Multigenerational Exchange: The Tensions And The Solidarity
The final session of the Young Women’s Caucus was a multigenerational dialogue between older and younger feminists. By Kathambi Kinoti
The final session of the Young Women’s Caucus was a multigenerational dialogue between older and younger feminists. The Caucus members had worked hard distributing its signature pink scarves to about seven hundred Forum participants, but the number of people over thirty years old who attended was small. Sarah Davies, a young women’s rights activist from Switzerland expressed her disappointment and said that she felt that this was not a real intergenerational dialogue. However, despite the dismal showing by older women, the session provided for rich and meaningful discussions.
One of the key issues multigenerational dialogue proponents constantly grapple with is the power dynamics within feminist movements. Rathi Ramanathan, a Malaysian activist says that feminist spaces can be cliquish and that she and many other women tend to feel more at home in pro-democracy movements.
Peggy Antrobus from Barbados, who is 73 years old, offers an important insight; ‘young’ isn’t always about age. She joined the women’s movement when she was 40. ‘The people who mentored me were younger,’ she says, ‘and I have always looked up to them.’ She does however acknowledge that there are issues of power related to age, class and other diversities. For instance in some situations a young white woman may be perceived as more powerful than an older black woman. Ponni Arasu, an Indian feminist agrees that older women can learn from young women. She points out: ‘It is never one-way learning.’ She says that there is often an assumption about the role of young women, without an understanding that they do possess different sets of skills.
Vinita Sahasranaman, who is also from India feels that some of the angst about multigenerational relations comes from the set up of feminist organisations. They need to have strategies for transition from one generation to the next, and older feminists need to recognise when it is time to make way for younger ones. ‘Dialogue and debate won’t work if one party doesn’t leave!’ she points out.
Older feminists often want to be supportive of their younger colleagues, but do not know how. Some feel that there has not been a clear articulation of what kind of support young feminists need. Bonnie-Lou Fatio from Switzerland says, ‘We can’t read minds, so we need to know what it is that you need.’
Many young feminists, like Marwa Sharafeldin from Egypt, have had very supportive older mentors. Marwa’s mentor would tell her about important opportunities like conferences and would introduce her people who could contribute to her professional growth. Marwa suggests examining the way we speak to each other, because sometimes what we say valid, but the way that we say it discredits our words. In the South,’ she says ‘we honour and respect our elders and in return we are respected. As young women we need to realise that we have both rights and obligations within this respect paradigm.’
Many young feminists are in awe of older feminists whom they have heard or read about and feel nervous about introducing themselves to them or striking up a conversation. Abiosseh Davis from the USA says, ‘In meetings like this we meet people we admire and aspire to be like. Often we don’t want to walk up to them and talk to them, but we shouldn’t be so consumed with ourselves that we can’t do so.’ She says that on the other had older women should not be so aloof. They need to acknowledge younger women.
Charlotte Young from South Africa appreciates hearing some of the older feminists candidly speak about their regrets. ‘It helps to realise that I don’t have to be perfect. These women are incredible, but it is helpful to know that they are human.’ Merle Van Den Bosch from the UK feels that our behaviour is strongly influenced by painful childhood experiences and most people never deal with their pain, even into adulthood. She says that this pain is reflected in the ways we relate with others, and informs intergenerational tensions. She advocates emotional healing as a way to promote cohesion among the different generations.
Peggy Antrobus says that young women are more in touch with their world, and the world is changing all the time. ‘We need to listen to what they are saying,’ she says ‘The ideas that come from young women just blow my mind.’