More than 500 participants from over 50 countries, representing 180 organizations, have arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal for the first day of reconference. The excitement was electric as attendees entered the meeting room to kick off the conference with welcome messages, performances and plenary panels.
Here are the major takeaways from the opening session and first plenary of reconference 2019.
- We must rethink whose voices are being heard. reconference opened with a video clip of Grown-Up Girls, made by one of the girls who has participated in CREA’s SELF Academy with Agents of Ishq, sharing her hopes for the future. The first person to officially welcome attendees was Isha Vajpeyi – CREA’s newest and youngest member. She explained that when she was asked to open the conference she paced around her room, but then she realized that this was exactly what reconference was about – rethinking conferences and the idea of whose voices should be heard.
- Performances are a means of expression, connecting and understanding. The first performance at reconference 2019 was a Maruni dance – a beautiful, traditional Nepali dance which is performed by men in women’s clothing. Manisha Dhakal of Blue Diamond Society welcomed everyone to Nepal and explained that the dance had a special meaning for transgender women in rural Nepal because it was previously one of the only spaces in which they felt they could be themselves. Performance allows for unique forms of expression, but it will be a feature across reconference because it is also a means of building understanding.
- Form is as important as content. Geetanjali Misra, Executive Director of CREA, took to the stage to explain how this dream of a feminist expo was sparked by CREA’s lunchtime conversations and debates. reconference is an intersection of academic deep dives with art and activism. The pedagogies of film and art have always been an important part of CREA’s work because of their ability to change people’s hearts and minds. To really experience reconference, it is important to explore all of its many forms – making time for the curated spaces, films, and exhibits alongside the panels and workshops.
- Part of the power of reconference is its diversity. During the interactive feminist trivia session, participants voted in real time to reveal how far they traveled, their age groups, and their level of excitement for the conference. Attendees are embedded in different movements and practices, but reconference creates the space to come together to use these different backgrounds and experiences to collaboratively rethink inclusiveness and foster cross-movement collaborations.
- Nationalistic forces are reducing civil society spaces. Regardless of our specific areas of work, there are growing threats to our civil society spaces which emanate from the increasing power and combination of forces from corporatization, militarization, ethnonationalism, fundamentalism. reconference is a much-needed moment to re-strategize in the light of these growing restrictions.
- Anti-gender politics are on the rise. Anti-gender politics are increasing across the Global South and the Global North. They have become a kind of basket for secular and religious forces in diverse contexts which increasingly impact many areas of activism.
- We must foster cross-movement intersections to combat criminalization. Activists, lawyers, researchers and practitioners from diverse contexts joined each other on stage for the first plenary panel on criminalization. From sex work to abortion to youth incarceration, there is a global drive towards criminalization. Inclusive convening may complicate the questions, but these difficult dialogues strengthen cross-movement goals to combat criminalization.
- Don’t forget the victories. The opening plenary closed with a video highlighting the 2018 victory over Section 377 and the decriminalization of homosexuality in India. We are here at reconference because it is time to reboot our movements in the face of mounting challenges but reconference is also an opportunity to reconnect with other activists, rethink our own approaches, and share our global victories and not be deterred by setbacks.