of homosexuality at schools.
The resistance to this neo-conservatist agenda in Verona came from different movements, groups and associations. It was a ‘transfeminist’ protest, just like the Italian movement of one of the core organizers, Non Una Di Meno (“leaving no woman behind”): “Non Una Di Meno is a trans-feminist, intersectional, anti-racist, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist political movement, independent of any party, which aims at the radical transformation of society ….We do not want small reforms and compromises that change the condition of the few… While the crisis of political representation is a fact, our movement has shown the ability to open up an increasingly expansive political space, in which all those who reject violence, oppression and exploitation [including neoliberal policies] have been able to speak for themselves: women and LGBT persons, IQ+, vulnerable, Italian, without citizenship and migrants who do not have the right to vote but who fight for their freedom of movement”. This sums up WIDE+’s vision of feminism as well. However, feminism as a concept is used in different ways and has become appropriated by commerce at times, which has led to some erosion of the radical and inclusive aspect of feminism (which is about opposing all forms of oppression).
The transfeminist (or feminist) vision was also the drive for WIDE+ representatives to come to Verona. Jennifer Ramme, a German activist and scholar, and Evgenia Ivanova, also representing Adliga from Belarus joined the protests. Jennifer stated in an interview that she came: “to protest against the WCF and to show solidarity with feminists in Italy and with all the people who are affected by right wing and religious fundamentalism”. To which Evgenia added that it is also about to: “support like-minded women and men that strongly believe in women’s human rights, full citizenship for women, and the value of individual choice over own life. I chose to support a notion of family that is a union based on love, care, and respect for human diversity”.
(Trans-)Feminist Activism in Action
The transfeminist resistance in Verona offered a programme of activities from Wednesday to Sunday 28-31 March. There were many human rights associations and groups involved in the organizing, according to the Guardian about 70. The highlight was the rally on the Saturday, in which more than 20.000 people demonstrated against the destructive values of World Congress of Families, (other estimates come to 30.000 or 50.000). The demonstration has been documented in a really emotive video that shows what strength we gain from solidarity (see also this video with an overview of the whole demonstration and this video of feminist traveling to Verona, as well as this one).
The programme was diverse with debate, theatre, documentaries, protest and art and a feminist General Assembly. It included an international discussion on gender, the family, politics of the right, feminist solidarity and revolutionary prospects. And the inauguration of the exhibition: “Feminisms Manifesto“, with 28 historical feminist posters revised. As well as the documentary: “City of the Damned“, on the struggles of the LGBTQI+ community in Uganda. Presentations and discussions on books, including: “The taboo of menstruation“, by and with Marinella Manicardi, and on: “Little egg“, by Francesca Pardi, one of the two remaining banned books by the Venice mayor from the city’s (pre-)school libraries. The book is the tale of an unhatched egg that sees happiness in various family configurations.
There were several debates to get to know better the enemy, including an international one on Saturday 30 March organized by IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Federation) with UAAR (the Italian Humanist federation) and the Feminist NGO Rebel Network, and supported by 30 other NGOs/networks. Such reflections are very important. To effectively counter the neo-right coalitions, we need to know what their successful and unsuccessful strategies are.
On Sunday, Non Una di Meno Italy organized an Assembly, with feminist activists from whole Italy, different European countries (including Turkey), the US and Latin America. WIDE+ took a short video to give an impression of the Assembly (showing also the people listening from outside as there were very many interested to participate). The assembly showed the strength of feminism, the road ahead for the Italian movement to further establish and develop itself, and the need for and power of international solidarity.
WIDE+’s impression of the trans-feminist events is that we need collective space(s) in Europe, in solidarity with our siblings elsewhere, to give voice to our work, to talk about the resistance we face and the challenges, including burn out, and to start working together more closely. We see a strategic urgency in strengthening collaboration among feminists’ groups, associations and networks. That is why Feminist movement(s) building in Europe is a key goal for us. More about this goal will follow.
This article is written by Gea Meijers, coordinator WIDE+