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Updated: Thu, 07/18/2024 - 18:12

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Grassroots Women’s Activism in Women, Peace and Security

What is Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) rooted in to you? For some members of the Research Network on WPS, the answer lies within the question itself: the root of WPS is grassroots activism.

What is Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) rooted in to you? For some members of the Research Network on WPS, the answer lies within the question itself: the root of WPS is grassroots activism.

 

This session, hosted durung the 2nd Annual Symposium of the RN-WPS, chaired by Luna KC, featured four panelists from the Network’s Graduate Student Cohort: Isabella Aung, Sarah Nandi, Nathalie Lozano, and Liliane Umuhoza. These panelists showcased the involvement -- or, arguably, the foundational work -- of grassroots women organizations in the Global South.. The panel focused on grassroots women’s activism in conflict-affected countries, such as Rwanda, Colombia, Myanmar, and Algeria, and highlighted that the Women, Peace, and Security field is a direct product of grassroots activism and called for revisiting the WPS and taking sexual and gender-based violence, racism, sexism, misogyny, and discrimination issues seriously.

 

Sharing from their research, lived experiences, and front-line work, the panelists made clear how grassroots women from the Global South are often excluded from decision-making processes and how often their expertise is dismissed despite their fundamental role as trailblazers for WPS and the fact that they are the ones directly impacted by the issues pertaining to peace and security. With this established, the session proceeded with a focus on the future – an excellent nod to the Symposium’s overarching theme of reimagining – emphasizing the collective duty to “leave no one behind as we move forward”.

 

Panelists shared what grassroots activism means to them, characterizing it as a space that is creative, accessible, and safe – safe to share one’s story and engage in dialogue that is often essential to a healing journey. The notion of healing was particularly salient given the numerous discussions around care and healing over the Symposium’s duration. The panelists made clear that this is hardly a new concept and that it is one grassroots activists have been practicing by “taking care of [them]selves and taking care of others” long before WPS was an established field. Taking this into account, perhaps the idea of “reimagining” the WPS agenda is less about creating anything new for the future, but rather listening to grassroots activists as the voices of history. In practice, this would include some of the following steps:

  1. Acknowledging the role Indigenous Peoples have always played in grassroots activism, committing to uplifting their voices, and ultimately rooting WPS in Indigenous sovereignty.
  2. Learning of the unique and the non-violent methods exercised by activists in the Global South and understanding that peace and security ought to be grounded in solidarity and community and encourage equitable and reflexive partnerships between institutions in the Global North and the Global South.
  3. Reaching beyond academia and leaning into the truth that these are not new ideas: many have been around for generations and there is no need for elites and scholars in the Global North to reinvent the wheel or to take credit.
  4. Calling governments and WPS funders to allocate more funds and resources for grassroots women and grassroots women’s organizations and building feminist movements stronger.

 

At the individual level, panelists encouraged those in attendance to deeply analyze their own work and reflect on who it is that supervises them, what their involvement in community-based social justice circles looks like, how this is part of peoples’ everyday lives, and how power can be shared with those on the frontlines. The message that WPS has always been and must continue to be about more than just academia came as a call to all members to not just reflect on this, but to question how they can realign their work to center the importance of grassroots activism.

 

Ultimately, the panelists made it clear that grassroots communities exist – it is up to us, as those committed to the WPS Agenda, to listen to them and allow them the space to move forwards. If the lived experiences of those who are the most vulnerable are not centred, if these women are not given space in the decision-making processes, and if the lack of knowledge-production that occurs at the grassroots level is not corrected, WPS will continue to fall short of sustainable transformation and true emancipation.

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