Interview with Just Associates SouthEast Asia

6 Noviembre 2017

By Fungai

Fungai Machirori speaks to a representative of Just Associates in South-east Asia in this interview that took place at the Making a Feminist Internet convening in early October in Malaysia. JASS is a global organisation that is now working on new digital forms of activism and organising. JASS believes that women who are most affected by the political, economic, environmental and health crises reverberating across the world are on the frontlines of change. While they rarely have a seat at the decision-making table, they are organizing their communities, developing solutions and promoting justice—often at great risk for going against the grain. As a global women-led human rights network of activists, popular educators and scholars in 31 countries, we work to ensure women leaders are more confident, better organized, louder and safer as they take on some of the most critical human rights issues of our time.

Fungai Machirori (FM): The well-known tagline for JASS is ‘Women Crossing the Line’. Can you tell us what crossing the line looks like to you in the digital era?

JASS: I think it’s when people start to talk more about ‘taboo’ issues and about themselves and their own choices. We use the ‘Women Crossing The Line’ tagline as a hashtag whenever we use social media and also, some of our constituency uses it to design their own campaigns and describe how they are crossing the line in their own different ways. This gives our community a chance to have discussions online, some of them very difficult conversations, and provoke more debate publicly, making more people understand the issue under discussion. Sometimes people don’t fully understand what ‘women crossing the line’ means but immediately, they understand that it’s about crossing norms and societal beliefs.

FM: What are some of the critical issues you are looking at in terms of movements and movement building in south-east Asia as JASS?

JASS: Recently, one of the most critical issues has been around the political context and the closing space for civil society in south-east Asia. A lot has been happening in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Indonesia in particular with backlash against LGBT rights. So there are a lot of critical issues coming up. And also economically, there has been some big impact on movement building through – for example – the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which is a free trade agreement that gives a lot of power to corporations. It’s something that increases the power and collaboration between corporations and governments in the ASEAN region and narrows space for movements and activists.

A question this raises is around how grassroots movements can come together and organise ourselves more critically and safely. We need to a do a risk assessment of our work because this sort of context of closing space brings with it a lot of dangers to women and to our movements; not just physical and/ or online risks, but also emotional risks. So now we need to generate more strategies and analyses of our specific political situations at country level and also come together at regional level and look at common issues.

We need to a do a risk assessment of our work because this sort of context of closing space brings with it a lot of dangers to women and to our movements; not just physical and/ or online risks, but also emotional risks.

FM: JASS launched the We-Rise toolkit which is a movement building resource for activists recently. What would you say has been some of its most important impact so far? in your region and globally?

JASS: The We-Rise toolkit is a very detailed resource – from a grassroots perspective – that activists and feminists can use for their work. The toolkit’s impact is in documenting experiences from the movement building work that we have engaged in with our constituency and putting it online so that people can see and share in it. It’s just not just briefly talking about these experiences but about also providing detailed steps, like a curriculum of sorts, that people can learn from.

The We-Rise toolkit is a very detailed resource – from a grassroots perspective – that activists and feminists can use for their work. The toolkit’s impact is in documenting experiences from the movement building work that we have engaged in with our constituency and putting it online so that people can see and share in it.

FM: An issue that came up in the MFI meeting was around how we need to stop thinking in offline and online binaries in our movement building? Would you agree. And if so, why?

JASS: Yes, I agree. We need to look at both together. I also reflect from this meeting that sometimes when we are working on the ground, we forget a little bit about the digital and the online. So I have been thinking about how we can make our work, our approaches, our capacity building pay more attention to the digital space and to the digital platforms that are safe for us. So we must start with doing a risk assessment and understanding the platforms that put us at greater risk.

I have been thinking about how we can make our work, our approaches, our capacity building pay more attention to the digital space and to the digital platforms that are safe for us.

FM: What have been your key takeaways from MFI?

JASS: For me, it’s the connection between the online and the offline. These must be connected all the time and we need to include and inform and educate grassroots women we are working with about the online. But also, we must not forget to build from what they already have. We must use work with the technology that they already have access to and not something too new. That way, we can build from that and then give them more digital inforomation and education about what is happening beyond their own communities.

We must use work with the technology that they already have access to and not something too new.

Also, I am thinking about how we can create safety nets at the national and regional level to support each other’s work and how we can use online platforms to connect the safety net and ensure ease of access to information; for instance, regular updates on what the safest online platforms to use are, as well as feminist infrastructure to use at a time. At the same time, I am thinking about how to bring the organising work we are doing on the ground online.

FM: So how do we make a feminist internet?

JASS: I think it’s easy but it’s difficult to answer [laughs]. I think the process of connecting more online networks with the organising work that we do at the grassroots and keeping them informed is important. and make them keep track about how

I think also to make a feminist internet we need the women doing the work on the ground to document the individual stories of the women they are working with. This way, they document their own stories and share them online and make their stories more public around the world. This way, they bring their voices from the ground to the online public so more people can understand about their work. This also helps them to connect with other networks around the world and use the online space to mobilise other groups to see and understand what they are fighting.

They bring their voices from the ground to the online public so more people can understand about their work. This also helps them to connect with other networks around the world and use the online space to mobilise other groups to see and understand what they are fighting.

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