California OFP Cohort Explores Challenges to Movement Building and Gender Democracy

This is the first of a two-part blog post by Barbara Phillips on her observations at the April 2011 convening of the California cohort of the NGEC Organizational Fellowship Program. In Part II of the post, Barbara offers additional reflection on gender democracy and the roles often assigned to women, as well as suggested resources to inform a deeper analysis and richer discourse.

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On April 6th and 7th, the California cohort of the Organizational Fellowship Program convened in San Francisco and struggled with some of the most significant and enduring challenges of advancing social justice and movement building. While sharing their organizational development and programmatic work since the last convening, the participants brought their years of organizing experience to enrich the conversation with explorations such as:

• How to translate gender justice analysis into organizational culture and, thus, into structure, operations and programs;

• How to engage with competing cultural values and reach hearts and minds both within the community and in the larger society;

• What does cultural competence look like in gender democracy work?;
The challenges of sustainability;

• How to engage with the State – does community empowerment replace the need to effect policy change;

• When the status quo is so powerful, can we rationally believe in our power to effect change;

• How to raise our own consciousness about aspects of the status quo detrimental to equality and democracy with which we are comfortable and have no will change; and

• How do we not end up mimicking that which we oppose?

There are no easy “answers” to any of these challenges and each one requires constant reflection and risk-taking.  But it is essential that we engage these struggles if we are to have any chance to create the world in which we want to live.

As I listened to these progressive organizers wrestle with how to make their work more powerful by moving gender equity/democracy to the core, I was struck by the pervasive placement of women within the context of family.  Even as the participants noted aspects of the community’s cultural values antithetical to gender democracy, the participants themselves often placed/valued women only in relation to family and children.  The advocacy on behalf of women tended to be couched in terms of how the family and/or children would benefit.  Even when the discussion turned to the difficulty some women had in participating in meetings due to the husbands’ expectations that the wife should be attending to domestic duties, the response was to schedule the meeting earlier so that the wife could meet this cultural expectation.

I encourage OFP participants to reflect upon the need for further struggle.

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