Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Presence of Pink

The first picture is me wearing a pink scarf. The other picture shows participants from the Pacific at a Forum session wearing pink scarves. For more images of the Presence of Pink at the Forum, please visit

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What Do the Pink Scarves Mean?

What Do the Pink Scarves Mean?

On Monday (Dec 1) an anonymous blogger asked this question in response to my posting "Post Forum Blues and the ‘What now?’ Syndrome". This post is in response to you personally and to others who might have had the same question.

Hi there, thanks for the question. The Pink Scarf was a symbol. Like the red ribbon that symbolised awareness of HIV/AIDs and possibly aslo active participation (whether through activism or personally practicing safe sex, for example) to end the spread of HIV. The Pink Scarves that we made and wore at the Forum represent the presence and active participation of young women at the Forum and in the movement. They also represent awareness of the challenges (and possibly a committmnent to resolving these) and opportunities of working with young women in the women's movement. For some, this means a committment to intergenerational movement building. We wanted the scarves to bring awareness to young women because often young women do not get the opportunity to attend big conferences, and when they do attend, it is sometimes a chlalnge for them to participate fully. The scarves were one of many activities that we (AWID YFA) carried out to facilitate the participation of young women and the recognition of young women's activism and contributions to our work. I hope that all makes sense?

Thanks again!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What then?

It is two weeks since Awid Forum ended, every event of the day still linkers in my mind. I know we share the same memories with hundreds of great, inspiring ant intelligent women form all over the world. The most thrilling experience was meeting Young women ready to work together.

What then?

Young Women Feminist meeting emphasized on the importance of embracing the mutigenerational/inter-generational spirit, bringing together older and young women to act collectively to ensure that women rights agendas are recognize and adopted in all socio-economical agenda of our countries.

There is a need to closely re-examine our day-to-day lobbying and advocating activities.

Are we fighting the right monster or are we dancing along ?

This animal is bigger, but not bigger than all of us, when we join our hands to fight for respect of women rights and space. For use to be successful we need to pull in our strong partners, women and men of great spirit together to influence and fight the existing ideologies, cultures and practices that discriminate against women.

We are not safe, unless all are safe, we need each other on the battlefield now that it’s not over yet. Let us learn to work together both older and young women, supplement each others capabilities and weaknesses. Unity is strength. Trust me WE all have something we can learn form each other.

Thanks a lot Young Women Feminist staffs for giving young and older women the space.



Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The 1 in 9 Campaign March

Check out this footage from the 1 in 9 Campaign March that took place in Cape Town on Saturady November 15th 2008.

Post Forum Blues and the ‘What now?’ Syndrome

While the Forum was all about the colour pink, post forum has been rather blue! It has been over a week since the final plenary on Monday November 17th and after a few days of slowing down and sleeping in I’m feeling a sense of ‘what now?’ Perhaps one way to get at answering that question is to write.

As a young woman attending the Forum (and any international conference of that size) for the first time, my experience of the Forum was similar to Manjeet’s. At times I was lost, confused about which session to go to and what relevance it might have to me and my work. For the most part I attended really interesting sessions, so that worked out quite well! I saw lots of pink scarves, indicating that the message was out there! I also heard plenary speakers and panel debater’s talk about what the scarves mean and endorse our message publically. I actually had a genuine sense that something was happening at the Forum that took ‘age’ on.
Our ‘political’ aim, as young feminists participating in the YFA Forum Committee at the Forum, was to create awareness of the presence and value of young women at the Forum and in the movement more generally, and to also encourage reflection and even action related to intergenerational issues in the women’s movement.

As a member of the YFA, one question that we have been asking and thinking about is who constitutes young women and what are some of the issues that young women in the movement deal with. Quite crudely perhaps, I have been able to distinguish between those issues that we might mobilize around (such as abortion rights, sexual identity and orientation, and violence against young women), and then those issues that we face on a day to day basis working in organisations, and these are elated to ageism. Here we’ve talking about access to positions of leadership and decision making for young women, and the ability of young women to attract and to access funding and other resources for the work we do. We are talking about the experiences of young women who are new to feminism and the women’s movement and their experiences of ‘cracking in’, as well as young women working in donor organisations and their ability to decide where funding goes. We’re talking the difference between young women being ‘reached out’ to and ‘pulled in’ to the movement and the movement coming to us and including itself in what we are doing as agents in our own right. We’re talking Power. The power to act. The power to determine.

As I reflect on all of the interesting and engaging conversations that were had, the ideas that were born and the intentions to carry these out that were shared and declared, I look forward to seeing and being an active part in what will come next. I look forward to the ‘what now’.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thinking Through the Forum- The First Couple of Days

Hi there fellow bloggerettes,

My name is Manjeet Birk and I am a young Canadian woman negotiating my way through the seas at the AWID Forum in Cape Town. In Canada, I work as the Executive Director of a small grassroots collective called Anti-Dote: Multiracial and Indigenous Girls and Women's Network. We are a multiracial, multigenerational network and we use an intergenerational structure to support, mentor, educate and empower women of colour and indigenous women in our communities. We are pretty unique so if you are looking for more information on what we do please visit our website at (sorry, about the shameless plug, but we are cool and I want everyone to know it.) But at the Forum I am here representing both anti-dote and the YFA (which is cool too but I am sure most of you already know that.) As part of this process I have agreed to do some blogging and share some of the thoughts and experiences I have been having here at the Forum as a young woman, as a first time Forumer, as a racialized woman from Canada. And let me just say it’s been intense thus far. I will try to break it down for everyone but I apologize if it isn’t making much sense because I am also in the process of breaking it down for myself. I have tried to divide the writing into sections so you can just read what is of most interest to you and not necessarily everything. This is my first installment with more to come soon! Enjoy and please comment to let me know what others think!

Day One: Thinking Pink!: YFA Planning Session

This was truly an amazing experience to sit in a room and work and think and share with 50 AMAZING women from all over the world. The purpose of the day was really to think of how we could ensure that young women would be represented at the forum and would feel included in the sessions as meaningful participants to the forum. We all had so many ideas and positions and experiences and places, it was overwhelming but completely engaging. There were a few key ideas that we came up with that I have seen materialized throughout the forum in some really amazing ways. (Like the pink scarves, the feminist conversations, Sister’s Place and the Collective Mural.) All super interesting ideas that seem to be successfully marking young women’s places at the forum. I’m really proud to be part of the YFA and engaging in such an amazing and intense presence. I wish there could be a second day at the end of the forum, where we could all get together and discuss some feedback around how the forum went and if our strategies were actually successful, but I suppose that’s one of the beauties of technology.

Day Two: Finding Pink!: First Day at the AWID Forum

I have to admit my first day stepping into the Cape Town Convention Centre I was really really nervous. I wasn't sure what to expect from a forum of this magnitude with thousands of women from all over the world, most of them with decades of experience, organizing, politicizing, engaging and mobilizing women who change the world. As I stepped into the big glass tower all I could think to myself was that the women who are inside are and have been changing the world, and right now inside this glass tower they are doing just that…CHANGING THE WORLD. What could I possibly contribute to this space? Although 27 and kicking strong in many ways, I didn’t have decades of experience, I’ve barely been alive for decades. I swallowed the big gulp of anxiety, secured my pink scarf around my neck and walked into the big glass tower of hope. As imagined it was chaos (organized chaos for sure, but chaos nonetheless) I walked through the multilevel space looking for the room I was supposed to be in. I pulled out the forum map like a lost tourist (an experience I know all too well in Cape Town) looking for the right place to go. I looked up sheepishly hoping that I would see a familiar face…maybe a pink scarf? A brief flashback of my highschool days came into play, I felt like a freshman entering the carnivorous jungle of high school and I was what the beasts were looking for- FRESH MEAT! A sigh of relief came over me as I saw friendly faces of women, moving through the halls. Heading from one room into the other, to look for their session of choice. I found myself moving with them and found myself in one of the most interesting sessions I’ve had to date.

Forum Session: “Working with Aggression in Our Activism: Contributions of Feminist Psychoanalysis and Feminist Ethics”

I walked into the forum session room and half the chairs had been turned to face the wall. I was a little confused since their was a power point presentation and only half the chairs were facing in that direction. The other half were facing the wall with brightly coloured papers taped against it- I would later learn this was the “paper point.” (Oh no an interactive session I thought to myself. Good thing I had that coffee at the break.) I sat in one of the paper point facing direction, tentatively since my natural trend is to sit facing the computer.
Barbara Williams and Anika Meckesheimer began the discussion around aggression by asking what can feminist ethics and pshchoanalysis teach us about aggression. What can we learn from some of these theorists (Freud, Lacan, Kristeva etc) to help us usefully challenge the aggression that we experience in workplaces? I was relieved to have a space to finally open these discussions. Far to often in my many “feminist” workplaces I have come to experience various levels of brutal aggression. Some racist, some ageist but most of it just flat out anger towards women, towards ourselves.

On my first day at the YFA session of the forum, one woman stood up and recited a quote: “There is a special place in hell for women who do not support other women.” A laugh resonated the room because we all know that experience. I remember this and chuckle a little too myself. Why is it that in our workplaces, we are struggling and fighting for the rights of women, marginalized communities, but at the same time we are not capable of supporting each other in this struggle? Barbara reminds us that the feminist movement developed from a struggle and as such some of this aggression finds itself in our workplaces and towards each other. The paper point clearly outlined some of the thinkers, thoughts, images, acts, Effects-interpersonal/grupal, intra-psychic, systemic and the possibilities from this aggression. We were invited to contribute to this list with a myriad of colour and double sided sticky tape. It was quite the sight to see, all the colours and the energy from the paper point: Swearing, kicking, spiting, hate, self hate…amongst the words. Negative for the most part, the room opens to discussion and the reality that we cannot achieve change without struggle and aggression. Why are we preventing our girls, our sisters- women from aggression? This prevention is what manifests toxicity in our workplaces. So many more questions but very little answers as we worked through these difficult questions. With much sadness time was quickly coming to a close and a last comment from the group comes up. The woman stands up and quotes a poem: “The world needs the love of a free woman not a good woman.” Those closing words left me just one more things to think about. I’m hoping that we can start having these discussions in our feminist workplaces and start thinking about the ways that this aggression is limiting us from our potential success.

Day Three: Seas of Pink!: The Second Forum Day

The second day of the forum I was beginning to feel more comfortable and secure in seas of pink scarves. It was the day of the march and I could already feel the energy in the room, first thing in the morning.

Power of Movements

You could hear the women chanting and singing while I was still in my last workshop. Our discussion on sex worker rights and feminism had gone over and you could hardly concentrate as you heard the voices of the hundreds of women resonating through the massive building into your soul. They were singing in various African languages so I had no idea what they were saying but I knew it was women, and it was powerful- where I wanted to be. Hundreds of women chanting , occupying, taking up space aggressively while marching and wordlessly saying “WE WON’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.” The list of injustices on billboards, the stories of violence against women of colour recounted over and over again. There were no “nice” girls among us that I could feel for sure. As the street was taken up by hundreds of women screaming, taking over, owning space as it felt we rarely did- crowds couldn’t help but stare. The power that comes from women’s voices, women’s chanting, women organizing, women resisting- That I have come to understand is the POWER OF MOVEMENTS!

Forum Session: Techies to Politicos

This march energy continued as we moved into the second part of the day. I decided to go to a session called from Techies to Politicos. I am very interested in how we can best use technology to mobilize our movements. Especially coming from a Canadian context we have so much access and privilege, I am convinced that if we can capture the energy that goes into young people socially networking on the internet we could create the strongest movement ever. The session organizers discussed the ways that JASS use the internet and other more conventional forms of organizing to mobilize their communities globally. They shared some powerful digital stories to show the potential impact of technology. The presentation was good until it came to the question and answer period.

The first question from the attendees, an older feminists asks…What about traditional methods of organizing?

In all honesty I am so sick of hearing this question! I have encountered this resistance from many of the organizations I have worked with always from older feminists who worry we-younger feminists- will take over the movements with methods they won’t be able to access. In my opinion this question is the same as asking ‘what about men?’ every time we talk about the women’s movements. Or what about white people every time we talk about people of colour. What about traditional methods of organizing? This session isn’t about traditional methods of organizing it’s about new ones! Do people really think that traditional methods will just go out the window? No we won’t meet anymore, we won’t have conferences, we won’t talk to each other…this is the new generation of organizing. OF COURSE NOT! How can anything move without these traditional methods. Technology is one of the many methods to mobilize people. And if used correctly it can mobilize people effectively and quickly. She was reassured that some nameless, faceless computer wasn’t taking over the world.

Next question, another older feminist asks (something to the effect of, I don’t remember the exact words)…I don’t understand why we are using the same tools to oppress as men. For instance I was at the march at lunch and some young black women were singing songs that are used in war and resistance. These are violent songs and I don’t understand why these women were using these songs. I was outraged and I asked my colleague do you think they know what they are singing. I didn’t want to be the white middle class older women to tell these young black feminists what they were doing, but I don’t understand how they could use these songs.

WHY DIDN’T YOU ASK THE YOUNG BLACK WOMEN INSTEAD OF YOUR COLLEAGUE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Seriously, does this not ever occur to you. Here we are talking about movement building and intergenerational spaces and you ask your white middle class colleague what she thinks. Is there no space for you to ask these women in a non confrontational way why they are singing these songs? I was paralyzed! I couldn’t say anything. What’s the point, I didn’t feel like I could be heard anyways. I am disappointed in myself from not bringing up these points then but I felt frustrated. Why are we here? The two Black women on the panel answered the question. They attempted to explain why these songs were being used and how in African culture all music and song is used as a form of resistance. The songs they were signing are associated with struggle in our communities and that is why they were singing these songs, even though they may no longer be relevant. I left this session deflated. And I spent most the night thinking about it. I suppose writing this here in virtual land was my way of dealing with it. But the question I pose to everyone else….how are we going to practically get intergenerational movement building mobilized?

Day Three of the Forum

We have all just come out of the Plenary session "The Contexts of Our Organising". The panel was a remarkable selection of women's righst activists focusing on sex workers in India, women headed households in Indonesia, law reform for women's righst in Iran, abortion righst for women in Poland, freedom of communication and access to ICT for women in South Africa and as issue pertinent to women in southern africa, women living with HIV in Zimbabwe. The converstaion was rich with detail of the challenges and victories of women activists in these countries working on these issues. One highlight is that Feminism is still a dirty word in many of these contexts. Feminism, they say, is still described by those against us as a 'curse' and a 'swear word'. But feminist activists devise ways to survive and flourish nonethe less. Slogans like "Feminism: I desrve it" is used on camouses in Poland and "A world without husbands is wonderful" is used by women headed household in Indonesia who face the stigma of being unmarried or divorced is a society where marriage, no matter the quailty of that marriage, remains a goal for women, an achievemnt of femininity, that many women have intrenalised. The session ended with women singing, standing and dancing in memory of Miriam Makeba. It was another emotional morning - of pain, hope and celebration!