Who Are We? What Dreams Are We Pursuing?
Young Women’s Caucus: Report of Day One. By Kathambi Kinoti
Twenty per cent of the participants at the 2008 AWID Forum are aged below thirty, and one of the intended outcomes of the Forum is that participants will learn and share models of effective ways of working across generations, ensuring the visibility and engagement of young women, and valuing the contributions of all feminists.
The Young Women’s Caucus at the Forum is a space for young feminist activists to get to know each other, reflect together and build joint strategies for social transformation. For Purity Kagwiria from Kenya, the Caucus is a chance to take strategic steps to incorporate young women into the feminist movement. She says: “It is not simply the numbers that we are after, but the full meaningful representation and participation of young women.’
On the first day of the Forum, drawing on the feminist maxim ‘the personal is political’ young women shared their personal stories about how they came to feminism and their experiences in feminist movements. Women’s studies programmes in universities have attracted young women such as Francoise Mukuku from the Democratic Republic of Congo to feminism.
Others became feminists because of experiences growing up. “One day, when I was eleven years old, my father was sitting on the couch, flipping through the television channels, while my mother was preparing dinner in the kitchen,” recounts Pouline Kimani from Kenya. “He called to her to bring him a glass of water which was just an arm’s stretch away from him. When I challenged him on this, my aunt who was in the room said ‘So you are a feminist!’ That was the first time I had heard the term and so I have identified myself as a feminist since I was much younger.”
Nosipho Dlamini from Swaziland says that her grandfather who was an Anglican priest was the first person who introduced her to gender equality, and never tried to pigeonhole what he thought was important for her to know. When she was twelve years old he gave her two books on puberty: one written for an audience of girls and the other for boys.
Exclusion and division
Some activists come into feminism through their other forms of activism. One such person is Victor Mukasa from Uganda who says: ‘As a gender non-conforming person and LGBTI activist, feminism imposed itself on my life. With time however, I have denounced feminism because I have felt most unwelcome in feminist circles. There is too much theory and hypocrisy, so at the moment I do not call myself a feminist. I will call myself a feminist when everyone is welcome to dance to the music that is played.’ The exclusion that some activists have felt was echoed by other young women.
Division within feminist movements was another criticism that young women discussed at the Caucus. ‘We often come to spaces like the Forum and get enthused,’ says Amanda Cuyler of Australia. ‘Only to later find feminists ripping each other to shreds.’
Feminist movements often find that language is a barrier to effective and inclusive organizing. During the Caucus on the first day, participants had an exercise called ‘Adopt a Sister.’ Each participant paired up with another one who did not speak the same language and tried to express what they wanted to say by drawing, actions or signs.
Visions for the future
The young women attending the Caucus expressed their hopes for the future of feminist movements. Sarah Davies from Switzerland would like to see more young women in positions where decisions are made within the women’s movement, while Tremaine Bam from South Africa calls for more opportunities for young feminists to meet at regional or global levels. Purity Kagwiria says, “My vision is a movement where there is no division based on age, disability or other identity, because the fact of the matter is that we are all women.”