The 11th AWID Forum: A Broad Overview
A summary of the array of presentations and discussions at the 11th AWID Forum is almost impossible. Here, we give a very broad overview of what went on.
By Kathambi Kinoti
The 2008 AWID International Forum on Women’s Rights and Development broke AWID records. For the first time, the organisers were forced to turn away a large number of people, because there was simply not enough space for everyone who would have liked to attend. This is an indication of just how much women’s rights advocates around the globe value this kind of platform.
The theme of this year’s Forum was ‘The Power of Movements.’ The gathering was an opportunity for different organizations and movements to not only discuss their different contexts but also to toss out new ideas, for it is in such spaces that ideas are born. Indeed it was at the 2005 Forum in Bangkok that the immensely innovative, eye-opening and assumption- challenging dictionary of sex work called ‘Bad Girls’ was conceived.  To paraphrase Sande Smith blogging for the Global Fund for Women, AWID Forums present opportunities to ‘share what is in your mind and heart, even if it feels only half-formed.’ 
One of the themes gaining prominence in feminist spaces, an issue that used to be relegated to coffee break discussions at conferences, or to ‘non-official’ emails between activists, is the challenge of the sustainability of women’s rights activists. They endure all sorts of obstacles from burnout to psychosis and even death (all without medical insurance or pension), but do not talk about them or seriously take measures to deal with them. The African Feminist Charter  emphasizes the importance of self-care. At the 2008 Forum, self-care came out of the corridors. The Urgent Action Fund launched ‘What’s the point of revolution if we can’t dance?’ a book that explores the mental, emotional, physical and financial well being of feminists,  while the India-based CREA launched a manual on self care and self-defence for women’s human rights defenders.
There was an increase in the presence - both numerically and in terms of space in the program - of young women. For the first time in the Forum’s history, at least twenty per cent of participants were women under the age of thirty. Every day of the Forum, there was a Young Women’s Caucus. Prior to the Forum, AWID’s Young Feminist Activism program had convened a committee of young women to strategise for young women’s engagement at the Forum. The committee handed out bright fuschia scarves to identify participants involved in the Caucus or interested in discussing or learning more about issues that young feminists are engaging with. Sanushka Mudaliar is the Young Feminist Activism Program Manager. At one of the plenary sessions she challenged older feminists to not only think of inviting their younger colleagues into spaces that they already inhabit, but to venture into young feminist spaces. The Young Women’s Caucus provided an opportunity for just this, when on the last day of the Forum it organized a session for multigenerational conversations. Disappointingly, only seven women over the age of thirty five turned up for this, even though seven hundred scarves had been given out. Still, the presence and impact of young women at the Forum was felt and young feminist activism was taken a notch higher with the launch of the Young Feminist Fund.
Cape Town and the South African women’s movements graciously hosted women’s rights advocates and activists from all over the globe. It was therefore only fitting that local women’s movements should be lent some support by their visiting sisters. In solidarity with their South African counterparts, on the second day of the Forum, participants from around the world joined in a march against violence against women in South Africa. The demonstrators marched from the convention centre where the Forum was being held, to the Western Cape provincial legislature to present a petition. The Forum was also the incubator - in the words of AWID’s Srilatha Batliwala – of possibly a new women’s party in South Africa to offer an alternative to the prevailing patriarchal political culture in the country.
The need to equalize the balance of power between donors and grantees is an ever present challenge. Conversations between donors and the ‘foot soldiers’ of women’s movements were deepened, and the findings of the latest research by AWID’s Where is the Money initiative were presented. The NGOization of movements and its impact on activism was another challenge discussed.
Activism through sports, arts and culture presented a prominent alternative to traditional ways of organizing. There were opportunities for Forum goers to participate in dance sessions, to watch the ‘Reclaiming the “P” word,’ a play akin to the Vagina Monologues. The Labyrinth of Butterflies was another popular performance.
Srilatha, who closed the Forum by highlighting some of the big ideas emerging from the four days of the gathering.  Her call to the participants to join the ‘next great feminist uprising’ echoed the mood of many who felt re-energized after attending the meeting. Judging by this, it would not be too hopeful to see a revitalization of women’s rights activism in the coming weeks, months, and years.
1 See ‘Bad Girls: Sex workers defining themselves on their own terms.’ http://www.awid.org/eng/Issues-and-Analysis/Library/Bad-Girls-Sex-workers-defining-themselves-on-their-own-terms
3 This is the popular name. The full name is the Charter of Feminist Principles for African Feminists. See www.awdf.org.
4 See ‘What’s the point of revolution if we can’t dance?’ http://www.awid.org/eng/Issues-and-Analysis/Library/What-s-the-Point-of-Revolution-if-We-Can-t-Dance-A-Review
5 More about this here: http://awid.org/eng/Forum-08/Plenary-sessions/Read-and-listen-to-each-plenary-here/The-Future-of-Movements
For coverage of different sessions at the Forum go to http://awid.org/eng/Forum-08