The AWID Forum has come and gone, and it took us some time to process all the energy, commitment and reflection that happened from the 18th to the 22nd of April 2012.
The Collective for Research and Training on Development – Action (CRTD.A) wasn’t only a mere participant to the event: with a delegation of five people, it played an active role in the sessions, either by organizing break out or in-depth sessions, or by participating to panels or by asking questions and looking deeper into issues.
The theme of this AWID Forum was “Transforming Economic Powers to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice”, a key priority for the CRTD.A who has been working on issues of economic justice for women in the Middle East for the past ten years now, advocating for the economic empowerment of women via skills-building projects, the setting up and partnerships with cooperatives, facilitating their management and access to market for example. Besides, the CRTDA has recently started opening up the debate in Lebanon, Morocco, Egypt and Jordan on women’s work, the indicators measuring the work women do and its contribution to the economies of these four countries, as well as on women’s work in the informal sector.
These questions being central to the Forum, CRTD.A has been invited by the AWID Education Corner at the Forum to be part of a panel on sharing experiences on skills building sessions on women economic rights. The panel was shared with NGO workers, activists and academic from all over the world, includingIndia, theUSA, andBolivia. During this panel, CRTD.A was able to share its experience building the capacity of its constituency within the Sustainable Economic Opportunities for Women (SEOW2) project. It was interesting to study the similarities of experiences between the panelists despite the diversity of contexts: indeed, the global patriarchal system undermining women’s participation and contribution to the economy, along with the global conservative neo-liberal agendas impact all contexts present during the panel, which prompted panelists and the audience as a whole to have a conversation on what could be done to counteract the adverse effects on women of these two oppressive systems. While not one size-fits-all answer would be relevant, participants emphasized the need for solidarity and networking not only with and between national partners, but also among women’s rights defenders worldwide. The question of resources was also heavily debated, with the conundrum many NGOs and activists face: while donor funding is crucial to achieving sustainable work, it is also a form of dependence, and sometimes, imperialism, and civil society organizations should come up with alternative, independent ways of funding.
In that logic, the Resources Mobilization corner at the Forum provided a great platform to ask and discuss these questions.
CRTD.A organized as well a session on Collective Advocacy in Muslim-majority countries with panelists Bénédicte Allaert from the WIDE Network, Egyptian activist Amal Abdel Hadi and Tunisian activist and doctor Ahlem Belhaj. This session started with a presentation on the CRTD.A’s SEOW2 project, as the project is regional and deals with economic empowerment of women in four Muslim majority countries: therefore, examples of collective advocacy in such contexts were given from the CRTD.A’s perspective. Ms Allaert shared then with the audience the research she has been working on on mainstream indicators and the ideologies underlying them. What is being measured at a global and regional level? Are there some best practices from governments who actually measure and take into account women’s work? “We value what we measure” has been a good maxim to show the poor level of measuring women’s work, and therefore of valuing it. The example of Liberia, which integrates the contribution of women’s work in the informal economy within the active women statistics was a good illustration that alternative measurements of the economy are possible and that the GDP-based, classical model did not reflect the reality of many Southern economies, and more particularly, the reality of many Middle Eastern contexts, where women account for roughly 70% of the informal work force, if not more.
Amal Abdel Hadi and Ahlem Belhaj spoke about the specific context of revolutionaryEgyptandTunisia, and on how women’s work remained invisible despite the change in regime and despite women being so active and present during the uprisings. Vigilance with regards to the pervasive patriarchal agenda seemed to be their words of warning for the future. Many questions were asked by a predominantly Middle Eastern and North African audience, notably on the issue of Qiwama and dialogues lasted long after the session was over, with ,many contacts being exchanged to carry on the conversation and collective action.
One of the innovation of this edition of the Forum was the organization of in-depth sessions, allowing for a strong focus on a certain topic, running for three hours and a half every day of the forum, a bit like an intensive lecture/participatory session. CRTD.A took active part in this pilot by co-organising with its partner the Women’s Learning Partnership the in-depth session on women’s rights and transition democracy in the MENA region. After a plenary in which Rabea Naciri from Morocco and Asma Khader from Jordan spoke about the constitutional processes and changes in the region, participants broke into groups to discuss constitutional reforms, the role of media and social media in making women’s claims visible and processes on transitional justice. I was lucky to be part of the group on constitutional reforms: it felt incredibly empowering sitting at the heart of a women’s cluster, reflecting and suggesting strategies on the core laws and processes of the countries of the region.
Women’s invisibility and the lack of gender perspective in the current constitutional assemblies (notably in Tunisia and Egypt) lead us to emphasize the need first of all of popular education on the importance of constitutional reforms and second of all, on the absolute necessity to have assemblies of women drafting their own version of the Constitution. The issue of negotiations with conservative powers came up: as feminists, where should we draw the line? What are the non negotiable? Should we have a long term vision and keep our radical agenda and invest on education and awareness-raising or should we cede on some points in the short to mid-term to insert ourselves in the debates and decisions? But if we do, would that keep the integrity of our thoughts and vision or who would be compromising the aims of our struggle? There are no clear cut, one size-fits-all answer to these questions, they take in-depth research, historical perspective, thinking and anticipation, input from different experiences and expertise to have a clearer picture of how to influence and shape the society we hope to see and want. We are still working on what the ideal gender sensitive constitution would be, but Rabea Naciri outlined some relevant, core points that Constitutions in post revolution countries should include, such as clarity of language and terminology so as to prevent any harmful-to-women interpretations and explicit prohibition of any type of discrimination based on gender on top of calling for substantive gender equality. Constitutions should also specifically speak to the rights of political opposition and mention and include civil society and its contribution to society as a whole.
CRTD.A’s delegation was also very active on social media, linking online then offline with partners, following sessions that were relevant to their work but also sessions that were related to issues of women’s rights they might not have been familiar with in order to build their own capacity, initiative new contacts and widen their perspectives and reflections.
The AWID Forum has been a whirlwind of events, sessions, conversations and experiences, and CRTD.A felt proud to be a part of this event, and to carry on the work and priorities it has set for itself, feeling stronger now more than ever having this visit to the Feminist family.