Feminist forums foster solidarity and mobilize stronger action for a just world

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
Those who are facing the severest brunt of authoritarian, capitalist and patriarchal world are not only fiercely resisting against it but also coming together on forums like the recently concluded 3rd Asia Pacific Feminist Forum (APFF 2017). Building and cementing solidarity amongst each other across the region and resisting, persisting together in this fight for a more just world, are indeed a cause of hope for billions of people.

CNS (Citizen News Service) spoke with several of these gender justice leaders from Asia Pacific nations in the lead up to APFF 2017. They reflected on what do these feminist forums like APFF 2017 mean to them and the people they work with (These insights are being shared in alphabetical order).

 Aijamal Bakashova, executive-level representative of SHAZET in Kyrgyzstan, who works with rural women on the issues of women's autonomy - including early marriages and bride kidnapping, said:  "APFF 2017 is a unique place where we can build solidarity and sisterhood to change the power balance. It is an opportunity to empower ourselves and actually see the process of change. For the people I work with, APFF means new opportunities. After returning from the last APFF, our small team of delegates from Kyrgyzstan shared the spirit of APFF with the people, and stepped up our networking and lobbying with the national government to protect women’s interests, and increase women’s participation at decision making levels. It is always enriching and empowering to meet feminists from other countries and learn something new from them.”

Bee Pranom Somwong, women human rights defender who works with the Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand, said: "APFF 2017 is a very exciting opportunity on how to effectively work together unitedly. This unique forum provides a space to be together and support our sisters in our struggles related to development justice. I am counting on how many women have been able to make it to the forum, and also those sisters who were unable to join it for various reasons- may be on this date some of them are in the courts fighting for the same cause we believe in. Our task ahead is about facilitating more women from the community to relate to us and strengthen our solidarity."

Channy Yeam, activist from a minority indigenous group, who is fighting relocation due to construction of Sesan Lower II Dam in Cambodia, shared: "APFF 2017 is really important for me. It is the first time for me to join this Forum, and for that matter, any international conference. APFF gives me the opportunity to not only share my first- hand experience of the negative effects of such projects (like hydropower dams) on local communities, but also to learn more from others involved with similar movements. I am looking forward to meeting like- minded sisters. It would help me to build upon my knowledge and understanding; and also build networks and alliances at regional and international level to strengthen the struggle waged by my people against the so- called development projects."

Gerifel Cerillo, Coordinator for Tanggol Bayi, an association of women human rights defenders in the Philippines, who works on the impact of public private partnerships (PPP) and market privatisation on urban poor women, reflected "The 3rd APFF is a platform for solidarity. It is a platform to consolidate our experiences and amplify our voices against governments and private firms that have increasingly pushed us to the edge by maintaining militarism, greed, and patriarchy in the current system. It is also an avenue to raise the voices of urban poor women, who have been ignored for so long. They have been rendered invisible by a government that only cares about getting into partnerships with private corporations, and taking economic measures that have not benefitted the poor."

Maria Chin, Malaysian women human rights defender (WHRD) and chairperson of Bersih 2.0 said to CNS: "APFF 2017 will raise awareness and confidence that the struggle for women’s rights is not a frustrating one, but one that would shape our realities. Putting women as leaders helps to break the myths about leadership and nation building. In Malaysia, women leaders have proved to the people that they can withstand the brickbats hurled at them and yet remain resolute in their cause. Most importantly, it is the peoples’ strength and support that holds us all together. That is very crucial in our history – without the people we would not have come so far.”

Nalini Singh, Executive Director of Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and a women human rights defender, said: "The 3rd APFF is an opportunity for us feminists, in the Asia Pacific region, to convene in a powerful space; and to remind ourselves and galvanise our voices and efforts to ensure that women remain centre stage of the struggle of attaining equal rights and gender justice.”

Reasey Seng, Programme coordinator of SILAKA and facilitator of Cambodian Young Women Activist on ASEAN network (CYWA), said: "During the last three years, APFF has been an amazing platform where women of Asia Pacific come together to find alternative ways for a more equitable world and also to challenge the system that perpetrates social injustice. APFF 2017 will give us new energy and show us a new way and strategic direction of working for a new world for women, and other marginalized groups to live in a manner where human rights are upheld. We are all together in this fight against an unjust system."

Zoe Tsu Ying Liang, a member of TransAsia Sisters Association (TASAT) and an activist concerned with marriage migrant struggle in Taiwan, shared: "TASAT is a member of Alliance of Marriage Migrants Organizations for Rights & Empowerment and we are organizing a workshop during APFF 2017. We hope to develop an understanding on the current struggles and actions of organized marriage migrants in the Asia Pacific region by sharing each other’s challenges and victories within respective countries. It would be great to come up with the way forward, that includes campaigns, on the issues and demands of marriage migrants and their families and action for future coordination and collaboration.”

People's movements give hope for a better tomorrow!

We earlier spoke with Kate Lappin, Regional Coordinator of Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), who shared with CNS that "APFF 2017 presents a huge opportunity to capture and work upon the challenges that the prevailing political atmosphere brings to us. At this global moment, there is a dip in equality and a rise in authoritarianism and patriarchy. The two main things we are going to focus on at APFF 2017 are
  • What are the alternative systems available for us, even as the present global political and economic system is failing and 
  • What is our vision to replace it with, and how we are going to achieve it. 
 Present system is failing and we are going to oppose it. We have to have a vision of what we want to replace it with. And we also just cannot criticise the present unjust world, without saying that we are going to make it just. The part about getting there is going to take a recognition that we have never got to a more just outcome without people’s struggles and movements. One of our key areas of focus would be about how do we strike.”

Shobha Shukla, CNS (Citizen News Service)
29 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)