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Impressions from a young feminist on Day 1 of the 2012 AWID forum

Gita Sen asks: Who needs or wants a larger share of a poisoned pie?

By: Paola Daher

Looking at the AWID Forum programme, I felt like a little girl in a sweet shop: i want to go to this session! No, this one! Finally, I sadly had to pick several of them, wishing my superpowers included duplicating myself.

This Edition of the AWID Forum focuses on transforming economic power to achieve social justice and gender equality. Right from the opening session, the tone was set: as feminists, we focus on relationships of power, and on how power dynamics affect our lives, our rights and bodies. The financial and economic crisis has brought tremendous pressure on peoples in general and women in particular, as women are more at risk to find themselves in situations of poverty, unemployment and precarious working conditions in the informal sector of the economy.

Austerity measures lead to significant cuts in social spending such as health and education, increasing women’s vulnerability as women’s health is put in jeopardy and possibilities of education are reduced; yet banks are bailed out and saved and multinational corporations carry on exhausting the earth’s resources and making huge profits. As Gitta Sen put it at the opening session, the end has become money, growth and profit while the means are the human beings.

Faced with this situation, we as feminists do have an opportunity: an opportunity to mobilize, organize and influence public policies with alternative interpretations of the economy. In other words, it is high time we shake the orthodox mathematical paradigm of current economics to build new concepts to be used in gendered economics. Such transformative economics include feminist interpretation of the economy where women’s work in the informal sector is taken into account and where the reproductive role of women and the gendered economy of care is valued and recognized, as social organizations usually put domestic and care work on women’s shoulders.

Economic power dynamics are not the only relationships that will be discussed over the upcoming four days, as issues of body image, sexual and reproductive health and rights and political phenomenon and militarization will be tackled.

The Forum also introduces in-depth session, longer sessions focusing on a specific theme. Among them, the session on democratic transitions and women in the Arab world was extremely intense and interesting, both online and offline. Offline, because women from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Iran shared first and foremost their stories of hope: as Thoraya Obaid clearly stated at the beginning of the sessions, there is no denying that revolutions brought dynamics of change. Ahlem Bel Haj from the Association Démocratique des Femmes Tunisiennes stated that not only were Arab countries in a transitional democratic process, but that they were first and foremost engaged in a revolutionary process: words have their importance, as emphasizing the revolutionary process keeps social justice and labor rights demands, key demands of the revolutions, in the picture.

Talking about words brings me to the online debate: when tweeting about comments made by panelists and participants that feminists needed to remain vigilant when facing political Islamic groups as they could represent threats to women’s rights, some tweeple told me that such a language could be perceived as the language of counter-revolution and that now would be the time to be optimistic about the opportunities ahead. The conversations and working groups during the sessions today and this online debate lead me to this conclusion: as feminists, we are part of a progressive, subversive movement, which organically implies always remaining vigilant of conservative forces. The previous regimes in revolutionary countries in the regions were in no way women’s rights champions: it doesn’t however mean that we should turn a blind eye to the situation currently unfolding. We not only need to remain vigilant and alert in developments, as we have always been, but we also need to draw parallels with other countries and learn lessons from the past, as has been mentioned by Sudanese and Iranian feminists at the forum, to try and build a global feminist solidarity network that is enshrined in the universality of women’s rights.

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