Surfing the Feminist Wave

By: Three YWCA Young Women Champions young women who recently attended the second Asia and Pacific Feminist Forum in Chiang Mai, Thailand; Sushila, Mameaw and Divya1401368407

The second day of APFF 2014 started with a plenary where feminists from 4 countries came together Helen Hakena from Papua New Guinea, Khek Chanreasmey from Combodia, Vernie Yocogan from Philippines and Khadiza Akter from  Bangladesh, they all picked up issues of oppression and how they overcame it by mobilising women locally and using creative campaigns of non violent resistance.

 Helen discussed about the women displaced due to mining and the impact it had on women and the environment. She spoke about how she mobilised women, and in spite of restrictions on making speeches they carried on with their protests by wearing black badges, organising marches and singing songs!

Khek and Vernie are housing and land rights activist, respectively. Khel mobilised 4200 families that were to be evicted, her struggle for housing rights continues till date. Her slogan on housing camping is ‘even birds need a nest’.

Khadiza, picked up the issues of the garment factory workers of Bangladesh, when she started off working as a young worker in a garment factory, she was appalled at the conditions of abuse and harassment the women worker were facing in the factory. When she started raising questions on the poor conditions In which the young women were working, she was terminated from her services, yet she persisted and managed to organise workers into unions for putting pressure on the garment companies and worked on improving the working conditions by negotiating for better wages, improving their standards of working and thereby ensuring the dignity of the workers in the industry.

Sessions attended during the day-

  • Promoting Accountability: Using International Mechanisms for the Realisation of Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, this workshop was conducted International Women’s Rights Action Watch, Asia Pacific

The workshop discussed mechanisms such as CEDAW and IECSR which can be used for holding governments accountable, how improved networking in the region and sub region are required for understanding economic rights and economic policies and identifying key violations.

  • At the workshop section on “FILM FOR CHANGE” which was organized by Insight Film and Communications TG, we learned about how to use film and other media to help someone have better understanding of goals, need and impacts of our network program/projects.

The advantage of using film and social media is to reach people, to raise their awareness, to record action and digital life studies/oral histories etc.

By sharing documentary films on the internet, many people can have access especially potential/contemporary funders.

  • Multi generation feminist dialogue on the contextual challenges of women’s movement in asia pacific

This workshop we attended  opened dialogues with multiple generations of feminists to talk about  knowledge building and activities within the movement and identify some of our best practices that allowed to build alliances to across generation and bridge the gaps.

  • Forum theatre for advancing women’s human rights

The workshop demonstrated the powers of theater as a way for people and communities to share their experiences, generate conversation, and enable new insights to emerge. The theatre was to break down isolation and building hope. By working through theatre, both performers and spectators can engage difficult questions in a safe space. It is also an excellent tool for education and awareness rising. Lastly, these insights can be used to advocate for policy and legislative changes.

It provided us an opportunity to discuss analyze and try to find out practical solution to problems by engaging spectators. Forum theatre presents an anti model and asked the spectators to respond about the decision made on stage and motivate them to change it . This provides a safe space for the performers and spectators to engage in a dialogue without being defensive. Danish Sohail showed that theatre can be used across international boundaries. He also said that language is not necessary because the face and body can speak across cultures. Danish gave an example from Pakistan where if women is raped, she must find four wise muslim men to speak for her innocence.

‘Taking APFF Home’-some key learnings and observations-

  • Major discussion around the conference were around the question of growing fundamentalism in the region and how it manifests itself in different forms in different countries-in some countries right wing governments are coming to power other enforcing Sharia law and still other by passing regressive legislation such as the ‘Anti- Inter Faith Marriage Act’.
  • With financial aid towards women’s empowerment programmes going to private players, and very limited access towards strengthening of the movement, the women’s movement regionally needs to look at other (non-financial) resources for movement building, like, strong volunteer base,  skills, visibility(social media) and possibly its strongest asset a strong network and community leadership
  • Another important learning at this advocacy platform came from our fellow, young women’s champion Yadanar, who along with other delegates from Myanmar rallied to create awareness about the issue of inter-faith marriages in the country and distributed a statement and thereby built solidarity among other activists in the conference. We learnt a lot about effective advocacy from this experience.