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A Strategy Session to Confront the Global Surge to the Right

Every year, the UN hosts its Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), but this year was different. That's because the global women’s movement today navigates a political landscape tilting dramatically to the right. 

We've seen the evidence in the Brexit vote and in the organized right-wing opposition to the Colombia peace agreement. Here in the US, we saw it in the election results. Human rights protections and institutions are under renewed assault, threatening gains for gender justice.

CSW is a critical opportunity to confront this crisis and forge solutions. That's why we convened a strategic exchange among women's rights advocates: to offer ideas and strategies to navigate the backlash and to advance our rights. 

Here are the speakers who lent their insights to the discussion:

  • Yifat Susskind, MADRE Executive Director
  • Hakima Abbas, AWID Co-Executive Director
  • Charo Mina Rojas, National Coordinator of Advocacy and Outreach, Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN)
  • Kavita N. Ramdas, Former Senior Advisor, Ford Foundation, and former President and CEO, Global Fund for Women

The audio clips below capture the vital conversation that ensued.

To set the stage, Yifat highlighted the No Borders on Gender Justice initiative, a collaborative effort to combat xenophobic and exclusionary right-wing policies. Like the Trump Administration travel bans, these block women from participating in international spaces, including human rights bodies at the UN.

After some brief introductions, Hakima reminded us that the threat we face is not entirely new. Furthermore, she warned against the dangers of normalizing forms of oppression that come to seem familiar.

Reflecting on the election of Prime Minister Modi in India, Kavita recalled how his campaign platform of “the good days are coming back again” helped mobilize anti-Muslim sentiment. She called on the audience to challenge the normalization of oppression and build stronger alliances by facing up to our own privilege.

Charo drew from her experience as an Afro-Colombian activist to emphasize the need for activists to name our realities: who are we, and what are we up against? She also spoke to the power that emerges when we connect with other peoples and struggles.

Charo further commented on ways that Afro-Colombian and Indigenous activists collaborated to ensure that their voices would be heard in their country’s peace process, despite attempts to exclude them from the table and divide them from each other.

Addressing the question of how to foster political mobilization, Kavita took note of the surge in activism that followed the US election of Trump, including the Women’s Marches. Where we still need to grow, she emphasized, is in our ability to build transnational ties with allies worldwide.

Following on Kavita’s comments about women’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy, Charo shared insight from the Afro-Colombian community on navigating methods of family planning. She then turned to a discussion of the ways that women’s identities, like gender and race, intersect.

Hakima recalled that recognizing the intersectionality of issues does not require us to work on every single issue. Rather, we must bring a lens to our work that recognizes those connections. And she called for new and bold tactics: “In our day to day, we need to normalize the future we’re trying to create.”

Yifat raised a strategic question: how do we disrupt the narrative of the right? Furthermore, how do we on the left put forward a compelling narrative that competes with the right?

Past successes of the global women’s movement have emerged during moments of instability. Yifat recalled the leaps forward for women’s rights in the international human rights system in the early 1990s, as inspiration for women’s rights organizers to move out of a defensive posture.

How do we fight burn-out? Hakima reminded us that we are going to get tired, but that’s alright as long as the current of our movements keeps flowing.

Kavita exhorted us to challenge foundations and donors, not just to make grants to support activist work, but to confront the fundamental injustice of our global economic capitalist system.

Wrapping up the conversation, Charo laid out some specific strategies to advance our rights activism: such as ongoing dialogues with policymakers and donors despite setbacks that may emerge, and community-based organizing to deepen community empowerment to demand rights.