15 Minutes on Supporting Feminist Movements and Organizations

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00): Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World, where in 15 minutes or less, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it for the better. My name is Lama Alsafi and I’m the host of this podcast. In today’s episode, we’re speaking with Cindy Clark, the co-executive director of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, a global feminist membership movement support organization that is working to achieve gender justice and women’s human rights worldwide. Cindy joins us remotely today from Brandywine, Maryland. Cindy, thank you very much for joining us.

Cindy Clark (00:47): Thanks so much Lama.

Lama Alsafi (00:48): Excited to speak with you. Cindy, we’ll dive right in. So can you tell our listeners please, a bit about your organization, the Association for Women’s Rights in Development, and the kind of work that you do?

Cindy Clark (01:00): Sure. So as you said in the introduction, AWID defines ourselves as a movement support organization. So that means we see feminist organizations and movements as really the driving forces in making change for women’s rights and gender justice. And so our work is about providing them resources, tools, engaging in collaborative advocacy to help them thrive in their work. So whether that be putting out new research on how anti-rights actors are mobilizing against some of our hard-won gains, or mobilizing an array of feminist organizations to share their demands for feminist bailout and feminist economic recovery during the pandemic, or advocating with funders for more resourcing. Those are just a few examples of the kinds of work that we do. And as you also mentioned, we’re a membership organization. So we have about 7,000 members around the world and we know that people tell us they join AWID because they want to feel connected to feminists around the world, to a broader movement. One of the activities that AWID is most well-known for are our international forums, which historically have been face-to-face gatherings of 2,000 activists from all around the world. And so that power of bringing people from many different contexts together to strategize, to share, to challenge each other is very much at the heart of what we do.

Lama Alsafi (02:40): Cindy there’s a lot of discussion, particularly online and online forums about the word ‘feminist’ and what it means, and perhaps a lot of misconception. So I’m wondering, can you explain what feminist and feminism means to you and what feminist movements are in the context of your work?

Cindy Clark (02:57): I mean, feminism or being a feminist to me means being part of a political project that centers gender equality, and kind of fighting the power structures that oppress women and trans and gender non-binary people. But I think feminism is also about transforming all kinds of oppressive power relations, whether those are marginalizing people based on race or class or ethnicity or ability, I mean, all of these intersections. So I see feminist movements as critical to fighting for everyone to be able to enjoy the full range of human rights, to be able to live lives with dignity, free from violence, enjoying bodily autonomy, living in harmony with the natural world. And I think from the perspective of AWID, when we talk about feminist movements, we know that many people may not self define in that way. In some contexts using the label of feminist, isn’t helpful, as much as we can look at that work and think that it is deeply transformative and feminist. So really when we speak about feminist movements and organizations, we’re talking about groups that are led by the people who are affected by the problems they’re trying to address. And I think that’s really important.

Lama Alsafi (04:34): Are the terms or ideas of feminism, women’s rights, and gender justice interchangeable do you think?

Cindy Clark (04:41): I think they’re very interconnected. I guess I see feminism as kind of a broad umbrella. I think in some spaces women’s rights is understood to be exclusive of trans women. That’s why at AWID we use kind of both women’s rights and gender justice, because it’s important to be explicit that we want to support both women’s rights and we want to support a broader gender justice agenda that is recognizing that folks, non-binary or trans or intersex people are often historically oppressed and marginalized. And so we want to be part of supporting those struggles as well.

Lama Alsafi (05:25): What are the biggest challenges facing feminist, women’s rights and gender justice movements and organizations today Cindy?

Cindy Clark (05:33): Well, I think there are many of the same existential threats that all of us are facing. So at a very fundamental level, it’s kind of the pervasive ways of thinking and practices that devalue and de-humanize women and trans people in all of their diversities. We see this in the ways that especially bodily autonomy is constrained. But we see around the world growing authoritarianism, militarism, criminalization of activism. So, you know, we talk a lot about the milestone of being 25 years since the Beijing world conference on women, and yet look around. So many of our national contexts are now much more adverse for the kinds of organizing that was so important so long ago. I mean, I could go on right. I think economic inequality is huge and the lack of recognition of the care work that really keeps our communities going. And resources, right? There’s a big challenge in terms of resources that our organizations need to be able to carry their work forward.

Lama Alsafi (06:43): Cindy how do you think these movements have changed in the last few years? Can you just speak a bit more about this, expand on that a bit and specifically, I wonder what you’ve seen in terms of adaptation with the pandemic, how have movements been adapting to these times?

Cindy Clark (07:01): Yeah. I think it’s been interesting in conversation with many different organizations since the start of the pandemic. So many of us were called upon in ways that we hadn’t always been for relief, right. So people that we were directly working with were suffering greater degrees of violence, were not able to access food, were not able to find safe shelter, were not able to access medicines. And so I heard a lot of feminist organizations kind of struggling with how to respond to that demand and at the same time, hold their political advocacy agendas. And I think it’s, you know, it’s sort of coming back and trying to erase the whole dichotomy between practical, basic needs and strategic interests right. So my livelihood is actually quite strategic as well. And so I think it’s interesting, I see some groups trying to weave together some of those strategies. I think we see groups taking different kinds of structures and strategies in their organizing.

Cindy Clark (08:10): So for example, you maybe can’t be a registered nonprofit because it’s not allowed in your context or the funding is not able to flow through. And so I think there’s a lot more underground or informal organizing that’s happening because groups are having to be creative in the context. I think I’ve also seen a whole lot of energy dedicated to connecting across different issues and movements. You know, you were asking me earlier, like about how I think about feminism, and I was reminded of a recent conversation with a domestic worker organizer, who was saying in many of the conversations she’s part of the feminist are like oh but workers’ rights aren’t, you know-feminism’s not about workers’ rights, that’s not about us. And I actually hear the reverse of that quite strongly in this moment, that we really are seeing interconnections. One other thing that I would want to add, I think, into this piece, in terms of some of, some of the shifts, I think it’s really important that we keep putting a lot of attention to the intergenerational nature of our organizing. I think there’s been such an amazing swell of youth activism across the world in very different contexts and leadership within the movement. And we want to be sure that that leadership has room to kind of, to thrive and run, because I think it’s, it’s incredibly important.

Lama Alsafi (09:38): How do you think we can do that? I think that’s so critical to infuse the youthful energy and combine it with the, with the experience of the organizers who who’ve been doing the work for years.

Cindy Clark (09:48): We have to stop this, like here’s the youth delegate, right. Or let’s have the young person, like the tokenization of it has definitely been problematic. I think part of it is just kind of moving over, right. And recognizing and saying here’s some really cool work that these people are doing and no, they are not a registered NGO that’s been in our scene for the last 50 years and that’s great. And let’s kind of follow their lead and understand if there are ways that we can support or engage with them.

Lama Alsafi (10:21): It’s an ever present challenge, but I do like your approach simply to sort of pass the mic it in a way.

Cindy Clark (10:29): Yeah.

Lama Alsafi (10:29): Cindy, can you tell us a bit about some of the organizations, some of the individuals that you’ve been working with and how they’ve inspired you?

Cindy Clark (10:37): Rather than inspiration, I think what I would want to talk about is connection. Because that’s the place where I personally get a lot of energy and I see energy created. And so I would go back to the image of kind of the AWID forums and what it feels like to have 2,000 activists under a roof together and that amazing vibe in the room. So everyone is there bringing their struggle. And so what does it mean when a sex worker stands up and says sex work is work and to get a crowd to embrace that. And for like lesbian and queer women claiming their place in the movement. For trans women to be bringing their demands. For like disabled feminist activists bringing their demands. So it’s somehow about how that whole comes together and what happens when we see ourselves and our struggles in others, that amazing click that’s like, oh, it’s not just me. Or it’s not just that my family or my community or my country is like this. These are shared experiences and what that offers in terms of how we can then build forward together. So obviously, I mean, I feel incredibly lucky to have been mentored by many amazing women and been privileged to get to know some incredible organizations, but there’s something about the collective, and that really, you are part of a bigger whole. That’s just so powerful.

Lama Alsafi (12:20): And finally, Cindy, how can our listeners lend their voices and take action in support a feminist movements, whether locally or internationally?

Cindy Clark (12:29): Absolutely. I’m going to give two things. One is listen. And I think feminists from every part of the world are sharing their thinking and their solutions. So obviously for example, Afghanistan has been in the news a lot lately, right. There are still, even in that context, so many Afghani feminists who are are fighting for their rights. And I think that’s the analysis we can draw from, right. It’s easy to sometimes go to the people that we know or are most comfortable with, but I think we can find out, we can look for those direct voices and follow their lead. When they make an ask, we respond to their ask instead of assuming that we know what they need. And then the second piece is act where you are, where we draw energy from each other’s experiences. So as I am fighting against some of the environmental devastation caused by corporations in my local community, like my local success is building energy as I connect with my feminist allies globally. So I don’t think there’s that need to feel that we can’t act in every place. Act where you can. And in putting those two together and listening to the people who are affected by the problems, you know, that we’re concerned about enacting where we can, I think we’re building right relationships with each other. And those relationships are so fundamental and so transformational in a society where the social fabric has been so broken down over time.

Lama Alsafi (14:04): Cindy, thank you so much for joining us today on the podcast. Really enjoyed speaking with you.

Cindy Clark (14:09): Likewise. Thank you so much for having me.

Lama Alsafi (14:11): Thank you. And we love the work that the Association for Women’s Rights and Development is doing because it’s critical. It’s critically needed in order for us to create a better and more equal world for everyone, not just women. Where can our listeners go to read more about your organization, Cindy?

Cindy Clark (14:28): Sure. They can visit www.awid.org.

Lama Alsafi (14:33): Thank you so much. And thank you to all of our listeners as well for tuning in. As always, you can stay up to date and catch every episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World by following us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and by visiting us online at care.ca/podcast.