Strategic reflection meeting for women’s organisations working in disadvantaged neighborhoods in cities of France
the 20th and the 21st of June 2015 in Paris
The Charlie Hebdo attacks raised awareness on the necessity to support - the agents of change of the civil society, particularly in what is known as the "abandoned territories of the Republic".
Among all these agents, women are predominant. They fight daily to spread the values of a culture of openness and equality to compensate as much as they can the culture of hatred -- particularly hatred of women -- that the fundamentalists have been instilling in these neighborhoods for the last twenty years.
All this energy this courage and determination are not really recognized : these women are often treated with contempt and more or less with an assumed racism.These confident and committed women are worn out/exhausted because they deal with limited means, in small teams, and in very hostile social environments.
Since the beginning of the grant program in 2009, the Mediterranean Women's Fund has been supporting women's organisations that operate in the poorest districts of the suburbs of Paris. We offered to organize a strategic meeting based on the participative method we have been using successfully in other countries, because we are convinced that their action is essential to change the situation and we are very aware of their isolation.
Thanks to the help of Colam Initiatives, we organized a strategic reflection meeting in order to define the priorities and the needs of women's associations that work in the poor districts of the main towns of France. Twenty participants came from Cergy, Dôle, Hauts de Seine, Gennevilliers, La Courneuve, Le Blanc-Mesnil, Lyon, Marseille (la Castellane), Montreuil, Paris, Saint-Ouen and Saint-Denis.
The program was reduced to the frame of the method we use to debate : the content would be the result of each participant's ideas. The important point was that the meeting took place during one and a half day to enable in-depth talks.
After a short presentation of each organisation, the participants started to debate about the main challenges they faced as organisations and about their analysis of the issues they are confronted to in their daily work. The objective was to define and to agree about the questions that had to be solved as a priority. They thus defined together the socio-political context in which they work, they established the list of the internal and external challenges they have to face.
At the same time, they listed their strengths, their weaknesses and the allies they could rely on. All these factors enabled them to refine the strategies that where emerging at the end of the meeting.
The participants were divided in two groups to fix the main priorities on which they would converge.
Group 1 :
1. Feminism today (what links us together): transmission conferences divergence
2. Creating a network or a platform to exchange resources and knowledge between feminist organisations + to look for financial resources
3. Giving once more a political dimension: creating a workspace to build common political actions
Group 2 :
1. Establishing an informal network (using web technologies) to inform and communicate about the activities of each organisation
2. Publicizing about:
• the precarious situation of the structures
• the depreciation of the actions
• the lack of financing
3. Creating a common culture despite the differences of the organisations
• Redefining the words by creating a feminist popular university
• Starting again with awareness
These priorities were presented to the whole assembly who then identified the most urgent ones f that should lead to collective action.
The participants chose to:
1-- create a feminist culture integrating the differences by organizing groups to share knowledge and tools with the objective to bring together theory and practice
2-‐ call out to the politicians about the precarious situation of women's organisations in a very heavy social climate by evaluating their actions quantitatively and qualitatively and by highlighting the work of the organisations.
The idea of consolidating the informal network of the participating organisations (integrating some others that were absent) was mentioned several times and the organisation of a new meeting with the help of the MedWF appeared as necessary in order to think about the details of a collective organisation around the selected priorities.
The evaluation of the meeting by the participants has been very positive: they were able to gather when a lot of them didn't know each other and take the time to think and discuss with a method enabling calm exchanges despite their differences.
For the MedWF team, it was a very important opportunity to better understand the conditions in which women's organisations work in poor districts in France, their needs and to meet those we knew about but had never got the chance to meet, and to see those whose work we already support.