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Building Feminist Futures

The Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) is an international, feminist, membership organisation dedicated to achieving gender justice by supporting and resourcing the collective action and impact of global women’s rights advocates, organisations and movements. In 2016, Melissa O’Reilly attended the AWID Global Forum as a part of her internship with Oxfam Australia in the Master of International Development Practice. Here, she reflects on the experience.

Every three to four years, AWID hosts a global forum that brings together around 2,000 participants from a broad variety of movements. The forums provide a platform to collectively strategize and mobilise, share feminist knowledge and information that can support women’s rights movements, and develop a more just development agenda.

AWID held its 13th international forum between 8 – 11 September 2016, in Costa do Sauípe, Brazil. The 2016 forum focused on “Building Feminist Futures” with the objective of establishing more effective ways of working together. The forum aimed to explore strategies for working collectively across sectors and movements, inspire and energise feminist activists, celebrate the successes of the feminist movement over the past twenty years and analyse lessons which can be carried forward.

Oxfam, an AWID member, arranged a small delegation of employees from various Oxfam offices to attend the 2016 AWID forum, and also provided financial and coordination support for partner organisations from around 18 countries to attend. This forum represented an opportunity for Oxfam to strengthen its work on gender justice, demonstrate Oxfam’s commitment to women’s rights and build partnerships with global women’s rights organisations, and I was lucky enough to be selected to join the delegation as an intern.

Oxfam used the forum as an opportunity to network and share resources and expertise around Oxfam’s three priority areas: Violence Against Women and Girls, Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Transformative Leadership for Women’s Rights. Importantly, it provided the opportunity to engage with activists in order to learn how Oxfam can better serve and support women’s rights organisations in the fight for gender justice.

Sharing and collectively strategizing

To support AWID’s overarching goal of analysing and sharing lessons to be carried forward and creating positive, practical ways for women’s rights advocates to work together, Oxfam hosted a presentation wherein findings from multi-country research regarding the implementation gaps in gender-based violence legislation were shared. Oxfam shared resources in multiple languages regarding its work and research globally, promoted the Gender and Development Journal (including a free virtual issue related to Latin America), and gathered information on the work, knowledge and priorities of women’s rights advocates in order to inform Oxfam’s strategies and agenda.

Forum participants highlighted the shrinking spaces for feminist funding, due to, for example, the rise in conservative governments and religious fundamentalism, and the redirection of funds to work on climate change and migration. Feminist resource mobilisation was therefore a particular focus of the forum, and AWID and other participants arranged several sessions to enable diverse funding communities and activists to interact and strategize for more and higher-quality resources.

In one informal lunchtime session, Oxfam was able to highlight and discuss its role as a resource mobiliser for women’s rights. The Oxfam delegation was also able to participate in numerous other participant-led sessions and informal discussions on this topic, in order to learn from activists about current challenges, interests and methods of resource mobilisation.

A particular concern raised by AWID attendees regarding resource mobilisation is that the power inequality between the Global North and Global South is reinforced in resource mobilisation by Northern NGOs, as decision-making power often rests with the North. There was a call at the forum for strategies to shift this unequal balance of power, such as grassroots advisory boards with the ability to make more collective funding decisions and reinstate power to people working at the local level. There was also recognition at the forum that funding can happen within the South; funds do not only have to flow from the North. There was particular interest in Southern funding methodologies, including crowdfunding and local fundraising.

In general, the Oxfam delegation, including the partner organisations, reported significant benefits from attending the forum, including the identification of common structural barriers faced by women, the creation of strategies for cross-sectoral work, and building networks with activists.

Learning through doing

Through my participation in the AWID forum, I was able to develop a deeper understanding of current feminist discourses and issues faced by women from around the world and I learned about current strategies, tools and methodologies that activists are using to combat gender injustice globally. I was also exposed to new fields of activism that I either had little or no knowledge of prior to the forum. For instance, I learned about the issues faced by intersex persons around the world and I learned a great deal about current trends in resourcing for women’s rights.

My internship experience has cemented my desire to work in women’s rights and to further my academic study by pursuing a thesis in a gender field. I have also come away from this experience with more than simply contacts in the field; the AWID forum provides a space to build friendships with women’s rights activists from around the world.

Keeping informed about global feminisms

Until the next AWID forum comes around, the AWID website is a fantastic resource to keep in touch with current feminist discourses and priority areas. The Gender and Development Journal is also a critical resource to learn more about global feminisms and international gender and development issues.

Melissa O'Reilly is a Master of International Development student. She undertook an internship with the Oxfam Gender Justice team. Working with Oxfam International’s Gender Justice Lead – and Monash alum, Kim Henderson, Melissa coordinated Oxfam’s attendance at the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Forum in Salvador, Brazil.