“We want to have a fairly open conversation with no misunderstandings about why we do and do not want to work together – with the confidence that around this table we have the possibility to have that conversation respectfully. We need to really understand which are the spaces where we can work together and which are the spaces where we cannot. There is no compulsion to work together – there is only a need to understand why.” – (The late) Sunila Abeysekera, INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Impact and Value of Global Dialogues
The impact of CREA’s global dialogues stretches far beyond the boundaries of the 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.9
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 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.