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How Transnational Feminist Organizing Offers a Model for the Future

Natasha Harris-Harb Lead, Youth Movements and Feminist Leadership & Aayushi Aggarwal Gender At Work
  • 04 Feb 2021
  • 10 min

Based on an interview with Joanne Sandler by Natasha Harris-Harb and Aayushi Aggarwal

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Credit: Innart

Over the past year, the world has undergone massive change due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fight for social change and justice requires a continuous effort, especially in times like these where the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities. These abrupt and unpredictable changes have required adjustments to the way we work, and the way we support our partners and workforce. To better understand the impact of the current circumstances on organisations and their work, and to explore the nuanced understandings around organisational support in this moment, we talked with Gender at Work Senior Associate, Joanne Sandler, a longtime feminist organiser. In this blog, we share 5 quotable moments that will hopefully inspire and guide you and your networks.

1. The pandemic plays into the strengths of feminist organizing

“Feminist organizing even before the internet has [in my experience] had a long tradition of transnational organizing. We understood that women’s rights are human rights globally. That there is a transnational and global aspect to gender discrimination and that we had to learn from each other, cooperate with each other, build on each others learning and move — not in lockstep but in a way that is both respectful and generative. This moment requires that. At this moment there’s a huge opportunity for networks to overtly and intentionally learn from feminist organizing. To ultimately become more effective.”

2. One of the most important things right now, is making sure that the voices of women, feminist organizations and women’s community groups are front and centre.

“In the news, you don’t get to hear how women are organizing at the community level, and we know women are organizing at the community level. We know that as hospitals break down, as health care systems break down, food supply systems break down, communities have to figure something out and we know women will be at the front line of that response. What is their response? Not from a victimization perspective, but what are the innovative and collective responses that women are formulating at the community level? For feminist organizations and feminist mobilizing, it’s an important moment to turn our attention to their efforts and support them.”

3. This is the moment NOT to proceed with your program as planned.

“It is a moment to pay attention to what is going on. How as a feminist network, collective, organization do you need to re-calibrate? Think about what will change, what are the options and opportunities. There’s a short-term crisis but there’s a long-term opportunity. We say this all the time: the window does not stay open very long. So how are we moving through that? You have to think about what is necessary now both for the short-term and a long-term change of consciousness. That is the portal we are in and when we find ourselves on the other side- we will reground ourselves in the dynamic of a different life…hopefully.”

4. I am a big proponent of a dance called the step aside.

“Older feminist leaders need to think about doing the step aside, at the same time younger feminist leaders are stepping up. It’s not linear, it is about working from our strengths, from a position of care and listening. People who have power need to be mindful of stepping aside and giving space for others to exercise their power, while also being sure not to abdicate. Don’t disappear. Support others to lead. This is a moment to think of that. The future is on the chopping block. The future is going to belong to your [younger] generation and you need to have a majority voice in what is happening. Figuring out how to create space for new leadership and to support is not straight forward. It requires dialogue. It is important for feminists to put that on the agenda and use the privilege and time that we have with Zoom. To use our ability to be able to continue to connect deeply and inspire us to have these conversations, to be able to test things out, and to be ready to make mistakes and support each other through these mistakes. To celebrate when we figure out when we are doing something differently and better. I think we are going to see a lot of that. People I’ve talked to have heard the wake-up call. They are listening to the alarm. There’s a huge opportunity right now.”

5. Power balance and resources have to shift

“One of the things that has been a shock to me is the inability of the multilateral system to respond. Borders have limited value now. The absence of a coordinated multilateral response from countries has been a shock, even after all this time. We need leaders to step up and work collectively. We see women heads-of-state doing a better job, in many cases than their male counterparts. The inability of multilateral systems to demand a globally coordinated response — especially in the face of the populism and nationalism of countries like the U.S. and Russia — is frightening. Feminist organizing is a counterweight to that- feminists are organizing transnationally. Resilience, creativity, innovation and togetherness are always important. This is the moment where people who know how to do their best with less will shine. And feminists do this. Power and resources have to shift. There are lots of conversations about how this is a moment of shift, people will understand how important care is, there will be this snap of why aren’t we paying health care workers a living wage? Is this going to be a shift? This should be the moment where it is crystal clear why care work is work and deserves to be supported.