“We are Not Alone.” Feminist Movements from Europe and Latin America Built Common Strategies for Dealing with Fundamentalism
“It was very interesting to see how, despite the fact that we come from very different countries and contexts, our struggles are so similar.”
Shared activist Elisabetta Cavallin from the Italian reproductive rights organization “Obiezione Respinta,” which opposes the possibility of doctors in Italy refusing to perform an abortion procedure due to ‘moral convictions.’ Elisabetta and her colleagues maintain a map that helps people navigate where they can have an abortion safely. The organization also aims to provide information on sexual health issues.
Elisabetta was among the participants in the first European meeting of the international initiative On the Right Track (ORT), which the Bulgarian Fund for Women (BFW) organized in Sofia between May 31 and June 2, 2023.
During the meeting, feminist organizations from Europe and Latin America united to share the threats posed by fundamentalist and far-right movements in their countries, and ways to combat them. The event prompted Elisabetta and the other participants to realize that they were facing the same type of issues. With common actors funded by the same conservative organizations from America and Russia, and similar counter-narratives and hybrid attacks that threaten the work of activists and democratic principles in general.
“These attacks are affecting us collectively; therefore, our response strategies must be collective as well,” shared another participants in the event. “I want us to create a network where we can continue to share our difficulties and perspectives,” adds Elisabetta. “And to build better strategies to fight for our rights.”
It was precisely the construction of strategies that ran as one of the main goals of the ORT meeting in Sofia. In addition to outlining their shared challenges with fundamentalism and its impact on their work, the representatives of feminist organizations also reflected on common strategies for overcoming threats and building a positive vision for the future.
What are the response strategies
During the second day of the event, participants had the chance to discuss the actions they are already taking against fundamentalist attacks, as well as the suggestions they have for future strategies. The topic that stood out as most were: outreach, positive messages, building wider networks, and taking care of oneself and the community.
Outreach includes conducting better communication campaigns and discussions with the moveable middle group, as well as increasing the work with students and schoolchildren on topics related to human rights.
However, it also means making the organizations themselves aware of the needs of the communities they work with. That is why one of the groups proposed to expand the information on the needs of these organizations through research, mapping, and direct contact with its people. In this way, the activists will be able to build their messaging more fully.
In terms of messaging – it should be clear, concrete, positive, and emotional, instead of only responding ‘against’ the narratives of the fundamentalists. “They’re trying to instil fear, and we have to deal with that by staying strong in our own messages and by highlighting our achievements,” said a representative of one of the discussion groups. “We have the power and knowledge to build our own feminist narratives.”
Another participant emphasized that fundamentalist movements often rely on fake experts and speakers with whom it is impossible to debate. “Therefore, they must be denounced and ridiculed through humour.”
For these more innovative messages to be successful, activists need to be more prominently present in the public and media spheres. Here, the support and training of journalists on how to cover issues related to women’s rights, the LGBTQI+ community and others more fully can be useful.
This is why it’s crucial for human rights organizations to keep building stronger networks – both coalitions in their own countries, and transnational partnerships. The work of women’s rights activists with representatives of other movements, (the environmental movement, the migrant rights movement, etc.), as well as with ‘non-traditional actors,’ (e.g., social media influencers), will also be beneficial.
According to the participants in the discussions, the networks should also move beyond the online space. Working on the ground and at the local level is a key long-term strategy – especially when the political situation at state level is critical. Then “the community and the power of the movement are our protection,” a representative of one of the groups shared.
Last but not least, protection and self-care were also widely advocated strategies. Regardless of the country and context they come from, all activists need physical security, emotional support, and moments of joy during the resistance. Here, the suggestions that stood out were building a network of trusted psychologists, self-defence courses, bonding time, and respite outside of work tasks, and the creation of safe spaces. An example of the latter is the healing garden of the Flamingo organization in Germany, which helps women who have survived war.
The discussion of strategies to deal with fundamentalist attacks continued in the panel “Perspectives and Perceptions,” where activists from Georgia, Spain, Germany, and Poland talked about how they approach their work with different communities and messages.
Let’s continue to dream
The conversation about the threats of fundamentalism and the discussions about possible strategies against them were extremely useful for the participants of the On the Right Track meeting. In the safe space of the event, they felt free to exchange experiences and share, knowing that they are not alone and have like-minded allies around the world.
“I’m happy to be here and see the issues in different contexts, to meet with other activists, and support each other” said Mina Joksimovic from Serbia. She is part of an organization that combats violence against women and children from the Roma community. “I see the same problem in other countries, violence is everywhere. We need to protect not only the groups we help, but also ourselves.”
Karolina Gierdal from Poland also believes that “the work we do is very similar, although the contexts differ.” “It’s very important to see that you’re not the only one dealing with this, that you’re not closed up in your own country,” says Karolina.
She works as a lawyer and currently provides legal aid within three different organizations. Its support reaches representatives of the LGBTQI+ community, people facing charges for aiding abortion procedures, and activists who were detained while protesting or providing humanitarian aid – as is currently happening at the border between Poland and Belarus.
The ORT meeting helps Karolina feel accepted and safe, and to better understand the strategies of her colleagues from other countries. “If our opponents can be a global movement, so can we,” she says.
Another participant in the meeting – the military journalist Iryna Sampan from Ukraine – who is covering the events on the Ukrainian front and represents the organization “Women in the Media.” For Iryna, the advantages of the ORT meeting are slightly different. “We are not currently thinking about other problems – discrimination, corruption, etc. – only war is on the agenda,” she says. The event in Sofia made her realize that there are many problems with women’s rights around the world. “They also exist in Ukraine and are waiting for us after the war is over. We will meet them, and we must be prepared.”
“We’re not alone in these difficulties, they are shared,” recalls Elisabetta from Italy. “When we organize and take care for each other, we can all feel better, be better activists, and imagine a better future.”
What lies ahead
Within the framework of the ORT meeting, activists were able to outline this ‘better future,’ and share the conclusions they reached with funding donors and sponsors. Representatives of these foundations met with the participants in the discussions on the third day of the event and learned about their difficulties, needs and wishes. What’s more, hey also told them about their programs and funding opportunities.
Jelena Rey Maceira Palmer from the Colombian Women’s Fund Lunaria expressed her hope that the On the Right Track initiative will continue to develop in this direction – by expanding financial support for the organizations participating in it, as well as through more international events. The next ORT meeting will be held in 2024 in Serbia, where more human rights organizations from Europe and Latin America will gather.
“I hope that we will continue building this network beyond us, beyond the large women’s funds, because the organizations themselves want it and consider it necessary and important,” says Jelena. “Because this initiative is the right way to fight fundamentalisms.”
You can read more about the On the Right Track initiative in this article.
Text: Katerina Vasileva
Photos: Milena Partsuneva Photography&PR
Video: Tanuki Films