KULU at the 12th International AWID Forum

Af Filomenita Mongaya Høgsholm

More than 2200 women’s rights activists – a few among them men, congregated in Istanbul from 19 to2 April during the 12th International AWID Forum to debate and strategize around  the theme ”Transforming Economic Power to Advance Women’s Rights and Justice!

Opening Day was overwhelming with women from at least 140 countries strutting in their finest garb, in the most exotic  colours and patterns from sisters from  the South, especially from Africa, Asiaand Latin Americaand the Middle East.

Although the Forum's Focus was on how economic power is impacting women and the planet, there was a palpable need to also address the so-called Arab spring, in a profusion of topics, related to the plight of women in the MENA and Gulf areas in the 4 day program.

An Extensive Programme
A The WIDE+ activity at the AWID Forum on the European financial crisis had panelists from Greece, Germany, Spain and Italy/UK used up almost the entire 90 minutes among themselves, making a participant from the US to interject that “time is almost up and we still have not been able to share our own experiences”. By then the few who were recognized to speak had only 10 minutes left before lunch impinged.

The AWID programme of more than 140 activities, workshops, in depth sessions, break-out sessions, hubs, education areas, etc. proved to be a constant dilemma. Each day at the Forum opened with a Plenary setting the tone for the day:
1) The global context of economic power
2) Key trends for transformation
3) Experiences of resistance and transformation
4) Directions on the Task ahead
The AWID Forum in Istanbul was indeed a relevant global space for feminists and women’s rights advocates from all regions and sectors to come together, shaping agendas that can influence policy makers, donors, civil society and more in solidarity and engagement with the most pressing issues of the day, for example the environment.

The worst effects of climate change are felt by indigenous women according to Victoria Tauli-Corpuz indigenous activist from the Philippine Cordilleras. Because they have no power, indigenous peoples, especially the women are being deprived of their land and homes, and their cultures denigrated. Indigenous peoples have the world's last remaining ecosystems and thus Vicky Corpus challenges indigenous women to use existing human rights instruments in these struggles.

Women and Global Migration
Being part of the Women and Global Migration “entourage”, I was also invited to input into a 2-day Strategy meeting on 17&18 April with 17 women from the  world's regions, some with compounded origins of both South and North countries indicating migration histories.
Over two whole days at the Kadir Has University nearby we aimed for carrying out a deeper analysis of gender and global migration, the intersection of oppressions while identifying sites of power. We also spent time on defining principles and spent time on discussing our own individual advocacy paths, and what we can realistically commit to in
the future in pursuit of migrant women's rights?

It was also impressive that among us 17 women, two were Plenary speakers: Sr Lissy Joseph (India) from Migrant Forum Asia, who talked during the 3rdPlenary about her work on the ILO Convention 189’s decent work for domestic workers and ITUC's “12 by 12 campaign” to push 12 countries with highest numbers of domestic workers to ratify the Convention by December 2012, while Mariama Williams, the gender specialist originally from the Caribbean now working in Geneva, who we know from KULU as she was a staffer with WIDE,  inputted into the last plenary titled “Let’s Go” exhorting participants to confront and transform the structures if economic power to advance women’s rights and justice on this concluding Plenary of the Forum’s last afternoon. A fitting slogan just before the planned March and Demonstration off Taksim Square, Istanbul’s version of our Rådhuspladsen or City Hall Square.
The El Salvadorian ordained Pastor, Sr. Marta Benavides (Latin America) also joined our Strategy session. A peace advocate from the 70s when her country was in violent turmoil, she went on exile in the USAbut continued her peace efforts. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, she has garnered international awards and is known today for Siglo XXIII, the movement for Sustainable Peace working for social transformation through culture. She continues her quest working with the UN and civil society movements.

But in the end it is Banglalore-based Indian Professor of Public Policy Gita Sen whose words resonate in my ears. Rhetorically she challenges us by asking, “Who wants a larger share out of a poisoned chalice?” For her, the notion of power is based on the control of resources such as knowledge and collective engagement. A knowledge that power is built on fearlessness and in challenging the system.

During the Forum, I came to learn that even revolutions –as in the Arab spring- does not guarantee rights. But all is not lost. Gita Sen concludes during the First Plenary that “We are half the world and we need to make the world in the image that we want....."


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