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Movement of women from the Northeast reflects on mobilising support through cooperation and philanthropy relationships at 1st meeting of Giving for Change programme

CESE held the 1st Giving for Change Meeting on 29 and 30 September on an online platform.  The meeting was attended by 36 women from the Northeast, including black women, activists, quilombolas, indigenous women, peasant women, coconut breakers, mangaba fruit pickers, young women, communicators, domestic workers, evangelicals, women from African-origin religions and LGBTQIA+, who, on a daily basis, lead the struggle for the defence of rights and for democracy in Brazil.

The meeting is part of the first stage of the collective construction of the “Giving for Change Programme,” aimed at strengthening organizations’ capacity to influence Global North/South power relations within cooperation and philanthropy, and to expand recognition of the importance of local resources for development and the defence of rights.  The timetable includes five years (2021 to 2025) of joint activities with women’s organizations in the Northeast, ranging from support to projects and training meetings, to strategic dialogue with other social actors.

“Women are a great political force, but there is still little recognition of this.  This initiative has the potential to incorporate the gender dimension into debates about cooperation based on local experiences and to make a difference to these relationships.  Through collective participation, we would like to boost reflection and learning, and mobilise national and international support for change.  The work’s main focus is a ‘Community of Practice’ made up of organizations of women from the Northeast,” said Viviane Hermida, CESE’s Projects and Training Advisor.

Thinking about this initiative means looking at the current political process in Brazil, analysing confrontations that affect women’s bodies and lives, as well as the victories and challenges to come.  At the meeting, invitees Bárbara Pereira, from the Women’s Forum of Pernambuco (Fórum de Mulheres de Pernambuco) and Emília Costa, from the Quilombola Movement of Maranhão (Movimento Quilombola do Maranhão: MOQUIBOM), gave their perspectives about how women are operating within their territories, given the current political situation. The principal elements of the debate included issues such as accentuated inequalities and violence, fundamentalism, racism, attacks on territories, strategies for the struggle, collective power, the dimension of care, and women’s protagonism in reducing the impacts of the pandemic and the defence of life.

Bárbara Pereira, from the Women’s Forum of Pernambuco

Bárbara noted the strength of grassroots feminism and tools for resistance through networks, while still holding the State accountable for a lack of public policies. For her, the current situation poses the challenge of constructing struggles for the long term, such as confronting sexist and racist violence, although, when collaboration and mobilisation occur, victories also take place more quickly: “On the national scene, we always lose, but we’re trying to build bridges to remain active and animated.  Solidarity networks provide examples of refuge and mutual coherence, which help us to go forward without leaving anyone behind.  And this is a victory in itself,” she asserted.

Emília Costa, from the Quilombola Movement of Maranhão

In this context of collective power, Emília described the extremely important role of women in the struggle to resist and maintain the territories: “In territorial conflicts, we are the ones on the frontline. When they cut the wire and tractors invade our territory, the first people to turn up and stop them are women,” referring to the invisibility imposed by patriarchy and chauvinism.  The young quilombola woman talked about the work carried out in the communities to deconstruct this invisibility and raise awareness.   “We are faced with the challenge of getting our message out and promoting disobedience.  We wish to free our bodies and our minds, because there’s no point in having a free territory when bodies and minds are imprisoned.  If we fight for a territory, we are fighting to undo all the relationships of power and oppression within it.”

Other recurring questions recalled by the women at the meeting included the urgent need to participate in democratic processes, to occupy arenas of power and to collaborate in new strategies for the struggle.  Piedade Marquees, from the Pernambuco Black Women’s Network (Rede de Mulheres Negras de Pernambuco), noted that the political race for black female candidates in electoral processes is highly symbolic for North-eastern women: “The number of initiatives in each small part of the Northeast was very powerful.  From a power perspective, we were able to take an extremely significant step in breaking down the image of what our role is, which has always been denied.” Jész Ipólito, from the journal Afirmativa – the Black Media Collective (Coletivo de Mídia Negra), noted that collaboration with youth initiatives is fundamental for political action: “Over the five years of the project, we have been able think about how to include poetry, rap, graffiti.  How to bring in other artistic languages, to turn this gathering of women into a space that can reverberate with the multiplicity we see and feel,” she declared.

In this first meeting, the women had the opportunity to view each other as a collective.  With support from Mônica Oliveira, consultant and member of the Network of Black Women from the Northeast (Rede de Mulheres Negras do Nordeste), CESE conducted a mapping session to identify organizations that will constitute the programme’s “Community of Practice”, with the main programme strands of mobilising support and resources, and communication.  In response to the result of this research, Denize Ribeiro, from the Marielles Forum, congratulated the initiative for prioritizing the Northeast region, because of its historical context and inequalities: “Changing this balance will have an impact on the country as a whole, because we have practically acted alone.  Funding, policies and relationships in our region have always been unequal and discrepant,” she explained.

About the Giving for Change Programme

CESE is at the beginning of a five-year journey with the Giving for Change Programme, supported by the Dutch cooperation agency Wilde Ganzen, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The international programme will involve eight countries from the Global South – Brazil, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya, Palestine and Uganda.

The initiative’s objectives include supporting the adoption of more equitable practices in the international development system, based on the ideas of national resource mobilisation and community philanthropy.

At CESE, the work will focus on strengthening and collective learning between the organizations within the Movement of Women from the Northeast.  The programme will take place over five years (2021 to 2025) and will cover a series of activities: Support to projects; Training in Mobilising Support, Communication and Mobilising Resources; Themed Meetings about Sustainability, Communication, Strategy, Mobilising Political and Legal Support; Strategic Dialogue with the Academia and the Public Authorities; Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, and Systematization.