The last 18 months have been a period of reckoning and reflection for the Nobel Women’s Initiative. In the aftermath of the departure of half its staff in protest in the summer of 2020, the organization and its leadership have undergone a thoughtful and heartfelt process to understand and address the culture that led to this outcome. We have acknowledged the harm and the circumstances that gave rise to it while developing a plan and mobilizing resources for reparations.
And what of the way forward? How will a feminist organization with a deep love for justice also ensure that that love extends to those it works with, as well as those it works for?
The next generation of activists offer a roadmap.
In the spring of 2021 Nobel Women’s Initiative welcomed 15 young feminist leaders and human rights defenders from 11 countries into its Sister-to-Sister Mentorship Program. Held annually since 2012, a much smaller group of participants usually travels to Ottawa from around the world to share their experiences and receive guidance on their activist practices. This year we provided a virtual platform allowing for a much larger cohort. Mostly in their twenties, these women are already leaders in changing the landscape for women and vulnerable people in some of the most conflict-ridden, patriarchal and authoritarian countries in the world. During the twelve-week program they experienced coups, military conflict, even an erupting volcano – as well near constant challenges to their safety and personal security because of their relentless pursuit of justice.
And yet they persisted.
The Sisters, who co-created the program with Nobel Women’s Initiative, began an extraordinary dialogue examining all of our identities – gender, race, ethnicity, sexual identity, age – and how they influence both the nature and effectiveness of social justice work. Influenced by the leading feminist thinkers and mentors also participating in S2S 2021 they concluded that while the dialogue around identities often divides us, the issue of power – who has it, how it manifests in our communities and workplaces, impacts our lives and our ability to drive progressive change, and how it is wielded in feminist organizations – is a central pre-occupation that brings us together.
This year the program saw role reversals between mentees and mentors as the young women guided and supported our learning just as much as we theirs. We learned so much through our collective process and we are now looking forward to sharing some of that learning with our friends and audiences.
The Sisters’ examination of power was riveting and inspiring. It brought these culturally diverse but like-minded women closer together. They built, in their own words, a life-saving solidarity through dialogue that provided an unexpected and welcome source of support. It allowed them, individually, to power on knowing there was a community that saw each of them and understood what they were experiencing. And collectively, they will be unstoppable.
Recognizing the brilliance, the passion, the courage and the love that radiated from the cohort we wanted to share their deliberations with a wider audience, and so we are dedicating the third season of When Feminists Rule the World to the issue of power, and to these extraordinary young women who exemplify what power looks like at its very best: the power we have within, the power we build together, how we face overwhelming power that seeks to oppress us, and how we use the power of our imaginations to conjure up a vision of the loving and just world we are all working toward, together.