By Erin Simpson
It is not easy to bring 100 women from 6 continents for 3 days of meetings in Guatemala. In fact, it’s hard. A staff of 5, a team of 10 interns and volunteers, and 3 organizations, worked for 4 months. Unthinkable hours were spent securing visas, booking flights, negotiating agendas, tracking down panelists, debating concepts, finalizing agendas and then finalizing them again. Starting a week before the conference, our team swelled to over 20 people when you factor in video, photo, facilitation and interpretation.
In the past 2 days, leading up to the conference, close to 10 women have been denied exit from their own countries, transit through others, or entry into this one. Two of the Iranian women weren’t let out of the country; a woman from Uganda was stuck in the Johannesburg airport for 8 hours before being sent home, despite having appropriate visas for entry into Guatemala. Lucie from Burundi, who thankfully made it here, was detained in Madrid, finally allowed to board, and then detained again for 2 hours in the Guatemala airport when she landed. There will no doubt be more today. The working language of the conference is English, but participants speak Spanish, English, French and Farsi- among others- so there is translation in 6 directions.
Despite all these difficulties, there is no question it’s worth it.
We’ll hear from the women from Sudan from the East of Sudan, from Darfur, and from the capital Khartoum who will share their perspectives on the upcoming elections in their country, and discuss their efforts to mobilize women from diverse communities. They will teach us about the quota system for 25% women in politics in Sudan, enacted after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. We will explore how women living under Muslim laws, under a dictatorial government, in the context of violent conflict will engage with a formal electoral process. While the election won’t be the end of the democratization story, it may be an important opportunity to advance the story.
The President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, was recently indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. While the prospects of justice for the people of Sudan and an end to a brutal and non-democratic regime are hopeful, the indictment has created increased pressures on activists in the immediate-term. I am eager to know more about the debates and discussions over the ICC inside Sudan.
We will re-connect with the two women from Burma who have traveled across the world to be with us. They too are confronting an upcoming election this one already marred by a fraudulent referendum and a constitution that prevents women from holding high public office and bars the democratically elected leader of Burma (Aung San Suu Kyi) from running for election. Burma’s democracy movements are models of democracy themselves particularly the Women’s League of Burma, which is a remarkable model for peace and democracy building.
Among the many barriers to democracy in Burma, the imprisonment of more than 2000 political activists is significant. This number has doubled since the September 2007 uprising dubbed the Saffron Revolution, and there is now a significant campaign to Free Burma¹s Political Prisoners Now (sign the petition at www.fbppn.org). What this means is that many of the democratic leaders of Burma are locked up, far from their families, communities, and from the activism to build a new democracy.
We’ll hear from Sudanese, women from Burma, Costan Ricans, Americans, Canadians, Iranians, Burundians, Congolese, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Nicarauguans, Swedes, Irish, Italians, Israelis, Palestinians, Moroccans, Indians, Brazilians, Zimbabweans, Liberians, and the list goes on. If we are successful, we will leave inspired, engaged and connected to each other, to new ideas, and to new strategies