At the 11th AWID Forum, Isis International together with the Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) and the Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR) organised the panel, “Critical Collaborations: Confronting the Realities of the South” on 15 November 2008 in Cape Town, South Africa. The panel was a reflection of different generations of Southern women on feminisms and social movements, their strengths and limitations as well as opportunities and imperatives in rethinking identities, positioning, and strategies. Below are the excerpts from the panel presentations.

“South-South collaborations speaks to the need to recognise the power dynamics that continue to pervade the women's movements. I have grown old enough in these movements to have been the recipient of repeated instances of bigotry from feminists. My most common heartache is racism from white women from the North. The bigotry is by and large unconscious, something I also note happens more and more outside the feminist movements as conscious bigotry becomes less and less acceptable. This makes me forgive more easily but it is also the one that wears me down most because it is more pervasive and subtle...

...I find forgiveness for myself and others easier because I recognise the social conditions that structure our individual choices. Of equal importance is the fact that resources and privileges for feminist individuals and organisations continue to be skewed towards the North, thereby creating different political priorities and forms of struggles, if not different political analyses. This further creates difficulties in understanding and often hurtful debates...

I recommend that discussions about how we conduct politics are of equal importance to what we should say, what issues we should focus on and what forms of struggle we should take. The how and the what are not distinct...

Truth is, all of us are the oppressed subjects of a global empire whose financial system is now in meltdown and whose global cops headed by the US military are in a bit of a disarray. Some of us are more subjugated than others and it makes sense for us to bond together. Some of us are more privileged and it does not make sense for to bond together on the basis of this privilege. The trick is in knowing when we are part of the privileged “we” and when we become part of the subjugated “us”. The trick is also in grasping lines of engagement and forms of struggle will lead to global citizenship for all...”

- Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, WGNRR

“...How we are positioning ourselves and each other, unfolds as we speak or don’t...A concern of this panel is the complex and politically dynamic nature of collaboration work in the southern context.

I have three points of reflection on this subject. First is the notion of ‘added value.' I think when we choose who we want to collaborate with it is because there is a belief that ‘they’ provide an added value. I have found that the valuing of contributions is not simply based on the potential or actual contributions, but very much attached to individual identities such as class, ethnicity, age, or sexual orientation, as well as organisational qualities such as politics, resources, or capacities. I have found it is not uncommon and extremely problematic for young women to be positioned and valued for their technical skills rather than their analytical skills. It is not uncommon and extremely problematic for organisations to be valued for their resources rather than their politics.

Second is the notion of inclusiveness. Inclusion is a core principle of many of our advocacy issues. Yet ironically, our words and actions reveal our tendency to exclude often via demonising the enemy. Men, George Bush, and our own governments, are among our favourites icons to demonise. In the Philippines, we literally place horns on the president as we rally in the streets against her. Perhaps it is owing to our binary socialisation we so desperately want to escape. But that being the case we must vigilantly guard against glorifying our positions and demonising that of others, such as our governments, without losing sight of the fact that they are placing serious hindrances to democracy and development.

Third is the notion of dialogue. By dialogue I mean providing spaces for disagreements. Increasingly, I find such spaces are diminishing. Increasingly I find the desire to unify suffocating. I hear people talk about movement building and the power of movements as if it were the answer to all our problems. Social movements have existed as long as oppression and exploitation has. It is not a new concept but appears to be a new tactic by which to bring people together based on the most common denominator -- being woman. I am not against movements but I think we need a return to its political meaning and its political processes which includes spaces for debate, contradictions, and differences.”

- Tesa de Vela, Isis International

...A “South” identity is problematic, filled with controversy, and at times conveniently deployed without any clear understanding of its complexity. Issues such as the radically altered and altering south realities and identitites; generational divide among south feminists; the lack of grassroots voices and leadership, the marginalisation of LGBTQI and the NGO-isation and strong donor-dependency of South feminist and women's movements; professionalisation of South feminists and technicalisation of women's equality and empowerment commitments...are just some of the big challenges that we have had to repeatedly confront on a daily basis.

In the last few years and due mainly to the drying up of funds in the North, feminist organisations and NGOs that were founded by Northern feminist activists and which for years were led by Northern women have moved to the South, had transferred leadership to South feminists and...their agenda had increasingly become South/ East-led as they intensified their international reach...

Yes, the South standpoint-viewpoint is swimming in a contradictions and counter-factual tending to support a view of its irrelevance or redundancy. I do not think so. The South is alive. It is a legacy of and continues to be fed by an international political economy and power relations that divide rich countries/ economies of the North and poorer or not-so poor countries/ economies of the South. Peoples in the South are struggling to dismantle old forms of inequalities and subordination arising from colonialism and neo-colonialism, even as we confront newer forms of power imbalances, asymmetries, exclusions and deprivations in the processes of neoliberal globalisation.

- Gigi Francisco, DAWN

“As an LGBT activist and/or lesbian and as a feminist and/or woman, I tread two intersecting paths. Within the LGBT movement, the feminist agenda is tangential. The focus on repealing sodomy laws as well as the focus on HIV-AIDS interventions among MSMs (men having sex with men) are examples of how the LGBT movement fails to recognize other identities within the movement. Women’s issues as LGBT persons, such as the control on women’s sexuality in families and communities, forced marriages, abuse and violence, are not taken up. Within the feminist movement, the LGBT agenda is tangential. For instance, the construction of reproductive health as a heterosexual woman’s issue, the construction of domestic violence as men perpetrating violence against women, excludes LGBT persons.

The plurality of identities and positions within movements becomes hidden as we create a movement’s agenda. What is made salient is our common or shared identity: 'We are all LGBT.' 'We are all women.' In using our shared or collective politicized identity, we project our movement as a singular entity...We play out the eternal binary of good vs. evil: the feminist movement against the evil forces of patriarchy; the LGBT movement against the dark lords of heterosexism.

We have to be conscious of this homogenising effect for us to see the many identities, realities, possibilities, positions within our movements and the sites of power we are struggling with; as well as the many identities within ourselves and others. We may need to be aware of how we negotiate our positions and how agendas are decided upon. We may need to remind the people within our own movements of our “other” identities that are left out in the movement’s agenda as a specific position is taken up and another is not....”

- Mira Alexis P. Ofreneo, Isis International

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