Anger gives way to hope, for "if winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Anger of day one gave birth to HOPE on the second day of the 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017), which is being organised in the 'Land of a Thousand Smiles' - Thailand - under the aegis of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD). Feminists from the Asia Pacific region, kindled a new optimism to collectively strike at the rise of authoritarian, patriarchal, late capitalism, by organising movements, for a more equitable and just world, through hope and love.

Virisila Buadromo, noted gender justice leader from Fiji, set the pace of hope by affirming that feminists are going to fight, no matter what!
Virisila Buadromo, Fiji
Reiterating her hope in the struggle of women human rights defenders to lead to a just social order, Maria Chin Abdullah of Malaysia recalled her personal experiences of leading the Bersih 2.0 movement calling for clean and fair elections in Malaysia. This successful movement, that was led by two women (Maria and Ambiga) since 2009, proved beyond doubt that women can lead from the front, and broke the myth (that was perhaps propagated by patriarchy) that women are no good in organizing political rallies.

The movement mobilized and brought out an unprecedented 500,000 people on the streets. Such people’s movements inspire the youth to demand change. The young women who have joined the movement rekindle the belief in Maria that people’s power can achieve the impossible. But she cautions that we cannot take people’s support for granted. They need to be consulted all the time and kept centrestage. It is a long haul to bring meaningful systemic transformations, but it is every minute worth the trouble.

Love is not about submission, but about solidarity!

Patriarchy tells us that love is about submission. It sees love as an individual act where women have to be subservient to men. But for feminists like Kate Lappin, Regional Coordinator at Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) true love is very different from this patriarchal interpretation. Real love is about acting in solidarity, and acting with courage by overcoming our fears. Love is that which conquers hate and does not make us servile. Strikes too are acts of love. They are not confrontational, as they seem to be, because they make us stand by with those who are facing injustices. Giving up something, for the cause of common good (and not purely for our personal gains) is an act of love.

Kate asserted that the only lasting change for development justice would come from movements. We have to move towards a global strike, as the present moment we live in is more dangerous and more inequitable than ever before. The capitalists and authoritarians have more power, money and resources to unitedly call the shots against the people. But we shall overcome them with feminist movements that are based on love and solidarity (which the present rulers do not have), asserted Kate.

Sofia Ashraf, India
Sofia Ashraf, the young and fiery singer from India, is described as a digital content creator by profession and a rapper by digression. She draws hope from the recent out of court settlement reached between Unilever and the former employees of its Kodaikanal thermometer factory. This win came after 15 long years of battle against the company that had set up a thermometer factory near a water shed in Kodaikanal, a hill station in Tamilnadu, but registered it as a glass manufacturing factory. It was much later that the workers realised they had been dealing with mercury - a highly toxic and poisonous substance - with their bare hands with no safety measures in place. A movement, first initiated by the tribals, and then women joined too, among others, led to the closure of the factory in 2001. But the real success came when in 2015 Sofia released a video of her self-composed rap song ‘Kodaikanal Won't’ on the YouTube. The video went viral, generating an outrage on social media. It forced the company to agree to grant ex-gratia payments to its 591 former employees and their families in 2016.

Sofia finds social media as a powerful tool to shame corporations through music (especially rap music, as it appeals to the youngsters) and has many songs to her credit that take on the multinationals for their negligence in failing to clean up industrial disasters. If social media can work for industries (to advertise) it can also work for activists to shame the industry, she said in a matter-of-fact tone. For Sofia, there is hope, as times are changing and the audience for women’s voices is building up.

The intense contagious feeling of sisterhood and solidarity being generated at APFF 2017, indeed gives us hope despite the bleak present. As the great poet Shelley said ‘O wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ Amen!

8 September 2017
(Shobha Shukla is the Managing Editor at CNS (Citizen News Service) and the above article is based upon her interview series of key women leaders in Asia Pacific region who have played a key role in striving for development justice. Follow her on Twitter @Shobha1Shukla)

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