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Our Voices, Our Futures (OVOF) is a global South-led consortium, comprising CREA, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), UHAI -The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative and WO=MEN. Consortium partners are complemented by strategic partner IM-Defensoras, a Mesoamerican women human rights defenders (WHRDs) organisation.
OVOF will amplify voices and increase visibility of structurally silenced1 women in Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Lebanon, Sudan and Uganda, resulting in structurally silenced women taking their rightful places in civic space and participating across three key spaces: online space, physical public space and legal and policy space. This initiative is unique among myriad interventions targeting gender equality and women’s rights because it specifically aims to achieve the inclusion of structually silenced women within broader feminist movements, where fragmentation has led to the historical exclusion of structurally silenced women even, at times, from feminist movements themselves.
The Our Voices, Our Futures project aims to uplift women who are structurally silenced due to their identity (such as lesbian and bisexual women, and trans, gender or LBT persons) and/or their chosen form of labour (such as sex workers, working online and on-ground) and/or their activism (women human rights defenders or WHRDs). This structural silencing is systemic and by design, as global civic space is being actively narrowed and intentionally degraded by state actors as well as by non-state, anti-gender and anti-rights forces. OVOF's work will defend and expand this civic space, online and on-ground. It will build capacities of feminist movements and actors to engage in policy and lawmaking, and advance gender equality to demand their rights.
What are this initiative's strategies to bring about change?
Our Voices, Our Futures believes that building the capacity of feminist movements and organisations to open and expand physical public spaces and online spaces acts to apply additional pressure on the national and international legal and policy spaces. Without multiple channels to open these legal and policy spaces, transparent civic engagement of silenced women cannot be actualised. These three pathways together are necessary to reach the participatory phase in which structurally silenced women can safely access civic spaces and their rights are advanced in (government and corporate) policies, laws and practices.
1. Movement building to support collective agenda setting and collaborative efforts
OVOF will use capacity building and convenings among feminist movements to strengthen and build movements within countries and across regions, while also linking feminist movements to relevant actors, such as internet rights movements, Dutch allies and progressive policy makers. OVOF believes in strengthening movements from within, to create more inclusive, powerful and resilient movements. To influence laws and policies at national and international levels, OVOF sees this as the only sustainable mitigation strategy in relation to the increasing power of anti-rights and anti-gender forces.
2. Strategic use of technology to support open, safe online spaces
OVOF brings specific, feminist-tech expertise to all its work as well as to its local partners spread across six countries. Building digital literacy within feminist movements is OVOF’s first goal in the work on technology; OVOF plans to bring conversations and practices on technology that align with feminist politics to more feminist organisations in order to create more resilient and tech-savvy feminist movements who engage with the politics of technology as a core feminist issue.
3. Support feminist holistic protection to create more enabling environments to advocate for the rights of women
Our Voices, Our Futures brings unique, global South feminist knowledge to prioritise political, collective care as an essential aim of movement building. Feminist holistic protection will be learned, relearned, co-created and applied, together through a South-South partnership between IM-Defensoras, OVOF consortium partners and country partners. The partnership itself will emphasise connectivity and solidarity as the answer to threats at the individual, collective and movement levels.
4. Direct advocacy to lobby decision makers to change laws and policies
Our Voices, Our Futures project partners bring extensive experience of lobbying and advocacy at multiple levels to a range of issues connected to gender, sexuality and digital rights. OVOF partners ensure that ground-level evidence and lived realities of structurally silenced women feed directly into lobbying and advocacy at every level and international-level advocacy is translated back into community-level work in the six countries. More international and national-level law and policy makers need to acknowledge and address the issue of growing authoritarianism (and its impact on civic space, democracy and the lives of structurally silenced women) and the increasing influence of anti-gender and anti-rights actors within international and national policy and legal spaces. Key Dutch actors will be mobilised to collaborate with and support WHRDs, LBT activists and sex workers’ rights movements by creating and opening spaces for their participation in international processes such as the Commission on the Status of Women and Human Rights Council so that their voices will be heard.
5. Creative use of arts, media and culture as influential tools to challenge social norms, shape public opinion and counter restriction of expression
Our Voices, Our Futures has seen the results of working with artists and media and cultural workers. It helps shift mental models around gender and sexuality, and disrupts stigma steeped in bias and prejudice. OVOF partners have (effectively) used art and arts-based public campaigns (for example, film festivals) to change the way people think about highly stigmatised topics such as sex work, both within feminist movements and in society. Art has the power to reach people beyond activist circles and across country borders. Shifting social norms around gender and sexuality (both within and outside movements) is critical to Our Voices, Our Futures and its work with artists.
1 OVOF understands "structurally silenced" to be a broad, wide-ranging and complex categorisation, where country or regional context also determines who is structurally silenced.
|Sheena Gimase Magenya||Kenya|