The conference outputs exceeded my expectations. Linking with women activists from different countries, dialoguing on peace processes in different parts of the world and engaging in exchanges of information (and food recipes) created new sources of inspirations, and left me oozing with renewed enthusiasm and energies.
Every morning I woke up early, and hungrily drank the beauty of the country, I so much wanted to gulp as much as my body could carry, because I wanted to take parts of this beautiful country back home. In the evening, I walked with women from different parts of the world, women I had never met, we bonded and created trust, and we shared knowledge and allowed ourselves to just be. Sisterhood became global. During the sessions, we took stock of what today’s peace implies and what feminist peace activism is. We lamented the rise of militarism combined with fundamentalisms – cultural, Jewish, Muslim and Christian - neo liberalism, social and political violence, violence against women, rise in poverty, LBTI phobia and growing violence and racism towards migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees. We cried, we sang, we danced, ate, drank and in between committed to continue the struggle, raise our voices and develop our movements more than ever. It was a magic.
I was on a panel whose topic was ‘Women’s movements and democratic participation’. In my contribution, I highlighted the many multiple conflicts scourging the African region, how in Africa women are fighting over the masculinisation of the political environment, but also how women on the continent are rejecting military governments, coup d’états and scores of violent conflicts. I shared the work we have been doing on the continent right from women participating in peace building in Somalia, Tanzania Gender Networking Projects’ inclusive movement building initiative, to women redefining governance and citizenship through the African Feminist Forum. During the discussion, it was clear that women all over the world constantly live the balancing act of being victims and agents for change; instrumentalized and dissident, survivors and activists. The discussion was revealing in terms of the work we do in Africa through EASSI as we are always confronted with the challenges of victims turned activists, returning to their community and being shunned by the men and leaders as prostitutes as happened in Rwanda, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
The session generated a lot of information which proved to be of great value to me in my work and to other feminist activists in Africa. Guatemala provided new openings for me and for other sisters on the continent. A concrete outcome from Guatemala is that last year, 2012, a group of women from the Middle East visited Africa and there was rich dialogue. There was an in depth exchange of knowledge, deep listening and exposure to women's realities. We created bonds of trust, mutual understanding and a longterm commitment to share workable solutions and to develop information-gathering tools to enable us to understand how to politicize women’s call for peace that looks like peace, that feels like peace and that works for all. More important, we realized that our own African experience of war and other violent conflicts on the continent certainly parallels that of the Middle East women’s experiences.
The meeting in Guatemala had a nourishing and healing effect. The exchange of knowledge and strategies fostered mutual understanding of each other’s realities; it enriched and triggered novel ideas. I returned home with new skills which I needed to cope with today’s peace processes in my country and the continent. I came with fresh energy and worked with other activists to re-think our strategies for local action based on some of the knowledge I acquired.
NB: I forgot to tell you that I made sure that I shook hands with each of the Nobel Laureates. After shaking hands, I spent a day without washing my hands!