WIDE+ Workshop: “Identifying feminist opportunities and voices in times of crises”

By Gea Meijers

Around 40 feminists from across Europe gathered in Madrid, Spain, last July 4th 2013, to reflect on the new strategies, spaces and challenges that feminists face. Five key note speeches and an open floor session gave room to an inspiring and sharp debate where the key question was: ‘what kind of strategies and action should feminist and other human rights advocates take in this changing global order?’.

Rosabel Agirregomezkorta sketched in her introduction  the changing world for men and women. The context for the workshop was the multidimensional crises we are facing; in the environment, in care, in the social sphere, politics and of course in the economic system.

The cause for the crises is a systemic model found in political, economic, cultural and epistemic arenas. The model is of a western speculative modernity that aims to privatize the common goods, and deprives most of the population of their well-being, for the benefit of a privileged elite, which is often white and male. In this privatized and exploitative neo-liberal offensive territories that are essential to ensure human dignity for all, such as environmental resources and women’s bodies, become battlefields. Women need to occupy, resist and defend areas and spaces in dispute because much is at stake.

The keynote speech by Christa Wichterich addressed how trends of progression and backlash in the promotion and implementation of women’s rights are being entangled with the neo-liberal paradigm change. The global neo-liberal transformation is greatly undermining equality, protection of human rights and the environment. The neo-liberal development also impacts the women’s rights agenda negatively and it leads to questions whether more freedom to express our identities is actually a real freedom or new standards for consumers to apply to.

Christa sees a key role for feminists to keep pushing for the women’s human rights agenda and to use it as our framework: “there is no alternative but to reclaim and  rearticulate the womens human rights agenda when struggling against the austerity regime and when negotiating the upcoming sustainable development goals. But most important: if we as feminists start transformative practices, reclaim commons and attempt to build economic and socioecological alternatives, those have to be rooted in the womens human rights agenda, in a concept of global citizenship and in deep democracy which overcomes the publicprivatedivide and crosses over cultural boundaries and national borders.

Nines Fidalgo showed the impact of neo-liberal policy in Spain and how social movements, especially the feminist movement, have reacted to it. The response of the Spanish government to the economic crisis has been to implement neo-liberal policies combined with gender policies that directly curtail women’s rights. Notably the government is proposing a planned huge cutback in the right to abortion. While women’s rights and gender equality are being attacked, feminists and other citizens’ movements find new ways to reclaim their rights. In the past few years, protests in the streets have been swelling, strikes have been massive, online protests have been set up and new social movements have been formed.

Feminists in Spain have thus found new ways of resisting. This has led to new and closer collaborations between grassroots feminists and those working in the field of development cooperation. And it showed how important international solidarity is. Now Spanish feminists are being supported and receiving advice from their friends in Latin America that have been dealing for a longer period with governments pushing for neo-libeal policies. Nines suggested that it is a task for WIDE+ to promote international solidarity.

Claudia Thallmayer from WIDE Austria reported about the results from the CSO conference Vienna+20. She focused on the debates and outcomes in the women’s chapter that is part of the CSO declaration. More than 140 persons from various CSOs around the world gathered in Vienna on 25 and 26 June 2013, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights and its Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The red line throughout the CSO conference Vienna+20 was the critique on the substantial gaps in human rights protection, arising from the fact that many states still interpret their obligations as being applicable only, or primarily, within their own borders. It was pointed out that without the acceptance and implementation of extraterritorial obligations, human rights cannot be universally realized, nor can they play a substantial role in the regulation of globalization.

The collaborations for the women’s charter showed the difficulty but also opportunities of promoting women’s rights. While negotiations in United Nations processes show that governments find it difficult to agree on full protection of women’s rights, there are also conservative forces among civil society. Promoting women’s rights in CSO fora can be a challenge too. During the preparatory process and at the conference there was a dispute with Catholic NGOs on the term “sexual and reproductive rights” and regarding the demand for “decriminalization of abortion”. However the dispute was resolved successfully in favour of women’s rights. Both terms were, at the end, accepted by the broad majority of CSOs present. The women’s chapter concludes that women´s sexual and reproductive rights must be strengthened and fully realized, even if not directly accepted.

Rosabel Agirregomezkorta reflected on the 2013 Vienna+20 Basque Country Tribunal on Women’s Rights. One of the instruments used by the feminist movement and diverse other organizations is the symbolic Tribunals or “Courts of Awareness”. With this and other tools, they have played a key role in advancing towards gender equity in social and legislative contexts as well as within international institutions. The Tribunal carried out in Vienna in 1993 within the framework of the World Conference on Human Rights was a key point of reference for the Tribunal carried out in Bilbao, Spain, this year.

20 years earlier, during the Vienna Tribunal the testimonies of 33 women expressed the meaning of human rights in the lives of women, helping millions of women and men around the world to understand this concept. 20 years later, many of the demands for defence of women’s rights raised in Vienna have yet to be achieved. This is why feminists carried out a Tribunal for Women’s Rights in Bilbao. The process of convoking and carrying out the Tribunal contributed in itself to the collective empowerment of women through political action, symbolic reparation as well as achieving recognition for women and the feminist movement.

Mayra Moro gave a presentation with input from  Kasia Staszewska who spoke through skype. They reflected on the CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE) and the governmental Aid and Development Effectiveness agenda. The CPDE is a structure set up in 2012 for civil society organization’s (CSO’s) joint efforts in the Aid and Development Effectiveness agenda which replaced the two structures BetterAid and OpenForum in order to channel CSO’s official participation in the governmental process. One key question they addressed was whether it was strategic for feminists in Europe and elsewhere to keep engaging in this CSO process.

Mayra updated the audience on the structure and working of the CPDE as well as the advancements in the governmental process. She concluded that monitoring of the governmental process is important. While human rights defenders have achieved some progress since the latest governmental aid agenda signed in Busan, 2011, we should be careful not to overstate the progress. Through monitoring, CSOs need to tell the real story. At the same time within the CSO agenda of the CPDE, there is a feminist approach taken on board through a lot of effort. There is a feminist co-chair in the international board, the presence of feminists is reserved in regional bodies, feminists approaches are recognized as a way of working for the platform, and women’s key demands form the foundation document for advocacy.

The last presentation set the stage for the open floor debate. The efforts feminists have put into the process of the CPDE to influence the governmental process is a good example of an ‘inside’ advocacy strategy: trying to influence policies from a place within the policy process. The concrete examples of action from Spanish feminists showed the methods and achievements of an “outside” advocacy strategy. With the political hegemony of the neo-liberal model, the question was debated as to what extent an inside advocacy strategy should be pursued by feminists, or should we focus more on trying to change ideas and perceptions through creating alternatives and protesting loudly. Many interesting and valid points were made; most of all the meeting provided a feeling of strength that our local struggles for human rights are part of an international movement.

Gea Meijers is communication facilitator at WIDE+.

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