Women from the Northeast spread the word: Workshop brings social movements together to debate communications challenges

Communications Workshop – Can you talk your woes away? The challenge of communications in the struggles of Women from the Northeast.

“Can you talk your woes away?” This was the question that guided the 3-day meeting of women from social movements in the Northeast aimed at addressing their struggles’ communications challenges.  The workshop, held at CESE between 02 and 04 August, brought together 35 women from 19 organizations to debate, share experiences and construct, through practice, new communications tools and possibilities for grassroots movements.  The event was run by CESE in partnership with Revista Afirmativa and is part of the Giving for Change programme which aims to strengthen the influence of social movements in Global North-South power relationships in order to address the defence of rights.

For CESE, the aim of the Giving for Change programme is to empower women from the Northeast.  According to Viviane Hermida, CESE’s Projects and Training Advisor, the workshop also sought to strengthen the organizations’ communications work.

“We know that communications are key to various aspects in the lives of grassroots organizations, to mobilize support, denounce rights violations or even to raise funds.  And all these issues are very important for this programme. In the end, we want these women’s organizations to generate political power.  And we think that communications represent another element that can help them achieve the changes we want to see in society,” she explained.

Theory and practice to progress in the struggle

The workshop was constructed jointly with Revista Afirmativa, a black multimedia outlet which is also part of the Giving for Change community of practice. For Alane Reis, its co-founder and one of the workshop advisors, grassroots movements present a lot of challenges, but they also provide important experiences for the area of communications.

“Even though communications remains one aspect of the political struggle of the feminist movement, of the social movements in general, it’s really good to see how black and indigenous women are repeatedly creating strategies, organizing their own funds in order to communicate about their struggles and doing this in a very sensitive way, with accessible language, in a way that moves people,” she noted. “I think this is the great aim of communications. To move, to raise awareness, to break down barriers, to pierce bubbles and to convince our peers too. But particularly to ensure that the discourse about our struggles rings out,” she concluded.

The meeting mixed moments of debate – such as the discussion about hegemony in the media and the role of anti-racist, feminist communications – with practical activities, such as the workshop to draft a press release and manage social media.  Alongside Alane Reis, other female companions made their own contributions, including Andressa Franco, also from Revista Afirmativa, Ceres Santos, Communications Professor and Activist, Larissa Santiago, from Negras Blogueiras, and Joanna Bennus, from the Odara Institute (Instituto Odara).

For Viviane, the combination of theory and practice reflected the training’s central function. “We thought we needed to dive down, so that communications are seen in this strategic way, not only operationally, but also reflecting what we want to communicate, what the obstacles are for causes that defend rights in the corporate media, issues related to criminalization, the reproduction of chauvinism and racism through communications, and to share some more technical knowledge, such as optimizing the use of certain tools to ensure women’s voices sound out,” she explained.

Generations of women in the fight

Black women, indigenous women, women from the rural areas and the city peripheries, mothers, female students and workers, LBT women, women from the African-origin worship houses, christian women, young women, old women. The course participants brought many identities and experiences to enrich the training. Vera Baroni, from the Network of Women from the African-origin Worship Houses of Pernambuco (Rede de Mulheres de Terreiro de Pernambuco), emphasized the importance of this diversity and of exchange between so many generations of women – which also represents the continuity of the struggle.

“I’m 78 years old, I’m certainly the oldest woman here. I’m so happy to see how women, particularly young women, are throwing themselves into this legacy we need to defend, to provide continuity, because we are continuity.  The women that came before us had a task, they handed it on to us and we need to be sure that it’s in good hands.  So I’m glad when I’m able to participate in moments of exchange, of learning, where the youngest are present, to exchange and to teach,” she noted.

Vera, who is a historical leader of black feminism, also reminded us of the centuries-long contribution of black and indigenous women in the dispute for communications. “Perhaps over these last 20 years, with the accumulation of struggles that go back to colonial Brazil, black and indigenous women, who are kinfolk, have been able to burst this bubble and say that we have a lot to contribute and, more than that, we have our own way of making this contribution,” she noted.

Eline Fonseca, from the Department of Indigenous Women at the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the Northeast, Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo (Articulação dos Povos e Organizações Indígenas do Nordeste, Minas Gerais e Espírito Santo: APOINME), reinforced her commitment to the legacy of the struggle. “I’m young, I’ve just started in the movement. I see these women who’ve been here for years, they opened up doors so that I can be here talking, doing this course, and I also want to open doors.  I want it to be easier for the people who will come after me,” she said, hopefully.

Collective learning

The possibility of exchanging experiences and learning from such diverse women was the aspect most frequently mentioned by the participants.  “What’s most important for me is this exchange, this eye to eye.  I’m a black women from the black women’s movement who works in grassroots communications, so talking to women from the indigenous movement, the rural movement, is a form of exchange that gives meaning to the cause,” noted Elizabeth Souza, from the Network of Black Women from the Northeast (Rede de Mulheres Negras do Nordeste). “I leave here more energized and more willing,” she concluded, with a smile.

One of the group’s challenges was the issue of accessibility, in both the physical space and due to the nature of the discussions.  Kelly Araújo, from the Brazilian Movement of Blind and Low Vision Women (Movimento Brasileiro de Mulheres Cegas e com Baixa Visão), noted that debating issues that are dear to the movement, such as the need for audio description, alternative subtitles, and the cross-cutting nature of this agenda, is central to collective learning.  “We understand that this is a two-way street, an exchange.  The movements need to ensure this participation, to be together and have this diversity of bodies that we are – women with disabilities, black women, indigenous women, among others,” she noted.

“I say to the female companions here”

On 02 August, the women at the meeting were also able to participate in the launch of the documentary “I say to the female companions here”.  Produced by SOS Corpo and Parabelo Filmes, and directed by Sophia Branco and Luís Henrique Leal, the work tells the story of Lenira Carvalho, a grassroots leader from Recife and a pioneer in the fight for domestic workers in the Northeast.

The packed room at the Cinema do Museu, in Salvador’s Corredor da Vitória, expressed the strength of Lenira’s story and the emotions of the audience.  “It’s a very rich work of memory, of reclaiming this timeline and remembering that there are still domestic workers, today, in difficult situations” said Thaynara Gouveia, from the Domestic Workers’ Association of Campina Grande (Associação das Trabalhadoras Domésticas de Campina Grande), during the audience discussion.

The event included a debate with Carmen Silva from SOS Corpo, Sophia Branco, the film’s director and Creuza Oliveira, Honorary President of the National Federation of Domestic Workers (Federação Nacional das Trabalhadoras Domésticas: FENATRAD).  “The film is a memory that communicates the past but also enables us to make a connection with the present in order to think about the future,” Carmen summed up.

Giving for Change

The Giving for Change programme is an initiative run by CESE in Brazil with support from the Dutch cooperation agency Wilde Ganzen, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Through support to projects, campaigns, activities to mobilize support and training meetings, the initiative is aimed at the adoption of more equitable practices in relations between the Global North and South.  As well as Brazil, the Giving for Change programme involves seven other nations in the Global South: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Palestine and Uganda.

See photos of the communications workshop here.