Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
The second Southern African Young Women’s Festival took place in Lusaka in late October with over 150 participants from across the region and from a diverse range of organisations. As the only gathering of its kind in southern Africa, I wanted to be there to for a number of reasons - personally to be part of an unique event and professionally because it has so much to offer anyone interested in young women's issues.
Firstly, I attended because a core objective of the Festival is to strengthen the feminist movement in southern Africa by injecting resources (both financial and human) into young women’s activism and I think this is critical to seeing the emergence of a more vibrant and progressive women’s movement. The potential for a strong women’s movement to positively impact the lived realities of women in the region has proven to be vast. Due to many factors (clearly articulated in Open Debate: Feminist & Women’s Movement Building in Southern Africa) the women’s movement has experienced a sharp decline in its visible presence and impact in our region. Investing in young feminists - to reignite and propel the women’s movement by advocating for issues that affect us - is extremely valuable and necessary in the prevailing circumstances of our geo-political environment.
Secondly, the Festival is a critical convening of young minds that are doing interesting and cutting-edge work in our region, yet are often under-profiled and undervalued and I think it is important for OSISA to be intimately involved in the kinds of conversations and action that take place in such spaces. Our conception of open societies requires that we are plugged into multiple spaces of engagement. A feminist gathering of this kind is necessarily political in a region where we have seen growing instances of sexism, homophobia and a basic disregard for gender equality.
And thirdly, I thought it necessary to engage with this group of young activists about the OpenForum taking place in Cape Town in 2012 - entitled Money, Power and Sex: The Paradox of Unequal Growth. The OpenForum will be a space where not only ‘high-profile’ and ‘well-known’ activists, scholars and government officials can participate but also where a wider range of voices and actors will be able to come together to exchange and share ideas that will lead to action. Statistics and experience have shown us time and time again that young women are often the most vulnerable to political, economic, social and cultural inequalities yet have been the most innovative and resilient within these circumstances. When we speak about the many challenges that face the continent and the region - from unemployment to the spread of HIV and AIDS - young women are often the most affected. However, it is not unusual for young women to be erased from decision-making (in terms of policy development and reform) spaces. Young women’s voices and subjectivities are too often un-heard and un-recognised in policy-making spaces and in well-funded advocacy campaigns.
For the OpenForum to achieve one of its objectives of bringing together policy makers and actors of different generations and approaches, it is necessary we think carefully and systematically about how we go about this (given the kinds of power structures and hierarchies that persist in our region).
The OpenForum will convene a Youth Summit taking place the day before the OpenForum officially opens. Typically the youth sector has been dominated by young men. Specifically, it has resembled national party political affiliations as national youth councils tend to dominate this space. Young women’s voices and experiences, within this sector have been marginalised and ignored. It is important for us to consider these factors in thinking about the participants to the Youth Summit and generally how we enable young people to effectively engage throughout the OpenForum.
I was kindly afforded a 30 minute discussion slot to share and dialogue about the OpenForum with the festival participants. I provided an overview of the OpenForum and covered the main objectives of the OpenForum. I also discussed the Youth Summit and some of the reasons why we have chosen to convene it and how the youth stream would operate at the OpenForum. After this, I opened the floor for ideas about pertinent issues that the group felt should be addressed at the OpenForum, given a discussion about inequalities as they relate to money, power and sex.
This sparked much discussion and enthusiasm in the room and raised many critical issues that the women felt needed to be discussed, including:
I spoke a great deal about the need for the young women to respond to the OpenForum call for proposals once it is released. It is critical that they make strides to ensure that these issues are debated at the OpenForum and that we are able to facilitate this process.
Overall, the festival was an incredibly enriching experience for me. I hope to be a part of this momentous gathering in the years to come.ShareThis