I spent the past three days at the 10th Ubud Writers and Readers Festival (www.ubudwritersfestival.com) and it has been an incredible experience. The festival itself was great, the venues were amazing, the topics chosen for the panel discussions were diverse and equally exciting. It’s all true, but this is true about many festivals, isn’t it?
The really amazing thing, which I will bring with me for a very long time and, I hope, will shape my professional life from today onwards, is the chance I have had to meet some truly amazing women.
Ten years ago, after the Bali bombings, Janet De Neefe wanted to bring Bali back to life, she lived here and wanted to see her island resurrect from its ashes like the Phoenix. She didn’t sit and stare, she didn’t let someone take Bali away from her, she rolled her sleeves up and started planning. She tought that a literary festival could re-launch the image of the island and today, ten years later, we can say that this was an incredibly successful choice. For the tenth anniversary of the festival the artistic committee has chosen to dedicate more space to women, several events were dedicated to R.A: Kartini, Indonesia first feminist and women’s rights activist, and many interesting panels addressed different aspects of what we generally refer to as simply “gender issues”.
“Gender Issues” are not simple. And this festival has casted a light on each and every aspect of “being a woman” both for those who believe and fight for women’s rights and also for those who think that “we have gender equality, so why are we still talking about gender issues?”.
At the festival different types of women have talked openly about what happens in their countries and in their particular sectors. Of course most of them are journalists and writers but there have been also a number of movie directors, activists, bloggers, and simply feminists. They are different, they come from different backgrounds, have had different life experiences and want different things but they all believe in women. And it has been extraordinary to see the explosion of energy that Professor Mona Prince irradiates when she talks about the women in Tahrir square, to breathe the soft calmness of Professor Haideh Moghissi, co-founder of the first Iranian feminist movement in the 1970s and to listen to the lucid and yet witty words of Anne Summers, Australian feminist (politician, writer, journalist, activist… but mostly feminist).
All these women have, in my opinion, tackled the question “What is feminism today?” with surgical precision. A lot of people like me, born half way through the 1980s, raised by left wing families and who listened a lot of Janis Joplin (a lot…) have a distorted idea of feminism, and we are the educated ones whose parents fought in the students’ movements of 1968. Now imagine what today’s late teenagers, who grew up reading Twilight (yes, I said Twilight) and listening to Justin Bieber, must know about feminism. Stop thinking, I can answer the question for you: in the most fortunate cases, very little.
I guess feminism took different “declensions” in each country and there may be no such thing as “universal feminism” but it’s true that this more than other political movements has been subject to misreading and misinterpretations. It’s mostly due to a superficial understanding of what feminism is. In Italy the word “feminist” has a difficult connotation, it’s an elephant in the room, if you are a feminist there’s generally something wrong with you (most common symtoms include: uglyness of the patient, refusal to get laid and a generalised dislike for men which, in very acute cases, could be defined as lesbianism). I feel that Italians have felt threatened by feminists for a long time, and probably they still do, because of their fear to challenge the status quo. And sadly I cannot think of this as something unrelated to the strong influence of Catholicism.
Anne Summers pointed out that the three pillars of femminism (Every woman must be financially self reliant, free from violence and able to make decisions concerning her reproductive life) must apply to every country and every society, in spite of religion, culture, wealth. I agree, but this also made me think. How compliant are we?
I come from a country where the influence of the Church is extremely strong and which has (fortunately) just passed a law on feminicide. Feminicide being the term used to define the homicide of a woman due to the fact that she is a woman. Back home I often hear “Women’s empowerment mines the very foundations of the patriarchal society”, “Men can’t deal with a woman who’s the breadwinner” and so on and so forth. My frustration, coming from a first world, European country which claims to be “cradle of western civilization” (Yes, I’m sorry, we Mediterranean peoples tend to be slightly megalomaniac, I apologize…) is that what I’m fighting for in Africa and Asia is exactly what I should re-export (import?) back home. I speak to women who have been raped, violated, robbed, sold, forced to abort their child and I think that in my country last year a woman has been killed by her partner every 60 hours, that if a woman decides to interrupt her pregnancy she will not find many hospitals and doctors prepared to help her (despite a law that imposes them to do so), that…
So yes, I have been extremely happy to have attended this festival because I have met all these incredible women who have given me a new motivation, who have opened doors on worlds I didn’t know existed, who have shared with me their stories with no shame and no limitations: they have just done it.
I’m grateful to Professor Mona Prince, who looks like a magic gipsy dancer and who is able to talk about the Egyptian revolution, Tahrir sqaure and her people, with a disarming poetic power. She fights, she smiles, she talks, she listens, and I’m very proud to have been able to meet her.
I’m grateful to Lydia Cacho, whom I have no words to describe. I have been enchanted by her story and by the proud way she has lifted her head up and never stopped fighting when life (read: men) have tried to bend her spirit.
I’m grateful to the fanastic women I’ve spoken to and who have given me their perspective on what being a woman means in their country, in their society, in their religion. At the Ubud Writers Festival this year every woman has had the chance to be part of something big, something great, something important, that we will very unlikely forget.