Critical Spaces to Think and Act: CREA’s Global Dialogues
Historical understanding of discourses and movements is a critical aspect of strengthening one’s activism. It is important to look at histories, especially histories that may not be located in our fields of work, that happen in different places and impact each other. As activists and advocates, we need to learn from history because it makes our activism more informed, more analytical, more intersectional.
– Geetanjali Misra, Executive Director, CREA
CREA’s global dialogues offer a rare space for social movement activists to dialogue with one another around common goals, strategies, and alliance building. Global dialogues delve into issues that require reflection, careful analysis—and sometimes vigorous debate. As deeply political spaces to think and act, these feminist dialogues or convenings are essential mechanisms in movement building. The twelve convenings CREA has organized since 2004 weave together many decades of conversations by feminist activists who have helped push limits and break boundaries.
CREA’s global dialogue themes are informed by the sociopolitical environment at the global and national levels—especially rising fundamentalisms, authoritarianism, and corporatization—that profoundly impacts gender, sexuality and rights and the social movements that advance them. The global dialogues challenge the ability of women’s movements to become more inclusive of lesbian, trans people, women with disabilities, and sex workers. They have also clarified points of confusion, such as how policy frameworks can adopt consent as a sexual standard, or understanding violence against women as both a health and human rights issue.
CREA’s global dialogues prioritize the participation, voices and perspectives of activists and advocates in the Global South. Because CREA partners with South-based organizations, the dialogues emphasize learning across contexts and strategizing to address common challenges. The inclusion of researchers, lawyers, scholars, donors and cultural critics alongside activists also helps bridge the theory-practice divide and infuse social movements with fresh thinking.
Impact and Value of Global Dialogues
The impact of CREA’s global dialogues stretches far beyond the boundaries of time and space where each conversation is held. New relationships and collaborations are fostered that endure for years. Documentation of learnings and recommendations from global dialogues become valuable resources for other activists and organizations. Most importantly, activists, donors and other movement actors shift their views and approaches in response to what they have learned.
Global dialogues create a space to challenge dominant discourse around sexuality, gender and rights. They provide voice and visibility to concepts, ideas and strategies from people who are usually not perceived as the “experts,” but who are working at the grassroots level and have deep knowledge of how frameworks and strategies get translated on the ground. One example is the Subaltern Voices Seminar Series (2006-2007), which provided a forum for women leaders from the global South—activists, academics, and advocates—to speak to audiences in the United States on issues of women’s human rights from feminist, Southern-based perspectives.
Global dialogues are not only about movement building and shaping collective goals and agendas—they are critical ways of keeping movements from fragmenting, isolating, ossifying, and dying out. They help bring new questions, debates, and challenges—especially from other movements and new constituencies—to the forefront, and ensure that activists revise and revitalize their thinking. For example, the Global Dialogue on Decriminalization, Choice and Consent reimagined a sexual standard built around consent that would address the concerns of multiple movements. Boldly and politically designed, Global dialogues can build more responsive and accountable agendas that keep movements relevant and vibrant.
Producing and Disseminating New Knowledge
CREA is committed to creating resources that nurture and sustain movements with new content and knowledge based on a discursive and intersectional approach to feminist theory and practice. For this reason, CREA captures the content discussed at global dialogues in numerous knowledge products intended to expand, and build on, the original conversation and reach a broader set of stakeholders. Organizations and donors often request that these reports be translated into other languages, including Spanish, French, Arabic, and Kiswahili. A set of short videos produced from the Global Dialogue on Disability, Sexuality and Rights provides summaries of key themes covered in multiple accessible formats. As CREA increases its engagement in advocacy and movement building in online spaces, it is also creating digital tools to widely disseminate the learnings from global dialogues.
By bringing people together to think and act, CREA’s global dialogues spark collaborations across regions, disciplines, and movements. Many of these newly built relationships have led to joint initiatives and deeper alliances around sexuality, gender and rights. For example, following the dialogues on sex work in 2008-2009, Point of View and Sangram collaborated to produce a newsletter for sex workers called “Of Vaishyas, Vamps and Whores.” Following the Global Dialogue on Disability and Sexuality, CREA collaborated with the Asia-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), a regional organization focused on promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights, to produce a special issue of their flagship journal Arrow for Change on the intersection of disability, sexuality and rights.
Donors are always represented in CREA’s global dialogues as a strategy to influence their thinking about issues, constituencies, and strategies. Funder approaches have indeed shifted after donors attended global dialogues. For example, donor participation in the 2009 “Ain’t I a Woman” dialogue and the dissemination of the outcome paper paved the way for shifts in the approaches of women’s rights funders towards viewing sex workers as part of the global women’s movement. Soon after the global dialogue, the global women’s fund Mama Cash decided to seed the Red Umbrella Fund, the first global fund exclusively dedicated to supporting the sex workers’ movement.
Bridging Divides Within and Between Movements
These dialogue spaces are an honest, and sometimes painful, analysis of the current state of the global feminist movement. They create a safe space to surface tensions within the women’s rights movement in order to break conceptual or strategic impasses. The conceptual clarity gained through dialogue can help movements reexamine their frameworks, strategies or positions on key issues. For example, the global dialogues in the early 2000s prompted feminists to rethink their view that sex work is inherently exploitative and synonymous with trafficking. The dialogues between sex workers and violence against women activists produced non-negotiable principles that both movements could agree to follow. In this way, dialogues ensure that the rights claims of one group or movement do not detract from those of another.