Nafisa Ferdous, Senior Program Manager at Restless Development USA sat down with feminist scholar and activist Suneeta Dhar (@suneetadhar on Twitter) to discuss gender, sexual rights, and the importance of intergenerational feminism.
Suneeta [Dhar] has been working in feminist movements space for the over 25 years, as well as in global advocacy like the Beijing+25 process where she was a national leader in India.
Making feminism accessible.
Let’s be honest, for a lot of us, the history of feminism, let alone more visible and documented histories like those of UN conventions, are not easily accessible. For many young activists, the world we are organizing in and the ways we are organizing in it – has changed so much that we struggle to make connections between what we do in the day-to-day and the original human rights standards set like those in the Beijing Platform for Action. This is why I know we need to be archivists as well as activists if we want to be powerful enough to challenge gender inequality today.
We need to be archivists as well as activists if we want to be powerful enough to challenge gender inequality today.“
Like Suneeta reminded us, human rights is an active process that requires action and accountability. But what kind of action works best today? And from whom do we demand accountability from? These are some of the questions we wanted to reflect on in the Feminist Action Lab: Growing Our Intergenerational Power and one that we decided can only be answered in a dialogue between younger and older feminists. The Lab is meant to help build some bridges between the world that launched the 12 historic actions in the Beijing Platform – and the world we live in today – that of the 6 Action Coalition Blueprints at Generation Equality Forum (GEF).
Learning from the history of feminism.
The real world however does not fit neatly between two UN conferences – and this is why learning from movement histories is critically important to us as feminists. On one hand, the GEF is the UN’s most recent global moment to accelerate commitments, resources and demands for gender equality that can be threaded back to the 1995 Beijing Conference (for clarity, all the actions, commitments and activities since 1995 up until the GEF today fall within the umbrella term “Beijing+25”). But – global conferences are only as powerful as the actual people, collectives, and movements that demand and claim their rights based on what is ratified. When you think about it, no one lives in “a global” – we all live in homes that exist in villages or cities, that exist in countries or territories, that have their own laws, cultures, and politics. The high-level advocacy work can be a way to connect us all, but it is the real material, lived realities, and struggles we fight in the streets, online, in our families, institutions, and within ourselves – that pushes the needle on gender inequality.
The rise of popular feminist movements.
The rise of popular social movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter are changing not just what rights we claim but how we are claiming them. Ideas like accountability, justice, systems change – these ideas are not just in the mouths of activists or at the UN – they’re also probably at the dinner table, in your WhatsApp family chat, or between friends and classmates. Everyone is implicated and every conversation can be an opportunity to engage.
Digital organizing, though far from being equally accessible across (and within) countries, is also reshaping how traditional feminism operates and how young people organize. For example, sexual rights movements in countries where homosexuality is criminalized have traditionally required deep relationships between trusted networks in order to survive, stay safe and build their base of power. This deep movement work requires lots of shared analysis and careful shared-decision making around mobilization and actions.
While the same is true today, the internet also provides (to an extent) privacy, anonymity, and safe spaces for people to learn, find allies, and eventually organize without ever having to physically show up to meetings or rallies. Popular movements that use the internet to mobilize are also often short-lived or leaderless. But it’s also true that traditional organizing can adapt to the digital world. LGBTQI activists are not silencing themselves online, they are learning to protect and create safe spaces through digital and holistic security practices. Young survivors of violence are not isolated anymore but can use the internet to demand accountability and build solidarity between other survivors. The internet shapes how we build power, but also offers opportunities to get better and more creative in building that power.
How are young people are claiming rights?
All of this is to say, the way that young people are claiming rights today, is different than before, because the world they are claiming them in, is different than before. The role our governments play versus Facebook, or corporations have to be reconsidered before we define who the “targets” of our campaigns are. Even the UN as a space for convening is changing as certain spaces become co-opted by conservative groups, private interests, or are simply being defunded and weakened because of waning political will and commitment to human rights.
This is why an intergenerational feminism lens to analyze and respond to a changing world is what we need – so we can learn from the past and adapt for what’s to come. You can start by listening in on some amazing critical perspectives between generations at the Feminist Action Lab – for example between Suneeta Dhar and Chamathya Fernando, a young feminist activist from WAGGGS and the Beijing+25 Youth Task Force.
We have paired 14 older and younger feminists to help weave a stronger story about Beijing – but more importantly – the social movements that keep gender and sexual rights alive today. They cover the 6 main themes of the GEF from Gender Based Violence, Feminist Technology, Gender and Climate Justice, Feminist Economic Justice, Feminist Movements, SRHR and Bodily Autonomy as well as a special 7th video on the importance of advocacy within and beyond the UN.
Registration for the GEF Paris Forum is also open for June 30-July 2nd, 2021. Join the conversation and get inspired to claim your rights.
Nafisa Ferdous is a young feminist researcher and thinker. She is currently the senior program manager at Restless Development USA. Nafisa has worked in feminist organizations and movement spaces across Asia, East Africa and the US.