The 26th United Nations Climate Conference of the Parties (COP26) was a glaring example of what happens when grassroot organisers are excluded from conversations concerning their lives. Intended to place the world on a path towards averting a climate disaster, the summit failed after leaving the Global South and young people out. To counter this, we must scale up our efforts to facilitate spaces for young feminists, in all their diversity, to connect and conspire for a just present and future.
When building these spaces, however, instead of reproducing exclusionary practices adopted in global political venues such as COP26, we must break down what ‘nothing about us without us’ means in practical terms and center young feminists’ expectations and agency. In doing so, we create room to spark powerful and disruptive ideas to undermine social injustices on both local and international levels.
Last June, FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, hosted its first West, East, Southern and Central Africa (WESCA) virtual convening. Over three days, more than 100 activists, including regional grantee partners, board members, staff and advisors, came together to reflect across various thematic areas of interest to the region. A strong commitment to honoring young feminists’ needs and wishes for the space guided the entire process. As we collectively look to the future, in 2022 and beyond, FRIDA is sharing the lessons it learnt from this experience.
Co-creating the what and how of convenings
The first step we took when organizing the WESCA convening was to ensure that participants were empowered to collectively create the agenda for the meeting. To facilitate this, we put together a committee that included every grantee partner, advisor and staff member from the region who expressed interest in co-creating the space. The diverse experiences of this mixed cohort played a central role in ensuring that the convening was as safe and inclusive as possible. We also made sure to keep all other participants in the loop throughout the planning process.
Through a survey, the committee was able to ask all the attendees about the issues they wanted to discuss, the support they needed to be fully present and comfortable, as well as the speakers who they wanted to invite. For those attendees who wanted to lead a session, we asked questions to be able to craft a space that met their expectations and needs.
The results of the survey revealed clear connections between issues of interest identified by activists from across the region, demonstrating how much young feminists’ struggles are interlinked. The committee also identified a major demand for a “talk to FRIDA” session, where grantee partners and advisors could provide feedback on their experiences with and their aspirations for activist-donor relationships.
Holistic Care is not a nice extra
Two years into the pandemic, digital fatigue poses a real threat to our mental and physical health. Thus, designing a convening agenda centered on care was non-negotiable. What blossomed from that was a Tech and Care Virtual Convening Grant which was awarded to all the participants. The tech stipend was intended to meet the technical needs of the attendees, such as repairing or replacing laptops, ensuring digital security, and paying for co-working spaces with good internet connection. The care stipend aimed to ensure attendees’ physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, including through the provision of childcare support, care packages and healing.
We wanted the convening to serve as an example of an approach that considers care as central to the work, rather than as a footnote or ‘nice extra’. Virtual or in person, the spaces we create for young feminists must be informed by what is necessary for them to show up safely and healthily. For the convening, we hired a ‘care-facilitator’ who led daily self and collective sessions, and who was on standby for any emotional support that was needed. Finally, the programme also included a young feminist healer from the region, who facilitated group music sessions before and after the convening on each day.
The politics of language
We must acknowledge the power imbalances that the use of dominant languages such as English create during many important global conversations. Whilst procuring translation and interpretation services can alleviate some of these power imbalances, it remains important to intentionally build a multilingual space.
The agenda co-creation committee decided that the main sessions would happen in French, Portuguese and English, alternately. Consequently, unless a participant was fluent in all three languages, all attendees would have to rely on translation services at some point during the convening. We also decided on a co-facilitated space, which allowed for the facilitators to be fluent English and French speakers. Grantee partners could request interpreters who were experts in the local dialects of their languages.
“Portuguese spoken in Brazil is sometimes different from how we say things here in Mozambique. We need an interpreter who understands our local context and how we use the language here. At other events, they usually don’t think about that”, a participant shared.
For future convenings, FRIDA commits to finding ways to include indegineous African languages. We must also ensure that people living with disabilities are able to fully participate in the experiences that are accessible to their able-bodied peers. For sign language, attendees themselves recommended which interpreters to use. In doing so, they were empowered to craft a convening space where they could participate fully and equitably.
Learnings along the way
Inclusive and care-centered processes are not always easy to coordinate. With many moving parts, people and opinions to consider, they often take more time, money and human resources to pull off effectively. For example, despite doing everything we could to plan in advance, some external unforeseen delays emerged when we were attempting to make transnational financial transactions. In the future, logistics around payments will be arranged as early as possible, to smoothly overcome any setbacks.
Electing virtual tools that were safe and accessible for everyone was a challenge too. At each step of the way, it’s important to remain flexible and offer alternatives if any participant isn’t able to access or comfortably use any of the tools provided.
Equally important to centering the right people in convenings is funding the ideas and solutions they co-dream as a result of being in that space. Through a participatory decision-making process, post-convening grants were awarded to grantee partners and advisors who proposed collaborative projects based on discussions held during the convening.
Too often, young feminists work from a place of limited resources, representational space, and respect for their agency. As organizations at their service, we are responsible for creating conducive conditions for them to dream, collaborate and lead from a place of abundance. When we embody the values we believe in, the vibrational frequency of that authentic power flows through every part of our ecosystem and beyond, and we set new standards for the world we want to build. There is beauty in disruption and in acknowledging co-creation as a process of unremitting learning, flexibility and deep-rooted care.
Mbali Khumalo is a researcher, Anthropologist and feminist activist from South Africa. She has a triple major degree in English Literature, French and Anthropology from the University of the Witwatersrand and is currently working towards obtaining a Masters degree in Intercultural Management in France. Mbali works as FRIDA’s Program Officer providing accompaniment for feminist groups from Sub-Saharan Africa.