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
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 www.awid.org.
I had a fun time being interviewed on the spot for the
local University Radio of Guadalajara in my still emerging
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!