Ninth International AWID Forum for the rights and development of women
Guadalajara, Mexico, October 3- 6th, 2002-6

By Avadhutika Ananda Ragamaya Acarya

Two years of preparation and global coordination, hours of phone calls, emails corresponding with NGO's worldwide, women and men (though mostly women by far!) many sleep deprived nights and so much more, went into making this very powerful and inspiring event come to pass.

The conference was held in the beautiful city of Guadalajara, Mexico, with all of its old, Spanish style buildings, churches, plazas and colourful gardens, art galleries and museums.
Thirteen hundred people from all corners of the earth gathered for an intense four days of workshops, discussions, group meetings and networking. It was plenty to make the head spin! Very easy to get brain overload! Yet minds and hearts were so open and ready to learn, share and unite that there seemed to be time and space for everyone to express, to connect and feel a sense of community no matter where they were from.

The conference offered translation facilities so that the plenary sessions, presentations and workshops could benefit everyone. There were women from Russia, Africa, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Ex-Yugoslavia, Mexico, Italy, Mongloia, Afghanistan, South America, the Caribbean, USA, but to mention a few, bringing their own special flavours, colours and voices. Each one of them facing unique challenges and confronting their obstacles with grace, power, dedication and love. Despite all of the uniqueness it was clear that our sisterhood and love for humanity bridges all barriers.

Didi Ananda Usa and myself attended as representatives of PWSA. We had a booth and spent all our "spare" time connecting with others, exchanging information, handing out flyers, selling books and CD's and having a great time! We attracted a tremendous amount of attention with press, TV, radio and the conference participants. It certainly helps to have bright orange uniforms, though I would like to think that the spiritual vibration is what drew people in. I had the opportunity to give an impromptu asana and meditation class, which was well received considering the short notice. Despite all the incredible work that went into organising the forum I felt there could have been more emphasis on self-development and general nurturing of the body, mind and spirit.

The women there were very clued up on human rights issues and obviously many had made it their life's work, doing extensive research in their chosen areas. I was quite in awe and humbled as well as inspired.

There were about 10 programs running concurrently at any one time. Every day started bright and early with the Plenary Sessions, including "Reinventing Globalisation for the Rights of Women and Development", "Women Challenging the new political and military order", "Human Rights for all: understanding and applying 'intersectionality' in order to face globalisation", and lastly "Leadership transformation: the now and future of the movement".

These sessions were attended by everyone, and were very powerful thought-provoking and dialogue-stimulating times. I was very moved by Farida Shaheed's accounts of the situation in Afghanistan and another woman, Sonja Licht who spoke about Ex-Yugoslavia and the current struggles of women even after the war. Another sister from Africa, Sisonke Msimang brought home the devastating effect of AIDS on women in Africa and their sense of hopelessness in simply surviving. She was particularly concerned about how isolated young people in the west are from the reality of their brothers and sisters elsewhere. I could relate a lot of what she said to the situation in Jamaica, which is similar in that the number of women with HIV/AIDS is higher than men and increasing due to economic pressure and sexual abuse.

Mallika Dutt a vibrant and confident figure with an organisation called Breakthrough, using the popular media to bring messages to the public, gave a very powerful and inspiring talk about the importance of using our own strengths to bring about change and not get stuck into victimisation, helplessness and blame. I felt her to be very Neo-Humanistic in her approach and was really impressed by her presentation.

The last plenary session was a lively panel discussion shared with women from Mongolia, Africa, Peru and Samoa. Intelligent and powerful women involved in policy changing in the governments, education and all sorts of meaningful activist work for human rights.

Among the workshops I chose to attend one entitled "Modernisation and tradition: feminism and fundamentalist religions." Different members of the panel, representatives of various mainstream religions shared their views on the role of women in religion and their importance in helping the women's movement to understand the impact of religion on the culture of the society and how to go about making positive changes. I was particularly impressed by Azza Karam and her insights coming from the Middle East. She is the director of The Women's Program, Religions for Peace, and besides her other work has compiled a global directory of Religious Women's Organisations, in which she is welcoming PWSA to be a part.

Other sessions I attended included one on the role of young women in creating the new global order. Presentations were given by two young women from India and Russia, sharing ideas and experiences with training women in skills, and self-esteem empowerment workshops. Another presentation was on women's organisations in Africa and their challenges facing power and politics.

The last one I attended with Didi Ananda Usa was led by Mallika Dutt where we viewed two music videos one of which, "Mann ke Manjeere" actually won an MTV Indipop award. It represented an Indian woman breaking free from her binding chains, based on the true story of a Muslim lady who broke from the regular norms of her society. The other was about a small child expressing her fears to her father about whom she will have to marry, it includes some domestic violence and is very powerful. Both videos led to some healthy and moving discussions. We really saw how the media can be used as a positive tool to bring significant messages to the public.

I was interviewed for the AWID website. Check out I had a fun time being interviewed on the spot for the local University Radio of Guadalajara in my still emerging Spanish!

So what did I learn from it all? Despite all the incredible work that went into organising the forum I felt there could have been more emphasis on self-development and general nurturing of the body, mind and spirit. I felt a very strong spiritual presence and knew without a doubt that I was in the right place at the right time.

I felt there was little Caribbean representation and that does make me question the reasons why. One could be that due to economic difficulty there was almost no attendance, another could be and sadly, I think this the most probable reason, that there is very little consciousness for women's issues in the Caribbean. There could also have been little communication and so many did not know about the conference.

After coming back to Jamaica I have taken the determination to connect with our local women's organisation, I want to learn more and be more active in women's issues locally as well as bring in the ideas of neo-humanism and aspects of our social philosophy, PROUT.

Outside of the conference Didi and I experienced true Mexican hospitality, with a divine host family on the outskirts of Guadalajara. Girija and her parents were just the best, and touched our hearts with their warmth and openness and great Mexican food (even if it was at 11 at night!!). Girija's father was a taxi driver and gracious enough to take us early each morning to the conference site. And Girija's mother was the sweetest, simplest person I have met and just to remember her fills my heart with joy. We were definitely blessed!

I would like to thank AWID for all the work in making this function happen. I hope that I will be there in 2005 for the next one! Thanks go to all those beautiful women who attended and shared of themselves to make it such a powerful enriching experience. Thanks to my Didi Ananda Usa for being a great team member! Lastly, I would not have had the opportunity to attend if it was not for the support of all those who helped me to get there. I hope I will use what I have learnt for the betterment of the society. Thank you all so much!

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