During the first day of the International Forum for Well-being in Grenoble (6-8 June 2018), the idea of discussing about the intersectionality between well-being and gender spontaneously emerged. Although gender is an inseparable element of global well-being, it was not approached on the Forum’s agenda, among workshops, conferences and symposiums. Thus, the initiative to organize a space for reflection and sharing was promoted by different female speakers from Latin America and France, who were then joined by many people of other nationalities, including China and Australia.
The activity was constructed collectively and organized horizontally, giving participants the opportunity to address various issues, including: feminist understanding around the world; the issue of women’s rights and gender-based violence; systemic violence and structural causes; and also the importance of including gender in debates about new models of society.
The vast majority of participants were women, among which many were already involved in gender studies and/or in Women Rights’ movements. Others were apart from feminist actions, but felt the debate as necessary for concrete change and complementarity of struggles. As a matter of fact, as Pablo Solón underlined during the opening plenary of the International Forum, we should think about well-being from an intersectional perspective, namely as an issue that interrelates different sectors and movements such as eco-feminism and philosophy.
Before sharing individual experiences, all participants agreed that it is a challenge for women to raise their own voices in order to collectively find a way towards well-being. This being said, the participants to the workshop first splitted into two groups representing different regions of the world – France and Australia on one side and Latin America on the other, in order to highlight specifically the regional understandings of women-related issues as well as to question the other group.
From the French side, it was first pointed out that the term “feminist” itself creates sometimes frustration, but above all that the French society – compared here with a relatively “new” society as the Australian one – is incredibly and deeply patriarchal and such affirmation is systematically denied and, thus, it is really difficult to talk about it in open debates. In this respect, last year the international movement “Mee too” perfectly illustrated the violence of emotional reactions to those voices searching for freedom of expression. The fact is that there are still very few places and spaces in which women are able to tell their stories and listen to others’ as well.
This is, indeed, an issue because the “simple” experience of sharing personal stories is actually particularly powerful to help weakened women to recover and to empower themselves. On the contrary, in France women tend to feel guilt and shame for not being always as strong as they supposedly could be, because of their formally-guaranteed rights. That’s precisely why it would be interesting and necessary to further address structural mechanisms!
Comparatively, the Latin American group mainly underlined the fact that in their countries physical violence is still very present since sexual rights are not at all taken into account. As an example, a Peruvian woman shared with the group that in her country one woman out of four suffers violence from her partner and denunciations do not always lead to help for the victim. So, there is a lot to do in the field of education: teaching respect and providing sexual education, not only regarding protection, but also related to the right to properly enjoy sexual intercourses – while in Latin America, due to religious beliefs, women’s sexuality is systematically associated with culpability. While mentioning Catholic religion’s responsibility, one essential structural phenomena incited the discussion: the combination of religious and political forces in order to actively influence public opinion and mindsets.
A Colombian woman illustrated the women’s reality with a national example. During the peace-building process, a very straightforward question to the Colombian population was asked: “Do you want peace or not?”; the answer was: “No!”. Such a surprising answer could be explained by the huge propaganda campaign organized by religious and political authorities to influence citizens’ perception of war and peace.
Such an incredible example led the participants to go a little bit further and discuss about the fact that men as well are facing this issue of gender norms and limitations. “We also need to remove men’s burden”, was a sentence heard from both groups, showing the complementary need to deconstruct “masculinity” , an issue that has started to be debated at the international level.
In the end, a Chinese feminist activist joined the group and shared another testimony. She referred to the young generation of Chinese feminists currently facing an extreme situation in their country. Indeed, with the progress of capitalism in China, the gender gap for wages is widening as well as new issues are appearing, like for instance the growing commercialization of women’s body.
Obviously, participants felt like they would have loved having more time for the discussion, but still wanted to end with a strong statement. So, here it comes: “We want to say that gender-related issues are not a cultural problem, but a global problem.” Even though in some countries women are more combative or organized, and in other countries feminism is being criticized and considered a back seat struggle… even though structural violence exists, but since things need to change – as a participant nicely said, “in the end, it is better to be a feminist than not to be!”
Very interestingly, the main impression that stood out of this improvised workshop was partly a feeling of relief and happiness, because the participants were able to share and feel empathy among themselves, and of very lively motivation to engage collectively – because analysis showed that eyes are still wide shot!
If you feel like reading more on this topic, the group recommended the book “Women & power” by Mary Beard.