“This is a fierce new world. A world where people break social contracts; new players have emerged and the old ones are not ready to give up. There is enormous growing inequality, and we can’t be free until all of us are free… that implies solidarity.” – AWID speaker
Enter day one of the forum: overwhelming, exciting, beautiful, inspiring. At the beginning of the day, all 2,000 of us AWID participants gathered in one big room and listened to four women speak on development of nations and what women’s involvement should be. The program was translated into six different languages simultaneously.
This forum is huge… a little walk down from the main Halic Center hall is a Young Feminists Corner, a Francophone Village, a market place that sells fair trade goods including rugs, jewelry, etc., and dozens of conference rooms where women are passionately discussing the best solutions to empower, aid, and utilize the women of the world today.
As I am sitting here in the conference center overlooking the Bosphorus River, I see about a dozen AWID participants, including my mom, from all over the world doing Tai Chi on the sidewalk so close to the river one could jump in, and I am joyfully reminded of the peace and clarity that women can bring with them into power. This conference is about discussing problems and solutions. There are more of the former than the latter, but it is moments like this one where I am given hope that innovative solutions are possible when women are involved.
One of the many incredible things we participated in yesterday was a showing of Abigail Disney’s film, I Came to Testify, and then to a talk back with Ms. Disney and two other activists. The film is about the first case in a war tribunal where rape was individually prosecuted as a crime of war. This film documents the stories of the women and girls that were held prisoner in rape camps during the Bosnian civil war in the 1990’s. Tens of thousands of women were held in such camps. After the film, the room was silent. One of the first things said at the talk back was “These films are very difficult to see, but they are not fiction. They call us to accountability.” Women in the audience stood and talked about the similar atrocities in their countries that they have experienced. One Afghan woman said that she has counseled women who know their rapists because they are on the Afghan high courts: “How can they trust their government and obey when the men in power are the same that raped their mothers, that raped them?” Then a young woman from Chechnya stood and courageously told her story of the war crimes experienced by her family, her close friends: “My close family members were killed. Some of my friends. I have friends, family members who were raped and tortured in the same way as the women were in this film. Watching this movie and having experienced it is a different feeling all together.”
The word feminist is very interesting. It is one that people, especially in the south, are afraid of. But why? Here at the conference, most of the 2,000 women when asked (or not asked) would identify as feminists. Here, feminist does not mean “manly,” or “violent;” it means one that works for justice. The word feminist means thinking of the world in a way that utilizes women as the part of the solution. I am a feminist because the stories of these women tortured with rape need to be shared and these women deserve justice. I am a feminist because girls all over the world deserve to be educated. I am a feminist because these women are our sisters.