Uniterra's participation at Women's Worlds

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By Diane Bachand, Uniterra Program Specialist in Equality between Women and Men

In 2011, the international women’s conference in Canada - Women’s Worlds - created an important opportunity for Uniterra partners to link with similar women organisations in Canada and abroad. Furthermore, this Conference, organised by academics and women organisations, constituted a space for training, evaluating organisational approaches and strategies, as well as a platform to share innovations and alternatives put forward by our southern partners.

Organising a South-North delegation composed of four delegates from West Africa and the Americas - talking in three different languages (French, English and Spanish) was not a simple matter, but nonetheless a very rewarding one for all the participants. And thanks to Uniterra interpreters and coaches, these leaders of the women’s movement were able to put together their respective preoccupations, expertise and visions for the future.

Petronila Bocel Ibate, a young, dynamic, lucid and committed indigenous woman from Guatemala, represented the National Union of Guatemalan Women - UNAMG. She developped affinities and a complicity with Doris Caceres Ramirez, from Peru, who represented the National Network for the Promotion of Women - RNPM. Also part of the group, Rosemund Kateku, from Ghana, in charge of education programs, especially for girls of the Adenta Municipality; and Nana Sissako Traoré, president of the Groupe – Pivot Women’s Rights and Citizenship, from Mali, and representing the coalitions of women’s organisations of West Africa. 

The trip to Canada began in Montreal, with an immersion session on Canadian society given at CECI. by the Centre for Intercultural Learning, familiarising our guests with Canadian historical, political and sociocultural landmarks. Thereafter, they had three days ofwork and exchange sessions in preparation to the workshop bo be presented at the Women’s Worlds Conference. They gave a lunchbag presentation at CECI. They also taped video capsules which will be used to support Untierra’s « Her Challenge, Your Challenge » campaign in favour of women’s right and equality between women and men.

A meeting with the Fédération des femmes du Québec confirmed similarity of lives and issues of both the women and their organisations: significant progress on women’s rights, potential setbacks with the rise of religious fundamentalism, permanent financing difficulties to carry out activities, challenges related to the mobilisation of the younger generations, etc. They all recognised themselves in the Québec network of women organisations with which two of them had already collaborated during international actions of the Women’s World March.

On Sunday July 3, the delegation gathered at the opening ceremony of Women’s Worlds at the magnificent Museum of Civilisations in Gatineau; from then onward, we knew that the overall Conference would be marked by a strong presence of Canada’s indigenous women. The indigenous culture and the difficult realities lived by the communities and by women in particular formed a central aspect of the plenaries, workshops, and creative activities. A Solidarity March took place on the second day, from the Convention Centre to Parliament Hill with the Conference’s 2,000 delegates, in support of the hundreds of indigenous women who disappeared in Canada without any police investigation or research led to find out what had happened. This march and the patient work of Québec and Canada’s indigenous women’s associations finally overcame the resistance of indigenous men who one week later voted unanimously in support to this claim. The Federal Governement also committed itself to set up a parliamentary commission on the issue.

The Indigenous Women’s Organisation of Québec joined Uniterra’s networking cocktail on Thursday, July 7, enabling staff and former WUSC volunteers to meet and exchange with the southern partners. The Uniterra Public Engagement team had prepared a quizz, information tables on the four countries and organisations of the South, and attendance prizes.

In terms of lessons learned and training, the workshops and plenaries of the Conference satisfied most of us. The plenaries gave an important
space to the testimonial of women living specific realities: indigenous women, handicapped women, Muslim women, Haitian women, researchers and academics still a minority in the spheres of decision of learning institutions. Discussions around the famous «glass ceiling» (known in Haiti as the «cement ceiling»), still today inhibiting many women to assume their leadership, was discussed in depth and widely illustrated. The plenaries were strong moments of motivation and hope in the capacity of women to open frontiers and occupy the space that is their’s in society. However, a strong focus was put on the individual potential of women and less on their organisations and collective actions.

Regarding the workshops, the themes discussed were all interesting (over 40 workshops simultaneously). Each day approched a different general theme: Breaking cycles, Breaking ceilings, Breaking barriers, Breaking ground. Uniterra’s Workshop came within this last theme as we presented different alternatives put forth by women organisations to occupy new economic and political spaces. Be it by the participation of women to social audits in Guatemala - reminding the local authorities of their political and budgetary committments to women; by the promotion of a non sexist education enhancing the role of girls in Ghana; or the participation to the development and application of national policies in favour of women in Peru; or by the networking of women’s groups in West Africa for the promotion of women’s rights, with laws and protocoles compelling the States to apply them; Uniterra’s representatives defended their cases and shared the challenges of women in their respective country.

We attended many workshops, among others, on experiences of rural health projects in Peru, research reports on the political participation/representation of women, the launch of Droits et Démocratie’s leaflet on violences against women in Congo, the use of participatory video, the transactional analysis animated by the FFQ, a partnership experience between a women’s network from Senegal and the Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal, a workshop delivered by WUSC on refugees, experimental workshops on storytelling and on the use of silence, etc. Overall, an intensive learning experience, varied and most useful for our partner organisations.

Finally, Uniterra’s challenge in terms of the organisations’ capacity building and training of their members and their management staff is met by these missions; by linking similar organisations of different countries and by creating a context favourable for the hands-on exchange of expertises to be followed after their return to their respective country. The Women Worlds Conference will have an impact beyond its expectations, if only in the strong message of inclusion, networking of universities, leaders, stakeholders, and mostly by the strong participation of yound women, reassuring us on the future of women’s conditions in the world and of the women’s movement as such.