Keeping the show on the road – at AWID and beyond
Caroline Sweetman Editor, Gender & Development Journal
23rd Apr 2012
Gender & Development editor Caroline Sweetman on what happened when she didn't go to the AWID (Association of Women in Development) Forum last week.
This week, I didn't go to a fabulous, energising international event held only once every four years: the AWID International Forum, 19-22 April in Istanbul, Turkey, which this year focused on transforming economic power to support women's rights.
No. Instead, I was grounded here in Oxford, UK, with a bad back. Hasty plans had to be made to ensure Gender & Development's planned activities at AWID could go ahead in my absence. Leading feminist economist Ruth Pearson, who is G&D's voluntary Associate Editor, promised to put in some extra energy to the work we had planned to do to commission a special issue of G&D from Forum presenters. There was a photo exhibition and reception planned too, and Ruth said she'd call in favours from some of the eminent
people in her contact book, including long-term collaborator, economist Diane Elson, to talk about the role of the journal in supporting gender justice and women's rights in development work. Ruth and co would work with the journal's Assistant Editor, Liz Cooke, and my colleague, Oxfam's senior advisor on gender, Ines Smyth.
Colleagues from different Oxfam affiliates were also there in force running a joint session with WOCAN on transforming the food system to support women's rights.
But things for G&D got worse from there, in our own feminist journal version of a disaster movie. Liz went down with an acute chest infection and asthma. Consigned to barracks in a rather dodgy hotel (a Turkish Fawlty Towers from all accounts) she flew home from Istanbul having seen only the four walls of her hotel room. Our amazing logistics person, Laura Simpson, reported that at the last minute the caterers told her there was a problem with our modest drinks and food order, risking us not managing to hold the attention of
exhausted, jet-lagged delegates in the evening slot on day one of a hectic event.
And that's not to mention what happened to the resources we took to Turkey. The 1,500 CDs we were taking to give away to activists and researchers at AWID, featuring content from past issues of the journal, are still stuck at Turkish customs at the time of writing. So are the images for our photo exhibition on Gender, Women and Food. Apparently it's not personal and we're in good company - other organisations importing printed and electronic materials for the Forum have had the same problems. We hope those customs officials are learning plenty about feminism, gender and
development from our goodies!
On the upside - breathing a sigh of relief, though not Liz because of her asthma - we were happy when we were able to get duplicate prints of the photos for our exhibition through with another colleague, who brought them in her personal baggage at the eleventh hour before they were due to go up on the walls of the room for our reception. And the show went on! The reception attracted nearly 100 delegates, and Ruth, Ines, Laura et al. held the fort - for which I'm hugely grateful.
The G&D delegation did us proud in the face of Sisyphean challenges, but I'm personally very sad to miss out on AWID. The focus of this year's Forum was on Economic Justice, and AWID's analysis of the complex challenges affecting women: fundamentalisms and attempts to control women's lives, bodies, sexual and reproductive rights; lack of funding for women's activism; the ongoing effects of the economic crisis; food insecurity and land grabs; and ongoing HIV, maternal mortality and other crises. All of which chimes with the holistic analysis of what's facing
women in our G&D issue on gender and the economic crisis from 2010.
And plans will go ahead with our Special Issue from the Forum, we hope, capturing some of the richness of the AWID analysis of the challenges facing women in the global South in 2012, as they fight for economic justice. Watch the G&D Twitter feed and website for more on this over the following weeks.
The strength of AWID as an organisation hosting a wonderful, inspiring event every four years is that it provides a space for the voices of women in the global South, enabling networking and inspiring activism and analysis both nationally and internationally, at all levels of society. Just one example of this (and why I was so sad to be left sitting here in Oxford) was the presence at AWID of Ester Jarome Mtegule, the winner of the recent Female Food Hero competition in Tanzania, part of Oxfam's
campaign on Food Justice. Ester spoke at our reception, reminding all of us what we go to AWID Forums for: a reality check about the urgent need to step up action on the extreme poverty and marginalisation of poor women in the global South, who keep the show on the road every day as producers in the global economy, and carers for their families.