Dialogue 5 | Elections: What do they mean for our movements?

Intro Div

Elections are controversial among activists. Are they a path for people power? A way to mobilize the grassroots and advance our agendas? Or do they coopt our issues? Divert our energy? Are they a necessary evil or an essential part of our strategies?

At the heart of the uneasy relationship between movements and elections is the question: are elections a way we can contest for power and voice? Rarely do we get a chance to discuss this across borders, so for dialogue #5, we are bringing together eight women from different countries to share their insights and perspectives.
 

Why this theme for dialogue #5?

Elections are a contested subject. In many countries, elections have both succeeded and failed to translate into real change for people. In some contexts, elections come with increased backlash and repression. Still, elections are extremely consequential for our lives. While we cannot rely on them alone to bring about real change, they can present a critical moment for communities to organize around shared priorities, and for movements to put forward agendas for change and mobilize supporters. 

Our world is in crisis and this rapidly changing context calls for strong, grounded, unified, and strategically savvy organizing. We need a sharper analysis of what we are up against, where the openings are, and how we can be more effective and safer as we organize for a better future. Coming together allows us to learn from one another, so we can better see and seize opportunities and strengthen our shared work for a just future.

 

Panelists

Everjoice Win, Zimbabwe

EJ, (as she is popularly known), has been active in feminist and social justice movements in her country, the African continent and globally. She started her development career with Women’s Action Group, where she designed and implemented popular education and community-based development programs as well as national policy advocacy campaigns. EJ is one of the founders of the Zimbabwe National Constitutional Assembly and has worked in several organizations like the Pan-African Women in Law and Development in Africa, (WiLDAF). There, EJ worked collectively with other feminists, transforming and shaping the women’s human rights landscape across some 24+ African countries. This includes the passing of new laws and policies on domestic violence, inheritance as well as shifting societal norms and values. Everjoice was part of the first Feminist Leadership Institute held at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, which conceptualized the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence. EJ also served as ActionAid’s International’s Global head of Women’s Rights between 2002 and 2011, as well as Oxfam-Canada’s Associate Country Director in Zimbabwe. Since 2014, Everjoice has been ActionAid International’s Director for Programs and Global Engagement. In this role she leads and oversees the organization’s programs, advocacy, and campaigns. Everjoice is a graduate from the University of Zimbabwe. In May 2020 Everjoice was appointed as Professor of Practice-Women’s Rights, by the School of Oriental and African Studies, (SOAS), at the University of London. Everjoice contributes as an advisor to feminist organizations, and movements, including the African Feminist Forum and Just Associates. She co-founded and served on the Boards and leadership of several civil society and women’s rights organizations in different parts of the world. A writer, blogger, and active social media influencer, EJ contributes to various print and online publications.

Zukiswa White, South Africa

Zukiswa White is a pan-Africanist and feminist thinker and organizer. She has collaborated on several movements and community-led interventions to address education inequality, gender and sexuality, and land and race justice. To survive capitalism, she works as an independent social justice consultant and communications strategist. Zukiswa presently organizes as a member of the Pan-Africanist Congress, Azanian Women's Collective, and Shayisfuba. She is committed to organizing in ways that prioritize building community resilience and self-determining African communities who rely less on interventions of the state and more on our collective power to transform and redefine them for ourselves.

Sandra Morán, Guatemala

Sandra Morán, lesbian, revolutionary, feminist, militant and defender of women’s rights, sexual diversity, Indigenous Peoples, and youth. Artist, political scientist, and popular educator. She has founded and has belonged to several grassroots women’s organizations; and she co-founded the Alianza Política Mujeres (Women’s Political Alliance) in 1994, which contributed to visibilizing women’s proposals in the Peace Accords. After the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, she has been part of the Women’s Forum Organizing Committee, a nation-wide body organized to ensure the fulfillment of the 28 commitments made to women in the Peace Accords. She was a member of the World March of Women’s International Committee between 2011-2015. From 2016 to January 2020, she was a Representative to the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala, being the first lesbian elected for that post in the history of Guatemala. Currently, she is coordinating the construction of an International Feminist Organizing School, a proposal driven by a coalition of which GGJ is part. This is a political education proposal for propelling the Feminist Economy as an alternative model in which we place the sustainability of life at the center of our actions and struggles. In Guatemala, she has been organizing the Movement of Women with Constitutional Power to propose the elements for a New Constitution from the perspective of women, Indigenous Peoples, and sexual diversity.

Gilda Rivera, Honduras

Gilda María Rivera Sierra es hondureña, feminista, de 64 años de edad. Siendo muy joven se organizó en movimientos estudiantiles universitarios con la convicción de la necesidad de que la universidad debe estar comprometida con los intereses de los sectores en situación de mayor vulnerabilidad en el país. Gilda fue desaparecida política en el año 1982. A finales de ese año se fue a vivir a México, regresando a Honduras recién en el año 1989. En México nació su interés por los movimientos de mujeres y los feminismos. Regresa a Honduras decidida a trabajar con mujeres, y a inicios de la década de los noventa forma parte del grupo fundador del Centro de Derechos de Mujeres (CDM). Gilda ha sido parte de la formación de otras articulaciones del movimiento social y popular, tanto en Honduras como en Mesoamérica. Actualmente, Gilda es Coordinadora Ejecutiva del CDM.

Mi Kun Chan Non, Myanmar

Mi Kun Chan Non is one of the founders of the Mon Women’s Network, Director of the Women’s Empowerment and Community Development Programme of Mon Women’s Organisation (MWO), and its current Chair of MWO. For more than 15 years she has worked as an activist and advocate for gender justice, leading initiatives on women’s leadership, political participation and inclusive security. Currently, she strongly engages with advocating on women participation in the peace process. Her expertise is sought by embassies and international organizations, and she contributes with her knowledge as panel member and speaker on women and development in different conferences and seminars. She is actively involved as a volunteer for different CBOs and CSOs in Mon State. Mi Kun Chan Non holds an M.A in Development Study from Kimmage Development Study Centre in Ireland. In 2012 Mi Kun Chan Non served as one of the very few observers on peace talks between Burmese Government and New Mon State Party. Mi Kun Chan Non currently serves as Steering Committee at AGIPP (Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process) on behalf of Mon Women Network (MWN). She was awarded the N Peace Award in 2014 for the Untold Story category. 

Niken Lestari, Indonesia

Niken Lestari developed her capacity in leadership and community organizing for over 14 years. Niken has a strong passion for feminist leadership, open-source software, and community literacy as part of the social justice movement. She comes from a multi-discipline background of library science, women’s studies, and rural advisory service. She is now working at FAMM Indonesia (Young Indonesian Women Activist Forum) as executive coordinator. She is planning to create a library that collects and produces poetry books in Indonesia language and English as part of the bibliotherapy for mental health care. As a 41-year old Aries, she loves the beach and sands.

Jessica Byrd - M4BL Electoral Justice Project, USA

Jessica Byrd is a Black queer feminist who founded founded Three Point Strategies in 2015 to provide a home for electoral strategy in the United States that centers racial justice and is transformational rather than transactional. Jessica is a nationally renowned political strategist known for her unapologetically people-powered approach to campaign strategy and is a relentless capacity builder for the independent Black Political Ecosystem. She has worked on campaigns in 43 states, trained hundreds of activists and elected leaders and is one of the architects of the Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project. She made history while serving as a chief strategist for Black women US Senate Candidates, Congresswomen, Mayors of major metropolitan cities, and serving as the Chief of Staff to Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Jessica recently spearheaded the planning and execution of the Black National Convention for the Movement for Black Lives and is committed fully to utilizing elections as a tactic to build power and policy in defense and investment in Black lives.

 

Gabriela Lemus - Mi Familia Vota, USA

Gabriela Lemus is the Founding Partner and CEO of Revolution Strategy, a management and communications strategy consultancy. Prior to Revolution Strategy US, she was the President of Progressive Congress and adviser to the co-Chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raul Grijalva and Rep. Keith Ellison. As an Obama Administration appointee, she served as Senior Advisor and Director of Public Engagement for Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, and was appointed by Mayor Vince Gray to serve as a Trustee of the University of the District of Columbia – an HBCU. Dr. Lemus is a passionate advocate for justice – social, economic, environmental, gender - whose career spans more than 15 years in senior strategic leadership roles in congressional and government affairs, non-profit management, policy advocacy and community/civic-engagement. She has built and managed non-profits, has a wide range of experience in building multi-racial coalitions and advocacy campaigns, advancing public policy and civic engagement. She is an innovator in voter engagement and civic participation for the Latino community. Gabriela has a PhD from the University of Miami, where she studied international political economy and political theory and wrote her dissertation on the drugs war and the US-Mexico border, implications for bilateral relations. She serves on numerous boards. She is the President of the Mi Familia Vota Education Fund (MFVEF), co-Chair of the Center for Common Ground, sits on the boards of American Family Voices (AFV), Netroots Nation, where she serves as the Chair of the Development Committee and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, where she serves as the Chair of the Audit Committee. Certified Climate Reality Leadership Trainer.