IWTC Women's GlobalNet #283

Activities and Initiatives of Women Worldwide 

October 29, 2005


By Rochelle Jones
The first day of the Tenth AWID International Forum began with the welcome Plenary Session, focused around the theme of ''What Have We Changed Now? (and why are we here?).'' The President of AWID, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, welcomed 1600 men and women from all over the world, and it was clearly a moment where everyone seated in the Grand Ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, was feeling the energy and anticipation of an incredible event. Sadly, AWID's Executive Director Joanna Kerr, was unexpectedly called home in the days prior to the commencement of the Forum due to the sudden death of her father. Bisi highlighted Joanna's difficult time, and her kind words were a testimony to Joanna's invaluable leadership and tireless efforts in organizing the Forum, and the room erupted into powerful applause to send energy to Joanna on the other side of the world.

''A humbling moment...'' AWID's Shareen Gokal and Shamillah Wilson began the Plenary by discussing why so many people had gathered together to strategise on how to make positive changes for women's rights and gender equality. Six key reasons for the Forum were presented, which set the scene for the panel presenters - the first being to connect in a global way in the same space. Almost every region in the world was represented in the room, and the feeling of togetherness was captured beautifully by Sunila Abeysekera, a Sri Lankan feminist and human rights activist, who exclaimed at the beginning of her presentation: ''This is a humble moment for me to meet everyone I've worked with, heard about and read about in the past thirty years''.

The second reason for such a momentous gathering is to understand what changes we have already made, and how. Shamillah Wilson, AWID's Young Women and Leadership Theme Manager, described the women's movement as ''the most successful revolution history has witnessed''. Attitudes, concepts, institutions and most importantly, lives, have been changed by women's movements. Women have made the private sphere a part of public debate; we have created the structures for equality within the state; we have developed and implemented curriculums for gender and women's studies in universities; and many more milestones in history. An important undercurrent emerging from all of the Plenary speeches was that young feminists need to be acknowledged! Young women are redefining human development and injecting new hope into women's movements. The importance of knowing where we've come from in order to know where we are going, was a key message, reinforced by Sunila's presentation on how past achievements of the Women's Human Right's Movements have meant profound changes for women all around the world.

To understand how the world has changed is the third reason for the AWID Forum. Increasing militarization, corporate control, concentrations of wealth, lack of political will and persistent catastrophes such as natural disasters and HIV/AIDS form barriers to the achievement of gender equality and women's rights. Women's movements are losing ground, and we need to come together to strategize on how to prepare for these issues and develop new agendas. Junya Lek Yimprasert, founder of the Thai Labour Campaign, with her light-hearted yet grounding presentation on Thai worker's rights, put these issues in perspective and reminded us all that it is women who suffer the most in the context of these issues.

Reason number four is to look at ourselves and take responsibility for the demands we are making. How do we live it in our daily lives? Noelene Nabilivou, a speaker from Fiji, discussed the importance of identity and awareness of how society codifies and constructs the pathways that we are supposedly obligated to negotiate as women. Her energetic yet humble speech reinforced the need to deconstruct ourselves in addition to the structures that oppress.

The big question is: how does change happen? The fifth reason for coming together is to shift the focus from deconstruction to reconstruction. There was a call for for more analysis on how to solve problems and create change, adding to our strengths in identifying the need for change. We need to think about how change happens ˆ whether it is via actions such as movement and alliance building, non-violent action or strategic spaces within institutions.

Finally, we need to refuel our hope! Follow dreams, chase new ideas, mobilize, create noise and crystallize action plans. Change happens when we say no, when we affirm each other's right to dignity, and when we create spaces such as this for transformation. The key message for the following days is that the Forum is not only a rare opportunity to create history together, but that it will be a different experience for everyone.

From the AWID RESOURCE NET, Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID).

AWID is an international membership organization committed to gender equality and a just and sustainable development process. AWID facilitates an open exchange among researchers, practitioners, policymakers and others in order to develop effective and transformative approaches for improving the lives of women and girls worldwide. If you are not already a member of AWID, visit their web site at <http://www.awid.org> to find out more. -The Association for Women's Rights in Development, 215 Spadina Avenue, Suite 150, Toronto,ON M5T 2C7, CANADA. Tel: 416-594-3773. Fax: 416-594-0330. Email: [email protected]. Web: <http://www.awid.org>

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