by Fabiola Maza
During the COVID pandemic, all of humanity is faced with lockdowns and other restrictive measures that have reduced our interaction with others. I have been questioning myself about the notion of collectivity and community, and my own individualistic behaviour. The lesson I have learned is that I —nay, we — need people. This personal process allowed me to think again about the value of the collectivity, especially in my feminist learning process, and it reminded me previous concerns raised by students, regarding our political isolation as a student community.
As students engaged in political debates, we need a community to engage in politics. We need a politics that fosters not only academic knowledge but also dialogue, critical thinking, and political engagement, and creates the democratic space that is often mentioned in our academic work. But in order to do that, we need a community based on feminist solidarity.
Solidarity is a big word. It is a complex concept that entails mutual-aid and support, empathy, and cooperation. We have experienced different kinds of solidarity, within our families, among the students, professors, and others. From individual acts of kindness to activities organized by student initiatives, we all have benefited from some act of solidarity as students. But what happens when solidarity becomes political? As Nela Porobić Isaković argues, “When we exercise solidarity, we are making a political statement. It is an act born out of an understanding that we live in a system of oppression and inequality. It is an act born out of an understanding that we, as individuals or as part of a collective, can help bring down that system. As such, solidarity is subversive, and, unlike kindness, is dangerous for the establishment.”
People organizing and preparing food for those in need due to the COVID crisis in Geneva is a great example of how solidarity also uncovers a failure of the system and its institutions in providing living conditions. People clapping as a way to recognize health workers also manifest a critic towards the gendered devaluation of care work and inadequate wages. A solidarity fund to support LGBTQIA+ people in the Moria refugee camps in the context of COVID, currently promoted by several collectives in Geneva, demonstrates not only global structural failures but highlights the benefits from alliances and activist networks beyond borders. This is not charity or individual kindness. This is taking political action. And solidarity needs to be rooted in a political action based on affection, horizontality and mutual-aid.
Last Saturday, the Latin American Initiative (LANI) and the Feminist Collective organized a conference with Helena Rocha, President of the Commission of Gender Violence of OAB/PR, and Lety Tordoya, member of the feminist collective “Mujeres Creando”. Both feminist lawyers agree that laws, policies and institutions are not enough to prevent gender-based violence. Furthermore, they often reproduce the same gendered orders that are being questioned. But what is the alternative then?
Despite coming from different fields, they agreed that it is necessary to forge solidarity and get out of our bubbles of individuality to make a change. Lety called this the “underground revolution”, happening outside the state, the institutions, and the norms. This revolution is made through solidarity networks and alliances, and perhaps this is the most powerful, transgressive, and even effective mechanism for social change. Each community contributes in different ways, according to their capacities, knowledge, expertise and experiences: providing support and care, as a source of information, making statements, etc.
Surely, we can contest patriarchy through our own individual acts, but why not collectivize? As students who are talking about politics, we need to build on solidarity and mobilize ourselves. Let’s exercise more solidarity as a political act.
First and foremost, we need to take into account that solidarity requires acknowledging inequities within and outside our student body. To build solidarity, we need to challenge our own situations. As Pauline mentioned in the last column of Feminist Voices, we need to acknowledge our privileges. Our varying backgrounds come with different experiences and struggles. We should also acknowledge that in Geneva we are privileged students from an elite institution.
Second, we need to engage more in dialogue and start challenging hegemonic discourses and structures that are sometimes taken for granted in politics and in our own academic work. As stated in one graffiti of Mujeres Creando, “Be careful with the present you are building. It should look like the future you dream of.”
The Conference organized last Saturday proves that having different perspectives and sharing lived experiences show the real complexities in contemporary debates. Gender violence is not only challenged in international courts or addressed in policies. It is also contested every day in households, through street graffiti and also in academic spaces.
Third, we really should be more active outside. Student initiatives are spaces for debate, critical thinking and could be a bridge with other student communities outside Maison de la Paix. For instance, there are several political issues happening now in Geneva, especially due to COVID, and several collectives and student initiatives are taking different political actions to support the most affected. Perhaps some of you are individually engaged, but what about as a student community?
Other students have raised important concerns about the political ambivalence of our student environment and have remarked institutional limitations to the exercise of democracy inside the community. I wonder if we can use solidarity as a way to (also) contest those constraints, for example by being creative in finding spaces and ways to do politics as we aspire to.
My feeling is that we, as a student community, need to do more. Our “political awareness” should not be limited to our papers but rather it should be present in our everyday. We, myself included, need to get out of our political isolation. One lesson to learn from the quarantine is that we need people. And perhaps others need us too. Let’s use this as an opportunity to step out and engage.
I would like to thank the members of the Feminist Collective for their comments and contributions. This piece is a result of its own solidarity.
Feminist Voices is a fortnightly column curated for the Graduate Press by the Feminist Collective in collaboration with QISA. It aims to be an open and eclectic forum of discussion on issues concerning institutional and lived inequalities due to hierarchical power relations amongst people of different sex, gender and sexual orientation, regardless of whether they identify monolithically with their perceived categories. Why is it necessary? Well, give a look at our first article.
Featured photo is credited to The Graduate Institute, Geneva