Many of us travelled on the same flight from Houston to La Aurora International Airport. Our entry into Guatemala was grand. We were welcomed by Erin Allison and the other organisers.
There was a comfortable minibus waiting to take us to our hotel, Casa Santa Domingo in Antigua city. Six of us, an ‘assorted' group of sisters, enjoyed the unknown landscape, and each other's company. A few of the sisters already knew each other but the others were meeting for the first time. We easily fell into a conversation that took us from the personal introduction to the introduction of our organisations. We shared our hopes and excitement for the conference and located ourselves in it. Before we went to our different rooms, we agreed to meet at the end of day two, go into town and explore pubs, restaurants, the remarkable history of Antigua; its taste, texture and smell.
On the second day, we met as agreed and during the course of our exploration, we ‘unpacked' the conference. Our presence in Guatemala was a clear indicator that more and more, we women are reclaiming our politics and strengthening the architecture of our movement. For example, here we were rubbing shoulders with the Nobel laureates; fierce, independent, courageous and passionate women, who do not follow the rules that society lays down. As these prominent women shared their stories, we became part of their exhilarating adventure, ready to challenge our minds and bodies.
Reflecting on the conference, we agreed that the opening session's vibrancy set the context for the deliberations over the course of the conference. We admired that great care was taken to ensure a programme that was inclusive, participatory, fun, challenging and rigorous. We also appreciated that in addition to content, particular attention was given to the deliberation methodologies that were applied. Panels, plenary and group work, films, entertainment ...what more could we ask for?
The presentations and the discussion points reflected the achievements, commitment, courage and activism of the women's movement throughout the world.
While acknowledging our achievement, we also analysed the way we organise. We talked about our organisations and wondered if they are owned, emotionally and spiritually, by the women we claim to represent. We counted many important and useful women's organisations that have ‘died', and which would not have, had they allowed other people - those not necessarily working within those organisations - to co-vision with staff. We realised that once an organisation becomes formalised, it tends to close its doors to the outsiders, except when it needs those outsiders as ‘beneficiaries' and ‘target groups', or for legitimacy. We wondered if in the movement we are not guilty of talking amongst ourselves, but appreciated that we are beginning to engage in dialogue, given the diversity of the participants at the conference.
We thought that it would be great to always try to reach women from diverse fields and backgrounds. At this stage, one of the sisters pointed out that for a tree to thrive, prosper and endure, all its parts such as branches, leaves, roots, the bark and trunk must be nourished and taken care of well. Each of them must be facilitated fully to enable it to fulfill its natural obligations. Should any of them suffer from lack of food or support, its consequential weaknesses will adversely affect the whole tree. Just as parts of a tree may weaken, or wither away and in turn cause the tree to be diseased, a movement where all women are not included becomes weak. With the sister's analogy, we noted the importance of engaging with all women, including those who don't believe in our cause and of being prepared to engage with the issues that are difficult for us. For example, issues related to the politics of sex and sexuality that continue to divide us.
We talked about the joys and challenges of building links with other social movements and the difficulties associated with resource mobilisation, popularisation of feminism and dealing with resistance to backlash. We went on to examine the merits and perils of transnational organisations. We were like a tank of water that would not fill.
It was getting dark, we grabbed a drink from a bar near our hotel and ‘tipsily' sneaked into the hotel, prepared to go back to our countries with renewed vigour and determination to continue to redefine democracy.
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