The 11th AWID International Forum in Cape Town was my third AWID event, as I had previously attended ones in Guadalajara (2002) and Bangkok (2005). On the one hand, it is very difficult to think of these events as interrelated, since the participants (except for a permanent cast that could very well include myself) usually change, as do the issues, tensions, and agreements. But it is also true that AWID events are not totally disconnected from one another, but rather reflect the processes our movements go through. From that perspective it is indeed possible to compare them over time. In an attempt to evaluate the 11th AWID International Forum, held in November 2008, I will offer some remarks about (some of the) bodies and (some of the) politics at AWID meetings:
During the Bangkok Forum, a friend of mine, an indigenous woman, confronted an all-white panel of speakers on indigenous women that was trying its best to explain to her what her life was like. In Cape Town, the same protest was voiced by sex workers, who were attending the Forum for the first time and were stunned by the number of “kind souls” speaking on their behalf. The politics of representation is a sensitive topic and the subject of a vast body of literature. But I still believe that in feminist spaces like the Forum tutelage over “the Others” should not prevail, but rather they should inspire “kind souls” to step aside and make room for those they claim to represent. This seems to be an outstanding matter for AWID, which needs to be looked at in the future.
Both in Bangkok and in Cape Town the number of transgender people participating in the Forum was very, very low. There has never been a transgender speaker at an AWID Plenary (although Malaysian transgender performers did open one plenary in Bangkok but that was an altogether different matter…). In addition, the forum did not open the space for sessions on transgender issues, nor ensured spaces for transgender and non-transgender feminists to come together share experiences and ideas, as we have done in the past in Latin America, for example. There seems to be no clear site for transgender bodies and voices in the AWID Forum as of yet. Let’s hope it’s only “as of yet!”
And finally, we danced!
Finally at this Forum there was a session in “prime time” when participants could exercise something besides their minds and voices: this was the wonderful session The Power of ‘Body Movements’ (see the interview with the three young Brazilian women who had coordinated the workshop – in Portuguese or English). Given that our movements are often hyper-intellectualized, this was a courageous decision on the part of AWID and it points towards a trend that hopefully will be further developed in the future.
For me, the single most moving moment at the Forum happened during the session on Queer Movements in the Middle East. In a previous session — organized by six African lesbians a full homo/lesbo/transphobic battle unfolded between the audience and the panel speakers. But the session on Queer Movements did not allow the space for the presenters to be attacked. I will always vividly remember how the room was full of lesbian, straight and bisexual women — and at least two transgender persons as well –, who represented all regions and ages and, most principally, how the warmth of our bodies and the sound of our applause engulfed the six brave young lesbians from Africa who spoke. Our bodies, our number, our diversity, and our decision to be there was a solid ground of support. Not a single word of intolerance was then heard. This is how we can be, sometimes. Although not perfect, the AWID Forum is a valuable space as it allows for moments like that to happen.
* Alejandra Sardá-Chandiramani is from Mulabi – Espacio Latinoamericano de Sexualidades y Derechos
:: Posted in 01/23/2009 ::