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Standing Up: Mobilization, Alliances and Action

Are you ready to move into action—resisting, speaking out, challenging, proposing solutions and standing up for what you believe is right? Are you clear what tactics will take your agenda forward and preparing for potential risks or backlash? Do you need to define what change or alternatives solutions you are promoting? Do you want to change the public conversation and are you clear on your message, medium and audience? These Cycles can be used as a framework for Movement Builders—both experienced and new. So start collecting your tools and store them in your We Rise toolkit.

Standing Up

Standing Up is about organizing and mobilizing our collective power with others to resist injustice, challenge the status quo, stand up for our rights, address needs and assert our demands.

  • Mobilizing Our Power Together Mobilizing our collective power to amplify our voices, impact a specific problem and stand up for our rights, justice, freedom and dignity.
  • Shared Strategy and Tailored Tactics Clarifying our vision, goals and strategy together so we can choose creative and effective tactics for different moments.  This enables us to make our needs and demands known, utilize or create political opportunities and build our power and impact over time.
  • Interconnected Movements Expanding the interconnectivity of many organizations and efforts ("meshworks")—cultural, social, political—to amplify our shared vision, values and agenda and to inspire aligned yet independent action, art and involvement.
  • Challenging and Changing the Public Conversation Getting our voices and ideas heard with communications and knowledge strategies that break through the dominant public narrative, raise social awareness, generate new ways of seeing issues and equip us to better influence debate and decision-makers.   
  • Risk, Security and Community Analyzing the risks and power dynamics of our activism in context, and weaving local, regional and even global networks of support to protect our organizations and ourselves as activists.
  • Alliances, Conflict and Negotiation Building agreements and working through conflict inside our groups and within alliances; negotiating relationships with different kinds of political actors who have influence on the issues we care about.
  • “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”—African Proverb; “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”—Ethiopian Proverb

    Mobilizing Our Power Together

    Mobilizing Our Power Together is about rallying our collective power to amplify our voices and our social and political change agenda, and to stand up for our rights, justice, freedom and dignity. Power with has to do with finding common ground among different interests in order to build collective strength. In Rising Up and Building Up we talked about investing in the kinds of processes and deep conversation that bring people together and generate mutual support, solidarity, and recognition and respect for differences so that collaboration can multiply individual talents, knowledge and resources to make a larger impact. In addition, this power with provides a grounding sense of community and spiritual connection.

    Mobilizing power with is about developing planning actions, tactics and strategies that tap into different types of knowledge and leadership, and affirming to ourselves and to external audiences that we are in this together.  

    “The unfulfilled promise of women’s equality cannot be realized without mobilizing the power of women’s voices, knowledge and numbers for sustained pressure and influence on policies, institutions and social norms. With growing backlash and violence today, organizing women is also about using women’s organizing power for self-defense, and for protecting activists and their organizations.” - JASS

    JASS’ core mission—building women’s collective leadership and organizational power—is based on the belief that women, who are most affected by the political, economic, environmental and health crises reverberating across the world, are also at the forefront of change in their communities. Though often invisible or portrayed as victims in the media, women bring solutions and play crucial roles leading their communities in defending rights, addressing needs, challenging excesses of power, and promoting long-term change—often at great personal risk. Better equipped, resourced and connected women can play an even more vital role in making sure that political change leads to real change in people’s lives. The task of mobilizing power with is precisely the way that we ensure that the people most affected play leadership roles and are at the heart of action for change. 

    Bottom-up advocacy and movement-building approaches not only amplify the reach of change strategies, they also give legitimacy to advocacy and lobbying efforts. Sustained citizen action is key to closing the gap between policy commitments and implementation. Experience shows that good data and evidence, compelling media, and policy proposals are key ingredients to political change, but without actions that activate and show the strength of well-organized constituencies—particularly those most affected by the unresolved problems—powerbrokers are less likely to move. In recent years, the mobilizations of people on climate change, corruption, racist policing, and fees for education have made once invisible issues headline news, placing them at the top of policy agendas and election campaigns.

    “While policy is critical, we need to broaden our understanding of winning so that winning and building are not at polar opposites. The vital link between them is a long-term vision.”Jojo Geronimo, Making Change Happen 3: Power

    Referred to as the tension between “winning and building,” it is tempting to think about tactics and actions with a short-term perspective about what will make the biggest splash—what will go viral or what will be provocative. Sometimes, that momentary, opportunistic thinking makes sense but it is important to also consider how a particular action is part of a longer-term strategy to build connection and community, and to mobilize collective power. 

    “Balancing the winning with building people’s power often places policy issues on the back burner in the short-term. The notion of winning … includes new ways of thinking and new forms of leadership. Timeframes for change move beyond two years.”Reflections from activists about labor organizing

    In any given action or activity, many different roles and leadership opportunities are available. Constituents can get involved in research and information dissemination to make a case, or they can participate in learning and leadership opportunities associated with outreach, community education, media, etc. Where violence is a factor, for example, it is important for mobilization strategies to include urgent action plans, social media alerts and self-protection mechanisms that help mobilizers defend themselves and their families.

    Tools for Mobilizing Our Power Together

    Moving Beyond The Tool...

    Listen in to Adelaide Mazwarira, Lisa VeneKlasen, Daysi Flores, Kwangu Tembo Makhuwira, Tiwonge Gondwe, Dorica Maguba, Amina Doherty and Shereen Essof—all part of the JASS community—reflect on how to mobilize our collective power, building from me to we, and make the changes we want.

    1. What does it mean to mobilize together, and how do we build for that kind of unity?
      Adelaide Mazwarira Face
    2. Our work is to build from the ‘I’ to the ‘we.’ It’s about thinking of how to connect women to each other and to connect to a broader feminist strategy at the local, national, regional and global levels.
    3. Crossing the line is a collective moving forward; it is a stampede. It is all women finding the strength to claim our power.
    4. We need to know that we have power within ourselves, that we have rights. And, we have to advocate for change that is right for us. Women have the power within themselves, but alone, we can’t make big changes. We can come together to do something great.
    5. I now know that I have power within myself, and power with others too, and that I can transform my individual power into a collective power to drive change in my family, community and nation.
    6. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      What does it look like to go stand up and mobilize?
    7. We decided to use our collective power to do something to ensure that the women in the traditional authority were able to access their [HIV] treatment. At first, we talked to the health personnel but they would not cooperate. We [then] went to the Honorable Member of Parliament. He immediately called the person in charge of the clinic and demanded that the clinic be opened and all the people accessed ARVs on that day.
    8. The mobilization in response to the murder of Berta Caceres is very quickly becoming a global solidarity movement. We have a set of demands and principles based on the experience of COPINH and the Hondurans on the ground. That is what really makes the Berta Vive movement so strong; it continues to respond to and be anchored by those who are most affected by the injustice that we are mobilizing against. Our specific demands are really shaped by their demands.
    9. Daysi, can you talk about the moment when activists had to suddenly and unexpectedly mobilize when there was a coup in Honduras?
      Adelaide Mazwarira Face
    10. We were there. We were on the streets, and everyone was just emerging. It was really chaos. And then when we started to shape it a little bit, this Resistencia. Actually we called ourselves Feminists in Resistance. And for the first time, feminists are in the front line leadership. Solidarity was something that allowed us to be as visible and as strong as we were. Because we had built solidarity outside Honduras. And it was a visible solidarity, it was a rapid response solidarity, and it was a trusting solidarity. The other social movements, they didn’t have that.
  • “Start the process of strategy development by imagining that instant just before victory. Then, working backwards, do your best to figure out the steps that will lead to that moment.”—Si Kahn, activist and popular educator, on the principles of organizing

    Shared Strategy and Tailored Tactics

    Shared Strategy and Tailored Tactics is about defining our vision, goals and strategy together so we can choose creative and effective tactics for different moments. This enables us to make our needs and demands known, utilize or create political opportunities and build our power and impact over time.When groups organize for change they determine what change they want—which ideally includes a longer term vision as well as related interim goals; and their strategy—what they believe they need to do to bring about that change.

    Good strategy grows out of a clear power analysis and understanding of the context: who are the decision makers on the issues; who are the key players involved in the issue—including those behind the scenes—and which are allies; what are the ideas and beliefs that are shaping public opinion on the issue; what capacity in organized people and other resources does the group and its allies bring to the effort; and what are the particular openings or opportunities in the current moment? This analysis informs a guiding strategy or strategies.  Tactics are how we act on our strategy in a given moment and change over time.

    Sometimes there is confusion between tactics and strategy. Strategy is the bigger picture plan of what we want to do to bring about change; tactics are the specific way we are act to advance that strategy in a given moment. Strategies tend to have a longer life, guiding our work over periods of time. They might include: building a strong cross-movement alliance, hold key decision makers accountable or changing the social norms or public opinion on a key issue. Tactics are always changing with changing contexts and power dynamics. At one moment, a direct action or protest might make sense. At another, a social media campaign challenging the dominant story will work. At another, participatory research that gathers key data and builds community involvement is the best approach. And, at still another, intensive political education and alliance building would make the best use of the moment. We have to tailor the tactics to the context, opportunities and capacities with which we are working.

    Since most organizing efforts require the collaboration of allies, both inside and outside the decision-making process, a shared strategy harnesses the different capacities of each one and guides their efforts toward the same goal.  Sometimes allies share tactics, and sometimes they differ, each ally playing different roles—for instance, one protesting in the streets, one advocating within the government. If there is an overall agreement on goals and strategy, these converging tactics can create a powerful impact.

    Developing shared strategy within an organization and with allies comes out of a process of shared analysis of the context as noted above.  Generally, organizations find a multi-faceted process is needed which defines their goals for change and rigorously maps power dynamics that will affect achieving that goal. It is important to have a sense of what the longer term goals are, how we are strategically pursuing those over time (e.g., gaining labor protections for women, ending oil extraction in our communities) and what immediate goals and tactics will move us forward (e.g., building a women’s union, holding community hearings on the impact of the oil on the community, protesting government policies or corporate violations).

    Tools for Shared Strategy and Tailored Tactics

  • “There can be no peace without justice and no justice without human rights and no human rights without women’s rights and no women’s rights without feminist and women’s movements.”—Alda Facio, Costa Rica

    Interconnected Movements

    There is no thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”—Audre Lorde

    Interconnected Movements is about building the interconnectivity of many organizations and social justice efforts ("meshworks")—cultural, social, economic, political, and ecological.  Also referred to as “big tent” or intersectional organizing, the aim of Interconnected Movements is to bring together our distinct efforts into a much larger, loosely coordinated political force. It is a force that amplifies the transformational power of each organization or movement, while also allowing for the possibility of independent action, art and involvement by many different people.  

    “The reason [why] movements matter is [because of] their capacity to create sustained change at levels that policy change alone cannot reach.”Srilatha Batliwala

    In recent years, climate change has become a globally-recognized pandemic. Its scope forces us to recognize how interconnected our specific issues are and how critical it is to join forces with others to be a more effective counterweight against actors who hold the most power and influence. Since the roots of climate change have to do with failed economic and political choices benefiting only a few corporations, elites and governments—and since the changes in climate hit poor and marginalized communities more than others—we can see the importance of “connecting the dots” as Naomi Klein says, and of building broader movements for change. 

    “What if we realized that real disaster response means fighting inequality and building a just economy; that everyone working for a healthy food system is already a climate warrior. So too are people fighting for public transit in Brazil, housing and immigrant rights in the US. There are movements battling austerity in Europe, extraction in Australia, pollution in China and India, environmental crime in Africa and the bad trade deals that lock in all of these ills everywhere. I believe the movement we need is already in the streets, in the courts, in the classrooms, even in the halls of power. We just need to find each other. One way or another, everything is going to change. And for a brief time, the nature of that change is still up to us.”Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything

    Women’s leadership and struggles and feminist agendas are central to a broader economic, political and social movement for change, because—if we do not fundamentally change the social hierarchies—learned domination, subordination and violence that exists in our families and is transmitted through gender roles and stereotypes, we will not fundamentally change our institutions of exploitation and control.  Interconnecting is not just about cross-issue and cross-movement agendas and alliances. It is also about ensuring that community leaders and activists, particularly those most directly affected by the problems we are confronting, are central to the agenda-setting and public face of our efforts. 

    And, finally, while the roots of problems can be found in local power dynamics, climate change is not the only issue that is felt locally and created globally. Education crises, violence against activists, migration and poor working conditions all have local, national and global root causes. Interconnection crosses issue, geography, and socio-cultural contexts.

    “Movements take shape over many actions, and over many moments where demands and issues are brought to the floor. Movements are not single-issue.”Lisa VeneKlasen

    Movements are built and activated in a variety of ways, and are dependent upon context, timing, rallying points, and the constituencies with which one works. They often start off with people who may be linked to organizations or informal networks that start organizing around a particular issue or set of issues. They then attract and seek out more individual and organization allies to increase their influence and reach. At that point, they very deliberately begin to build what is often referred to as movement infrastructure—a loose set of processes, planning, communication and decision-making points that enable a diverse, interconnected and flexible web of activists, alliances, networks, and organizations to define their shared agenda, stay connected and mobilize actions. Throughout this process, those involved regularly negotiate various roles, divisions of labor, approaches, resources, tactics and strategies in order to transform power dynamics and advance deep social change.

    In building and connecting distinct issues and movements, mutual respect and solidarity are crucial. In addition, there is a need for lots of face-to-face, continuous conversations between leaders, organizers, communities and constituencies. 

    Our work with HIV+ women activists fighting for quality medicines, for example, began in the early stages with frequent gatherings among women involved in informal networks. These group-building and agenda-surfacing processes created space for women to engage in political analysis and unpack the root causes of poverty, HIV and the many other challenges in their lives. The common ground formed in this process was the basis for distinct groups and networks operating in different communities to remain connected. Over time, key leaders came together to formalize and expand their network with various organizational allies. This became the foundation upon which a network was formed and a national level campaign was launched—Our Bodies, Our Lives: the fight for Quality ARVs (Antiretrovirals). Going forward, in an effort to take the campaign to the next level and to take on some of the global policy and corporate actors who have a direct impact on HIV and related medicines, JASS and our allies will seek the involvement of more institutions to advance the conversation, and increase the clarity and the power of the demands of this movement.

    In another example, the assassination of Berta Caceres—indigenous activist and leader—has brought corruption, environmental justice, impunity, violence and militarization in Honduras to the forefront. Berta’s organization—COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras)—and its allies in Honduras have put forward clear demands and anchored a loosely connected set of campaigners, human rights organizations, indigenous people’s networks, environmental groups and feminists. Through distinct actions anchored by the demands of the communities and organizations most affected, they have succeeded in persuading the Dutch and Finnish investors to suspend their financing for the construction of the dam that Berta was killed trying to protect. In addition, a handful of US Congress people have introduced legislation to suspend US military and security aid to Honduras, and human rights groups are pushing for the creation of an independent expert commission with the Inter American Human Rights Commission to investigate Berta’s murder. Many international organizations working on different issues and in different places have converged into the #Justice4Berta movement and, in so doing, have kept  environmental, human rights and many other issues at play on the global agenda.  


    Tools for Interconnected Movements

    Moving Beyond The Tool…

    Hear what Lisa VeneKlasen, Adelaide Mazwarira, and Everjoice Win—from JASS—have to say about what a “movement” is and how movements touch people’s hearts and radiate out through culture.  

    1. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      What is a “movement?"
    2. With all the investment in advocacy, it is easy for many to confuse or conflate coalitions working on policy issues with movements. They are not the same. While a policy agenda is important, movements are more than that. Similarly, we confuse virtual campaigns—hashtags and slogans—with movements. They too are important in getting new ideas and problems into the public conversation, but they are not movements. Movement organizing both includes and goes beyond policy and social media—it is rooted in communities and different contexts through organizing and building connections.
    3. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      Why do you think that people misunderstand what a movement really is?
    4. We are in an exciting moment when many uprisings and mobilizations have the character of movements—like Fees Must Fall in South Africa or Black Lives Matter in the US. But I think the term is used so loosely, so it’s easy to get confused about its true meaning. Some historical reference points are social movements like the trade union movement and peasant farmers’ movements. The anti-colonization movement and liberation movements in Africa were movements with many powerful leaders and a very big vision, with lots of different organizations and ways to connect, all without the Internet. Today movements take different shapes. Many people working in social change today—in institutions and NGOs—may not have experience with actual movements. Also, many parts of the world don’t have a history of social movements. Or, in some instances, movements are in a quiet or latent state.
    5. If anyone was ever in doubt about the power of MOVEMENTS, one has to simply look at the enduring appeal, mobilization and organizational capacities of the ANC (African National Congress), FRELIMO (The Mozambique Liberation Front), ZANU (Zimbabwe African National Union) or SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organization), and learn from them. Love them or hate them, the liberation movements speak to the HEARTS (as opposed to heads), of a sizeable number of citizens in their countries. Their messages still reverberate and resonate quite well even beyond their national borders.
    6. Why is cultivating movement culture important?
      Adelaide Mazwarira Face
    7. Movements cannot exist without a movement culture. Movements are not two or three organizations working together. They are more than that. Black Lives Matter is transforming into a movement through a shared deeper understanding of race, class, and gender in America. Though the focus is largely on the criminal justice system, Black Lives Matter also addresses housing, education, and portrayal in the media. Essentially, it examines all aspects of what it is to be a person of color in America. It is now building a movement consisting of many different organizations working together around shared goals and a shared vision. That’s what sets Black Lives Matter apart.
  • “Interrupting the public conversation involves finding creative ways to challenge the narratives that make us and our issues invisible and reinforce oppression. It is the deliberate quest to include diverse perspectives in public dialogue."—Alexa Bradley

    Challenging and Changing the Public Conversation

    Challenging and changing the Public Conversation is about getting our voices and ideas heard and perceived as a legitimate part of our public conversation. Communications and knowledge strategies—using creative tools and spokespeople—can break through the dominant public narrative, raise social awareness, generate new ways of seeing issues, and equip us to better influence debate and decision-makers.  

    Interrupting the public conversation is a vital part of any sustainable change process. Dominant narratives pervade invisible power—shaping meaning and influencing our sense of self. If we do not challenge dominant narratives, we will not be able to shift the biases and norms that exclude. Dominant narratives include: climate change is unproven; activists are troublemakers or even terrorists; women can’t lead and are untrustworthy; governments can’t deliver social services; women are to blame for sexual violence; and immigrants cause economic problems and should be feared.

    If we focus our attention solely on formal power levels and altering policy, we are missing opportunities to challenge and shift the assumptions or social norms that are the source of these policies.

    Processes of socialization, culture and ideology perpetuate exclusion and inequality by defining what is normal, and determining what is “true” and acceptable. Those who control the dominant narrative can not only block significant problems and ideas from the decision-making table, but can also prevent them from entering the minds and consciousness of members of society, even those directly affected by a particular problem. The power to influence how individuals think about their place in the world, their beliefs, their acceptance of the status quo, their understanding of their own value in society is formidable. It can operate in ways to make injustices like poverty, racism, sexism and corruption invisible to society at large. Worse still, this form of power can make those who experience systematic discrimination subject to condemnation and even self-blame.

    Consequently, it is imperative that we develop strategies to counter the invisible power that permeates social and political culture. Many social justice organizations use research, public education and social media to bring alternative values and worldviews alive and visible. Art, poetry, theater and music reach people and communities in ways that words do not. Empowerment strategies also address dominant ideologies and strengthen critical thinking skills to shape visions of the common good, and bring forth individual and collective consciousness. These strategies can transform the way people perceive themselves and those around them, and influence their visions of future possibilities and alternatives. In addition, research to uncover and publicize concealed information, such as corporate corruption, can be invaluable in unmasking and challenging invisible power.

    Images, new facts, and powerful messages that convey an alternative way to look at an everyday problem help to shift meaning and create a new, broader frame. Using these different tools, you can interrupt and intervene in the public conversation through direct actions, social media and events. These actions can be short-term or more sustained depending on the issues, timing and what makes strategic sense.  The actions and messages of Black Lives Matter are a great example of bringing the invisible into the public agenda. Police brutality and racist excessive-force policing have long been problems faced in African-American communities, but the combination of a provocative and simple hashtag, community mobilizations in the face of armed police, cellphone footage of abuse, and clear messaging have changed the public conversation in the US and around the world. 

    JASS’ work over the past 7 years is an example of a more sustained intervention to reclaim and expand the understanding of who is a woman human rights defender. Through our published and widely shared analyses on how women activists experience violence differently, through activists’ stories and interviews in alternative and mainstream media, and through regional and global advocacy and strategic engagement with key government and international actors, a wide range of grassroots women leaders see themselves as women human rights defenders. Governments and prominent international organizations now recognize the gendered nature of violence against activists. Collaboration with the Nobel Women’s Initiative and women peace laureates lent a brighter spotlight and legitimacy to the voices of women who would not otherwise be heard. Women from a variety of groups—indigenous, LGBT, labor unions, feminists—can learn about and use the protection mechanisms available through the international system. Likewise, the work of our partner—Katswe Sistahood—uses creative performance arts, such as dance and theater, to break the silence and challenge taboos surrounding sex and sexuality.

    Tools for Challenging and Changing the Public Conversation

    Moving Beyond The Tool…

    Listen to Alexa Bradley and Adelaide Mazwarira’s reflections about how changing the political conversation creates space for other more liberating ideas to be taken seriously, different solutions to be put on the table.

    1. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      Why do we need to challenge or change the public conversation?
    2. Often a dominant narrative defines an issue. For a long time, the dominant narrative about race in the US concerned crime or drugs—if race was discussed at all. People were silent about the mass incarceration, killing and abuse of African Americans. It was an accepted norm, not even newsworthy. Now, Black Lives Matter has succeeded in shifting the political conversation. Police violence is visible and on the news. Exposing this issue has gone on to have ripple effects on other questions regarding race. A decisive shift in the narrative has occurred, and people are discussing racial inequalities in many places.
    3. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      So how do you know when to intervene?
    4. It is important to say we are talking about a form of power—invisible power—the dominance of certain ideas, norms and beliefs to the exclusion of others. If we want to change the political conversation, we need to have a strategy to challenge the invisible power behind it. Without thinking strategically, we may think it’s enough to say no to what we don’t like or disagree with. But, unless we’re actually re-framing the entire conversation and we introduce a new lens to help people examine what is happening, the intervention is not enough.
    5. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      What’s an example?
    6. We have to understand what the set of dominant ideas or social norms are that legitimize the current reality. For instance, in global development, when megaprojects such as dams trump the rights of indigenous and rural peoples, ideas about “progress” and “backward people” are used to legitimize the practice of pushing them off their land. For that reason, we can’t just say “no” to that dam; we have to put forward a different set of beliefs that challenge its legitimacy.
    7. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      But it takes all of us together and, whether we are silent or not, we can perpetuate the problem.
    8. Yes. For instance, after the hashtag Black Lives Matter gained momentum, people began to say, All Lives Matter. But in shifting the dialogue to “All Lives Matter” it made racial issues invisible again. The dominant discourse sought to silence the topic of race in the guise of being inclusive.
    9. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      Yes, the dominant discourse states that “All Lives Matter,” but the “all” does not necessarily include certain people. When some are excluded, we must say it.
    10. It makes the injustice more visible. You also commonly hear that feminism has already won. By saying that, women are not allowed to raise continuing issues. The blame is put on the victim; she shouldn’t have been drinking, she shouldn’t have been there, she shouldn’t have been wearing that. Likewise, for the young black victim, he shouldn’t have been running from his car, he shouldn’t have been driving after dark.
    11. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      He shouldn’t have been black, basically.
    12. We all pretend that we think equity exists. A lot of Americans will say racial equity exists. But, if you ask those same people tomorrow, would you like to be black or white, and do you think it would make a difference in your future, you know white people would struggle with their answer. We don’t want to admit there’s a problem, because we might have to do something to change it. Changing the political narrative is a way of breaking through the denial, and putting forward a new way of seeing things.
    13. Adelaide Mazwarira Face
      But changing the political narrative, is it enough?
    14. No. But changing the political conversation creates space for other different ideas to be taken seriously, different solutions to be put on the table. It is a critical part of shifting power and removing the legitimacy of the injustices we face.
  • Risk, Security and Community

    Risk, Security and Community is about analyzing the risks and power dynamics of our activism in context, and weaving local, regional and even global networks of support to protect our organizations and ourselves as activists. 

    A critical issue in all our work and in every region is that of women’s safety and security. The fast-shifting context we are confronting is violent, dangerous and volatile. Women face violence in multiple forms: backlash, gangs and shadow "armies," scarcity, poverty, vulnerability, sexual violence, natural disasters, fundamentalisms and hate.

    Violence has increased so much that it is affecting the security of our movements. Governments lack the capacity and political will to protect and promote our rights. While we continue old strategies of advocacy, much of our work is about resisting and pushing back against the tide and championing all forms of women’s resistance.

    For JASS, a critical question is, “How do we ensure women’s freedom of expression in the face of a lethal mix of militarization and extremism, which is closing the space for women’s activism and, in some instances, puts their lives at risk?” Across the regions in which we work, we have found similar patterns of oppression, corruption, impunity and violence perpetrated by both state and non-state actors. We have witnessed the impact of fundamentalism on stigma and discrimination. We have seen a rise in the criminalization of activists in the struggles over land and resources across Mexico, Central America and Indonesia. And we have observed political violence in Myanmar and Zimbabwe, and hostility in the fight for labor rights in Cambodia.

    The scale and unpredictability of violence against activists, and women activists in particular, is what led JASS to reach out to close partners to explore how to create regionally relevant strategies for the protection of women defenders (WHRD). In 2010, the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative was born. This unique cross-sectoral effort brings together women across many divides, including journalists, indigenous women defending territories, trade unionists, LGBT activists, mothers pursuing justice for family members, and others. Today, many grassroots women leaders see themselves as human rights defenders for the first time, which enables them to better strategize and to seek protection. As a co-coordinator of this regional Initiative and of national networks in Honduras and Mexico, JASS Mesoamerica accompanies and supports women defenders through dangerous situations that result from their human rights work. Likewise, through these networks, JASS fosters coordination, solidarity and joint advocacy among activists within countries and across borders to strengthen their demand for justice and community control in development decisions.

    Since we have witnessed increasing levels of violence against women human rights defenders everywhere we work, JASS has made a number of shifts to comprehensively and systematically assess and prevent risk, both in terms of our programs and our own operations. JASS has been able to translate the expertise developed by our work and team in Mesoamerica into increased skills, resources and awareness among all of JASS’ teams and among the diverse partners and constituencies with whom we work to manage fear and confront risk.

    For example, greater awareness of the backlash and violence that women activists can encounter when simply demanding their rights has led activists in Myanmar, Cambodia and Zambia to integrate security strategies in their programs. In Zimbabwe, where a long history of political instability and authoritarianism has made women's activism risky, JASS' partners have begun to invest resources in their own safety and well-being, for example, requesting a training workshop on security protocols following the violence that ensued after the hotly contested 2013 elections. This training brought together influential organizations including the Katswe Sistahood, the Musasa Project, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, Women's Action Group and the Sexual Rights Centre. Building on this training, as well as more than two years of intense partnership with JASS Southern Africa, Katswe Sistahood adapted JASS' “Heart-Mind-Body” security and wellbeing strategy for their constituency of women activists that includes more than 800 activists.

    In violent contexts, it is clear that our allies face risks, but our staff—who are also frontline activists in many cases—do too. To that end, JASS has invested in risk assessments and developed security plans for each team to ensure our own safety as well as our ongoing ability to work in solidarity with our partners. A major shift involved registering JASS in Mesoamerica and Southern Africa—a step we had previously avoided in order to demonstrate our commitment to work with and through local and regional groups rather than creating formal institutions. But the scale of our operations and nature of our work presented challenges and risks that led us to legally register in these two regions, as this provides greater access to resources and recourse in the places where we work, should JASS and/or its allies encounter major threats in the course of doing our work.

    In 2015, JASS began participatory mapping processes in Southern Africa and Southeast Asia—using Mesoamerica as a model—to understand the specific risks WHRD face, to analyze contextual forces and actors generating and increasing risks, and to identify existing resources and responses. This allows JASS and our allies to have a comprehensive picture of the situation and lay the groundwork for building networks for safety and urgent action.

    Tools for Risk, Security and Community

    Moving Beyond The Tool…

    Women human rights defenders from Guatemala and Zimbabwe, along with Lisa VeneKlasen and Marusia Lopez Cruz of JASS, explore how networks create the collective protection that activists need as they challenge injustice and face backlash.

    1. How do we, at JASS, protect and sustain the women and organizations on the frontline of real democracy-building, especially in the face of violence? What the women we work with want are networks—webs that are strong and vast and give them a sense of belonging, a source of collective power for change, and protection in the case of emergency.
    2. "Our analysis has taught us that if we are in the business of dismantling power, something will come at us, and those things have the power to destabilize and destroy . . . We’ve tried hard to build ourselves as women human rights defenders, and to plan for safety and security. In the [safe] spaces that we build together, we laugh, cry, dance and rage but we also strategize." - WHRD, Zimbabwe
    3. While male defenders facing backlash are often supported by their families and networks, women defenders are often blamed for being "bad mothers" or putting their families in danger, which adds to their vulnerability. The Initiative’s work gives women defenders greater clout and reduces their risk through a shield of self-defense and mutual support.
    4. "The search for justice after the murder of my father, together with my ongoing work defending human rights, led to a breakdown in my physical and mental health. I applied for support from the Mesoamerican Initiative to be able to rest and take care of my health. The main message of this support: May my life be important to other women." - WHRD, Guatemala
    5. The wide, deep networks that JASS is constructing and supporting today serve a double purpose: they foster the power of women's sheer numbers unified around a common agenda, and they provide self-defense and protection. JASS Southern Africa's Heart-Mind-Body initiative addresses the need to focus explicitly on healing from the effects of violence, and we continue to build solidarity among friends and allies and seek new ways to mobilize resources for emergencies, which is especially critical for JASS Mesoamerica.
  • “Conflict can pose either a danger or an opportunity for positive change.”—Patricia Ardon


    Alliances, Conflict and Negotiation is about building agreements and working through conflict inside our groups and within alliances; negotiating relationships with different kinds of political actors who have influence on the issues we care about.

    Coalitions and Alliances often have difficulty managing differences. They sometimes suffer from unrealistic expectations, such as the notion that people who share a common cause will agree on everything. As they evolve, members of coalitions and alliances often realize the importance of not only finding points of agreement, but also agreeing at certain times to disagree.”—Lisa VeneKlasen and Valerie Miller, A New Weave of People, Power & Politics

    Alliances bolster change strategies by bringing together the strength and resources of diverse groups to create a more powerful voice for change. They help people get to the decision-making table. However, alliances can also be complicated and vexing because they can prove difficult to form, and to sustain.

    Understanding and negotiating conflict is an essential piece of JASS’ work, given our core business of building alliances among diverse actors and the risky nature of political organizing in some areas. Externally, the change our actions produce generates backlash, so we must find ways to minimize the conflict that empowerment and mobilizing produce. Internally, given the diversity we seek, conflict among women, within movements and amongst us, as JASS, is inevitable and must be understood and managed. JASS bases its approaches on the principle that disparities in power between parties and people in conflict must be addressed as a catalyst for making positive change.

    We believe that our experience working with a wide range of allies is a goldmine from which to draw great lessons, good practices, and helpful guidance for others interested in forging alliances that will build movements.

    We really need to understand what it means to build trust. To build trust is a long-term process. There are no short cuts. There is no formal model to replicate. There are always deep histories of organizations and feminist movements, and those must be acknowledged.”—Atila Roque

    A significant aspect of JASS’ work is to build and sustain strong, agile political relationships with and among different groups and among women. This laborious and sensitive task demands the majority of our time and often occurs behind-the-scenes. When we do play a visible role, it frequently involves negotiating with key actors, particularly in cases where groups and movements have become embittered through turf battles, or by the overshadowing work of international non-governmental organizations (INGOS).

    To maximize the likelihood of success in an alliance, a clear process and commitment to preventing and handling the misunderstandings that produce divisive conflicts must be formed. When conflicts arise, they should be dealt with in a constructive manner. Countries and cultures deal with conflict and conflict resolution in different ways. What may work for someone in Nicaragua may be completely unacceptable for someone in Thailand. Similar differences within countries exist, and can become quickly apparent when people from distinct cultures are brought together. Collaboration needs to be based on commonly shared concerns and principles, while taking into account members’ strengths, weaknesses and relative power. Some of strategies we employ to deal with conflict within alliances include:

    • Effective communication: it helps resolve disputes and manage differences, and ensures effective negotiation of institutional commitments, interests, and resources.

    • Pacts and common statements of principles: these spell out common principles and responsibilities of, and processes and expectations for, group interactions. They help members develop systems that facilitate problem solving and decision-making to avoid misunderstandings. They also avoid false assumptions about group solidarity.

    Understanding power this way challenges the false dichotomy between ‘evil global power holders’ and ‘virtuous social movements.’ Unequal power relations are present in civil society and social movements as well.”—John Gaventa

    Tools for Alliances, Conflict and Negotiation