“You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child. Well it takes many people to build a movement.” At least that’s what we re-discovered over the three days JASS Southern Africa met with Katswe Sistahood, a dynamic movement of young women who are challenging the boundaries around ‘taboo’ issues like sex and sexuality as well as women’s bodily autonomy. They’re opening up revolutionary spaces that they call ‘pachoto’ in high density suburbs (low income housing and informal settlements) across Harare where women come together to re-claim their bodies. “Saying the word ‘vagina’ in Shona culture is considered shameful, re-learning how to claim parts of our bodies as our own is a vital step in self-actualization and conscientization brings our personal lives and experiences to the table” say Rudo Chigudu from Katswe Sistahood. It’s a powerful movement building strategy that politicizes women’s personal experiences.
We (Katswe and JASS) have walked a long journey apart and together, placing emphasis on an activist agenda, building relationships, shared learning and forging a mutual understanding of what feminist transformation, in private and public spaces, looks like. As one participant said, “The resonances between us, the fierce spirit of courage to fight the power and fight together are no small thing. Already separately we are doing powerful, exciting and vital work—but together there are even more possibilities.”
The three-day process saw staff and allies from both organisations come together to grapple with the idea of partnerships for movement building. Why formalize a partnership? What should it look like? What contributes to its success? What are the opportunities and challenges that come with them? How long should they last and how do you let go? We didn’t answer all those questions but they generated a lot of food for thought.
If a deep and collective analysis of our contexts and of women’s lives as political sits at the heart of movements, then partnerships and alliances, however they look, are the limbs by which we do the work.
Here’s a mosaic of insights on the meaning of partnerships…
“You need to have a common goal that you would like to address. You need to spend time to learn about each other, what have been the joys and sorrows in the evolution of your organisations? Where are you going now? The challenges and triumphs, the growing pains and visions. You need to find ways of establishing clear communication mechanisms and structures that inspire you both as you embark on implementing a shared plan. You need to learn of each other’s contexts. Determine the pace, spend time in each other’s organisational spaces, break bread together, figure out ways to resolve conflict or misunderstandings. Most importantly see this as an opportunity to grow. Have fun, dance, celebrate your achievements however small. Enjoy the journey.”
“It is critical for you to know what partnerships are grounded upon. For me, what should be the number 1 priority is the heart, mind and body foundation. The heart shows the level of commitment to feed to the soul of the organisation. It’s a strong symbol of how connected the people in the organisation are and their ability to remain focused even if the waters are stirred. The mind shows clarity, a shared vision and understanding. The body shows how much significance the health of people in the organisation matters.”
“Partnership allows you to bring the best of yourselves into one place and harness this into the most amazing results. Through sharing responsibilities you lighten each other’s load towards achieving a goal. Partnership gives you companionship as you walk the journey, constantly reflecting and supporting each other.”
“Partnerships are not forever. We are done when the goals are achieved, I guess! We are done when the partnerships has outlived its usefulness. We are done when the financial resources run out. But the work to dismantle patriarchy is never done.”
“When all in the partnership feel that they are giving and taking from each other in a way that benefits both, then you can be sure that there is something to celebrate. Where you feel you haven’t lost yourself but still managed to achieve more than you know together, you have reason to celebrate.”
“The ability to reach an Oh shit moment and still continue with a partnership. The ability to surf through 10 meter waves and tunnels and resurface after crashing—that’s what leadership in partnerships is all about.”
“Partnerships are intense and dynamic arrangements and commitments; I wonder to what extent our socialisation into a capitalist and patriarchal world hinders or facilitates our ability to imagine partnerships that can look different to those that we’re most familiar with.”
“Firstly, why do you want to enter into a partnership? This is important and you need to clarify and list your reasons. Secondly, what are the benefits of entering into a partnership and what could be the potential challenges? Thirdly, how do you go about entering into a partnership? Fourthly, there needs to be clear, open and strong communication between both partners.”