International: Young feminists on “Changing their World”
AWID: Do you consider your activism to be part of a feminist movement?
MH: I do think that my work is part of a feminist movement. I identify myself as a feminist and would like to fight for what I believe in using various means but at the same time I believe that women, especially young women who are fighting for more freedom and for space in the public sphere contrary to traditional roles, are part of this movement. They are not activists and they are not identifying themselves as feminists but they are a great image for young women. We in feminist movements have to work with these women, and incorporate their needs into our goals.
MG: For me, it is hard to feel part of a feminist movement when there is none in my country. Even though I realize there is no one monolithic global feminist movement, I feel that there are many people over there fighting for the same cause as I am here and that gives me a sense of being part of something big and important. This feeling is very inspiring and encourages my activism.
AWID: The paper suggests that feminist theories of change have changed over the decades, and that there are no simple and static answers to how we build feminist movements. What can we learn about movement building from young feminist activists? Is there a difference in the way young women are organising as compared to organising strategies of older feminists?
MG: Srilatha Batliwala writes in her paper that one of the characteristics of a movement is its continuity over time. This implies experience that is accumulated over time and that gives movements a particular strength. Certainly, the importance of older feminists’ experience is undeniable; however this should never deny younger feminists’ vision. The strategies and theories of change are always based on the actual reality – and reality cannot be fully grasped without acknowledging different perspectives and experiences. Women of different generations can learn many things from their respective realities, the sharing of which can be a valuable and useful experience. Older feminists might learn new tools that younger activists are using for their organising, fundraising and activism, including information and communications technologies, social networking tools and so on.
AWID: Young people are often seen as the "rank and file" of a movement, or the group to call on when numbers are needed for a campaign or activity. What practical steps can feminist organisations take to ensure that the young people within their movements have opportunities to contribute to analysis and strategic thinking?
MH: Feminist organisations need to to document and analyze all the work of older feminists. We also need to appreciate the different and sometimes more complicated contexts they have faced. Young feminists should stop complaining about segregation by older feminists, but create our own strategies, identify our challenges and focus on our tools. We have different tools to work on our issues, we have spaces on the internet, we have movements we can build on, and we sometimes have international recognition, but we need to recognise that not everything ‘youth’ is good. Some young women have the same conservative minds. The fact that young feminists are using new tools does not necessarily mean that they are innovative.
MG: It is not an exaggeration that young women are often seen, if at all, as the ‘rank and file’ of feminist movements worldwide. This trend clearly demonstrates the split between different generations of activists; the split and the struggle for power. Young women’s initiatives and voices as well as their well-organised activism and leadership are necessary for claiming their space in a movement. This can enable young activists to break through the rigid frames of actual power-structures and assert their positions within the movements. On the other hand, feminist organizations have to learn to trust young women and their vision, and acknowledge their experience and input. Together with the inclusion of young women, a power balance between different generations and groups of women is crucial for building and sustaining a feminist movement that would reflect diversity and effectively fight for the interests of its constituency – this is a model for collective power that makes a movement.
* Mariam Gagoshashvili is the Program Coordinator of the Women’s Fund in Georgia, a grantmaking organisation that supports women’s rights work in the Georgia.
** Mozn Hassan is an Egyptian feminist, and is founder and head of the board of Nazra for Feminist Studies, a Cairo-based organisation that works to enhance the involvement of young women and men in the gender debate in Egypt and the Middle East.
Read "Changing their World" here.
17 April 2009