On April 15, 2021, Myo Myo Aye, a prominent labour rights activist, was taken from her office and taken to a police station for interrogation before being transferred to Insein prison.
As we end another turbulent year, we mourn the recent loss of bell hooks. Her writings, which explore the intersecting oppressions of gender, race, and class – in addition to her recognition that art, history, sexuality, psychology, spirituality, and love are at the heart of community healing – have shaped the work of JASS and countless black and brown women around the world. If I’ve shown any courage it’s only because I was touched by the bravery of women like bell hooks, who gave us a vocabulary for black intersectional feminist liberation.
I am grateful for the magic of who she was. I am grateful for her bold writing, for her pen, for her mind, and for her fierceness to say what the world still so desperately needs to heed in this time of reckoning and revaluation – that to create a more just and equitable world, we need to imagine and build something different – together.
For JASS, building bridges across movements is an essential ingredient of transformative power to shift the policies, institutions, and norms that perpetuate structural inequality. We create spaces that deliberately bring diverse women from disparate organizations and movements together, to find common ground and strategize collectively. This year, against all the odds ushered in by the pandemic and despite the technological challenges (including issues of differential access), JASS brought together women leaders from Mesoamerica, Southern Africa, and Southeast Asia to strengthen movement alliances and advance organizing agendas.
Here are some examples that I am proud to share with you:
South-to-South: Women defending land
“Solidarity means not only shared experiences but also shared emotions: the pain of sisters in Southeast Asia is the pain of sisters in Mesoamerica and Southern Africa. This must also be true for our joy and victory.” – Woman land defender participating in JASS South-to-South exchange
This virtual exchange linked women activist leaders who are organizing on the frontlines in resisting mining, deforestation, and mega dams. This was the first time these women met, shared their experiences, and asked questions of each other across language, geography, and generation. They saw themselves in each other’s lives, feelings, and struggles, finding solidarity in shared experience, and inspiring new connections and visions to build transnational agendas for transformation.
Connecting struggles, strengthening movements
“As movements and organizations, we tend to fragment more instead of consolidating more. We are not connecting even though there are linkages between the different movements. We need to start organizing together.” – South African activist
The need to work synergistically across difference as a way of harnessing collective power was a crucial insight in a week-long convening hosted by JASS Southern Africa. This gathering, a hybrid combination of in person and virtual, connected leading feminist activists – land defenders and LBTIQ+, women’s rights, sex work, HIV+, labour rights, housing and environmental justice activists – throughout South Africa, while sharing learning with women leaders in Malawi and globally. The group recognized how working in silos undermines the kind of overhaul this moment demands and reaffirmed the intimate connections between the care for and healing of our bodies to that of our planet.
One Day, One Voice: Stronger in Solidarity
“Young women are catalysts of change. Our movement keeps progressing across issues, sectors and locations.” – Niken Lestari, FAMM Indonesia (Forum Aktivis Perempuan Muda)
For the past 11 years, JASS Southeast Asia has bolstered and sustained the connection and solidarity of women across the region through their annual campaign, One Day, One Voice. Each year, during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, JASS Southeast Asia and allies mobilize young, community based, LBTIQ+, garment workers and indigenous women in six countries in the region under a political theme to spotlight their common challenges and demands through visual arts, dialogues, and street actions. This year’s theme “Stronger in Solidarity” embodies the very DNA of JASS work in the region – stronger networks for collective influence, action, and power.
JASS continues to innovate and build community even at a time of physical distancing. These virtual, face to face, and hybrid conversations across movements, issues, and borders hinge on the creation of bold, yet safe political spaces. This ensures women activist leaders connect heart, mind, and body and that their hopes and work to generate solutions that will mend and transform our world are amplified for greater visibility and influence.
As South African writer Sisonke Msimang wrote in a personal tribute , “bell hooks is gone, but she left clear instructions. Wherever we are in the world, we must use her words – and our own – to create new visions.” I pay homage to all who are following those instructions: who are organizing, writing, singing, speaking, and painting to breathe life into those visions. I praise those who are crossing the line, often at risk to their lives, to do the work to radically transform our world that is in crisis. I dare us all to do more!
We hope you will continue to support the promise of women-led movements and alliances to imagine and build a brighter future for us all by making a contribution today.
In solidarity, Shereen