Publication Date
September 6, 2017

"Those who believe in futures free from gendered oppressions, the realization of full rights for people and planet, and self-determination from the body to the people, joined in creative disruption of the narratives that seek to disappear and silence alternatives, co-created affirming visions of 'a world in which many worlds are possible' and continue to build the collective power needed to turn these visions into reality through solidarity and collective action."

The Association for Women's Rights in Development (AWID)'s 13th International Forum was held September 8-11 2016 in Bahia, Brazil, under the theme of "Feminist Futures: Building Collective Power for Rights and Justice". The forum brings together feminist and women's rights leaders and activists from diverse movements, development practitioners, and donors from around the world. This global convening is meant to be a critical space to collectively energise and shape the analyses, agendas, and alliances that drive strategies to make gender justice and human rights lived realities. This report captures the principal achievements and insights that emerged from the forum evaluation process.

AWID reports that, despite the challenging contexts in which the 2016 forum took place (the Zika epidemic, a strike by Brazilian foreign-service workers, and the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and subsequent turmoil), it managed to bring together over 1,800 participants from 120 countries and territories across all regions of the world. They participated in over 150 sessions delivered in different formats on a variety of topics, ranging from bodily integrity and freedoms, to gender-based violence in the workplace, to strategies for building collective power. Ninety-eight percent of participants considered the forum an important convening space for feminist movements and expressed hope that AWID continues to organise forums.

By including actors from historically marginalised constituencies, as well as those excluded from global or feminist spaces, AWID was intentional in ensuring that systems and resources were in place to support as much as possible the meaningful participation and leadership of these constituencies at the forum. One reflection of those efforts was the first-time Black Feminisms Forum (BFF), held on September 5 and 6, which brought together 250 Black feminists from all over the world to build and strengthen ongoing, intergenerational, transnational connections among diverse movements. Among other events was the Young Feminist Activism (YFA) Day, which gathered over 120 young feminists. AWID indicates that these events allowed various feminist movement builders to share visions and agendas for greater solidarity and collective power across global movements, regions, and sectors.

The main body of the report is organised according to the forum's initial objectives - so-called outcome clusters:

Outcome Cluster 1: Diverse representation of different movements in Forum processes - As suggested above, AWID worked toward diverse participation of different movements in order to elevate a plurality of perspectives, strengthen an intersectional lens in addressing current challenges, and foster solidarity and cross-movement work. Diverse representation was sought in terms of region, language, age, priority constituencies, and movement affiliations. Data from the registration database confirms the presence at the forum of these various dimensions of diversity, which was the result of deliberate strategies: connecting with priority constituencies before, during, and after the forum and promoting their ownership of forum processes and spaces, as well as using an inclusivity lens in decisions and devoting resources toward promoting a safe and affirming space. AWID "heard from Black feminists, young feminists, women with disabilities, sex workers and transgender activists who felt they had been able to make the Forum space their own in ways that were meaningful to their agendas."

Outcome Cluster 2: Energised organisations and activists - For 96% of participants who responded to the post-forum evaluation survey, the forum was a major source of inspiration and energy, which AWID calls "the currency on which feminist organizers rely to capture the social imagination of individuals, families and communities, and direct them towards actions for change." Examples of some of the strategies used to foster an energising space included: (i) The Feminist Futures process, led by the young artists of the Fearless Collective. It included, for instance, four "It Takes A Village" small group discussions designed to construct a collective, resource-intensive, and playful process that generated a multitude of blueprints for feminist realities. (ii) Art, culture, technology, and creative expression - "the means by which activists can forge alliances, learn, celebrate activist creativity, and ultimately inspire and advance our feminist and cross-movement work. In addition to collaborative and generative learning processes facilitated by individual artists and groups, the Forum featured elements such as feminist theatre and cabaret, poetry and spoken word performances, multiple curated visual art exhibits, film screenings, musical performances, contemporary and traditional dance and other creative expressions."

Outcome Cluster 3: Deeper understanding among participants of critical issues presented at the forum - The forum process was built in a way that encouraged and expanded knowledge building processes pre-, during, and post-forum. For example, some pre-forum initiatives took the form of e-discussions, webinars, and face-to-face meetings, with particular emphasis on the umbrella issue themes of: State of our Feminist Movements, Reclaiming Democratic Spaces, Climate and Environmental Justice, and Bodily Integrity and Freedoms. These knowledge building efforts were led in collaboration with key partners - selected for their relevance to cross-movement engagement - and to highlight the need for integrated and coherent approaches that cut across diverse locations and strategies. Nearly all survey respondents (91%) identified the forum as a source of learning. The top three learnings reported by participants spoke to the importance of sharing and learning from others' experiences, working together to be stronger, and cooperating across movements.

Outcome cluster 4: Enhanced solidarity and cross-movement work among feminist and other rights and justice movements - 92% of participants gained an increased sense of solidarity with other forum participants. The forum laid down some premises for cross-movement work by, for example:

  • Increasing participants' understanding of global interconnected crises by using an intersectional lens. Many participants came from silos and reported leaving the forum feeling united in their analysis;
  • Encouraging participants to centre the lives and leadership of historically marginalised groups;
  • Facilitating dialogue between donors and activists on rights-based approaches, cross-movement and intersectional work;
  • Creating a networking space that allowed for meaningful connections at a deep level (not just an academic space);
  • Promoting concrete examples of solidarity at the forum (Brazilians, Black Lives Matter & Palestine, DefendHer campaign, sex worker fashion show) and exploring truly global actions; and
  • Awarding 20 Seed Grants (among 200 proposals submitted) aimed at supporting cross-movement initiatives that were sparked at the forum.

Early indications of the forum's impact on cross-movement work:

  • 95% of BFF survey respondents said they came away from the BFF with deeper connections with other Black and Afro-descendant feminists from around the world. At the BFF and in the YFA, the practice of inclusion and intersectionality were foundations for building alliances.
  • Pacific Forum participant women with disabilities are reportedly building linkages with Pacific transgender activists.
  • Linkages were created between disability and climate change: WEDO provided a grant to a woman with a disability who had been a forum participant to attend and speak at the closing Plenary session of the Global Gender Climate Alliance (GGCA) Innovation Forum, which took place from November 12-13 2016 on the sidelines of the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • A collaboration between a forum artist and communities in the Solomon Islands involves the creation of a body of portraits and stories that can be used as an advocacy tool around gender issues and environmental activism in a context of climate change.
  • The United Nations (UN) Women Executive Director invited Kurdish activist Dilak Dilir, one of the third Plenary forum speakers, to join her newly created Civil Society Advisory Group, as a result of her visibility and participation at the forum.

Insights from the forum, in sum:

  • "We have not been immune to replicating acts and practices of oppression and in order to be catalysts of hope, we need to embody transformation as well. Centering and shifting power to those historically rendered invisible and voiceless is itself a feminist project and requires intention, preparation, collective investment and practice."
  • "The creative process led at the Forum by our artistic partner, Fearless Collective, was a profound contribution to a field in which organizers are constantly looking for energizing tools that facilitate forward-thinking strategies and agendas. Sharing these tools widely beyond the Forum can support the iterative processes of formulating feminist solutions that will bring the future into the present."
  • "Arts and Culture is a strategy and vocabulary that bridges a range of feminist and social justice experiences in powerful and visceral ways. It is capable of quickly building a community from strangers and emerging allies....Artists are an important constituency in feminist organizing, and are some of the most effective organizers themselves."
  • "There is a wealth of knowledge and political understanding of self and collective care, healing justice, ancestral practices and feminist transformative leadership that can be exchanged cross-regionally. It is critical to allocate time, space, and funds to address individual and organizational wellbeing, not just as an additional activity, but one that is incorporated in how things are done."
  • "Bodies that are often stigmatized, shamed and scapegoated in their communities found space at the Forum to experience celebration instead of stereotypes and denigration, generating openness and affinity....Our collective power will be built from the enormous diversity, companionate listening and engaging and connecting the plurality of feminist agendas and solutions."

AWID website, March 8 2018.