Several years ago, I felt that there was an urgent need to build a youth-led, pro-human rights movement that would be community-based, grassroots-level and independent. My fellow activists and I decided our movement would practice feminist approaches like participatory, consensus-based and horizontal decision-making, so each member in the movement could influence the final decision and equally facilitate the process.
My activist experience as a young activist is connected with Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ, which is a feminist group of activists in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Our collective believes in the principles of collective emancipation, solidarity, mutual support and equal decision-making, and non-violence. We felt that there was a need in our civil society sector to shift from highly NGO-ized, only results-based hierarchical structures to grassroots, diverse communities-oriented and process-focused groups. Thus, this kind of organizing became a priority for our feminist collective and there are fellow activists who are also practicing a similar approach. Due to the backlash against human rights and growing attacks, discrimination and injustice directed at different grassroots groups — including our collective — we think that it is important to organize and mobilize for equality, social justice and human rights.
Since the word youth encompasses a very diverse group, living in different contexts, with different vulnerabilities and privileges, there are also different approaches to ensure equal representation in youth-led movements. As a young feminist activist, I attempt to understand how we, as a feminist collective, can build or strengthen already existing youth-led movements in Kyrgyzstan to advocate for equality, social justice and human rights. How can we make sure that a movement is truly inclusive, non-hierarchical and representative of different communities? What kind of approaches should we practice to achieve our vision and goals?
In order to clarify and learn different practices and approaches, I connected with youth activists from different movements and countries to share ideas and strategies on this topic. All of the activists I have contacted are engaged in various forms of young activist organizing aimed at promoting human rights within their communities. Our discussions provide us with a safe space to share our experiences, approaches and tools as well as current challenges within and outside pro-human rights movements.
From these discussions, I learned much from the experience of grassroots youth movements attempting to practice participatory models. For example, I learned that some grassroots women’s movements are practicing self-critique and consciousness-raising and peer-to-peer support through collective care strategies to strengthen their movements. Building and strengthening any movement is a never-ending process, which includes rethinking, redefining and transforming the movement itself through debates, suggestions and votes. The aforementioned practices allow every member to take ownership and responsibility for the movement. In fact, there are no definite answers to these questions, as any movement might have different approaches and practices due their local context.
Even with our different contexts, it was revealed that we all experience similar problems involving human rights violations directed at our communities and ourselves. The violations of the rights of young women/human rights activists are becoming increasingly common. With recent negative developments such as several backlashes against human rights in different countries, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure the safety and security of activists within and outside of movements. In different parts of the world, mIt is particularly hard for activists from underrepresented communities such as ourselves to organize as our mobilization and organizing is seen as something illegal or criminal by oppressive governments.
Despite the attacks and censorship, we have multiple ways of responding to the backlash. There are courageous young feminist activists around the world claiming rights, mobilizing and organizing for justice and equality. In every country, region and community, there are a variety of young feminist movements that are committed to the cause and practicing participatory and inclusive approaches to bring positive changes to their communities. I ask young feminist activists around the world to join our online discussions, so that our voices and perspectives can be represented. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send the details for upcoming discussions.
About the author: Saadat Baigazieva is a 23 year-old youth activist from Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia. Since 2012, Saadat coordinates Youth Activism initiatives at Bishkek Feminist Collective SQ and co-coordinates their Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights initiative. Currently, Saadat is advocating on a national level to ensure that youth policies are human rights based and sensitive to gender aspects. She also uses different youth platforms to challenge “token” youth activism and advocate for meaningful youth participation at all levels. As the Hurford Youth Fellow 2015 at World Youth Movement for Democracy, Saadat will be facilitating online discussions on topics such as inclusive youth policies, transnational solidarity building and equal and meaningful youth participation at all levels of decision-making processes.