I was thinking about what I’d write for this blog; how could I even begin to describe to anyone else the events, experiences and consequent epiphanies that unfolded over the four days I spent at the World Social Forum with Oxfam International Youth Partnerships program (OIYP)? So I decided to not even try to distill what I experienced and instead went back to the journal I’ve been keeping since touching down in Tunis over two weeks ago. Here is a snap shot of what I wrote.
Tuesday 26th March
There was a buzz in the air this morning, as after ten days of workshops, activities, planning and anticipating the World Social Forum was finally kicking off.
In the afternoon we walked down to Mohammad Bouazizi Square in central Tunis. You could sense that this location held particular significance for the Tunisians. It was renamed after the fruit seller whose suicide sparked protests across the country (what we know as the ‘Arab Spring’); it was an apt place to officially start the 2013 World Social Forum.
I know it sounds cliché, but the atmosphere was nothing less than inspirational. There was such a sense of unity and ‘power to the people’ as various movements and organisations from around the world came together to march in solidarity through the streets of Tunis chanting for a more just world. We picked up our own supporters along the way and joined in with the mantras of others as well from time to time. My favourite chant out of them all: ‘Women’s rights are human rights’.
Wednesday 27th March
Today was the first ‘real’ day of the WSF. After several misguided attempts at thinking we had found our stall location, we found our space near the admin building - convenient as it meant there were lots of people around for us to talk to.
To draw attention to our stall and promote the sessions our Oxfam Action Partners were running, we decided to do an activity similar to 3things! I was excited to get out our little chalkboards in Tunis of all places. To align it to the WSF, we decided to ask WSF attendees: ‘My dream for another world is…’ People loved it! Turns out the interest and fun that’s involved in having your say, writing on chalkboards and using coloured textas translates across all languages and continents. It was so great to see so many young Tunisians getting involved. By the end of the day we had a wall covered with the hopes and dreams of hundreds - people from different countries, from different cultures, from different religions, written in different languages. It was incredible.
Thursday 28th March
The Action Partners ran their first activity at the WSF this morning - a session titled ‘The Recivilisation of Men by Women’. They did an amazing job. So many sessions at the WSF featured a panel or people speaking at you. Not OIYP’s. The Action Partners started off doing short monologue-like statements of common fears and mentalities of men and women, then used this to start a discussion on gender issues and feminist economics. I was truly impressed, as was everyone who attended the session.
We had another session that afternoon which was looking at GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender) issues and discrimination. The session was packed. We covered some seriously controversial topics, given the fact we’re in a country where it’s not only illegal to be gay but it’s also something that isn’t even openly talked about. I think the fact the Action Partners created a space for this topic to be discussed in a way that was so incredibly respectful is something they can be really proud of.
Friday 29th March
We piled into our mini bus early again this morning, with yet another 9am session that we had to rally people up for.
The session, titled ‘Breaking up the Boys Club’, was looking at women’s political participation but also women’s empowerment more broadly. Whilst surprising, one of the things I’ve appreciated the most about all the sessions is the diversity in race, religion, gender and age of the participants who have attended, and also the open-mindedness and respect they’ve brought to each space (which can also be attributed to the excellent facilitation of the sessions by the Action Partners).
For me, this is what makes the WSF so special - it isn’t an event that only attracts a certain kind of person, with each person sharing similar beliefs and backgrounds, it’s a space where people from all over the world come together, bringing their own and sometimes quite opposing cultural, religious and generational beliefs, to learn from each other and discuss the issues that our world is facing today in the spirit that the WSF is based on - solidarity, diversity and respect. I think Tunisia really made sure these values were at the heart of the WSF this year.