“Other Voices makes space for interesting and inspiring speakers to talk on various topics. In the media or other debates we notice the same people again and again. It is no surprise that this little elite consists mostly of white higher middle class men. We want to work differently.”
– Other Voices website

In March 2015 I was invited to speak at Other Voices, a meeting space in Brussels (Belgium) where host Bleri Lleshi invites people to discuss diverse topics.

Other Voices wants to provide space for more voices than just old white men, to this end normally Bleri always invites a man and a woman, at least one with a migration background. This time for feminism he was forced to concede defeat and invite two women to speak 😉

This year’s main theme was visions of the future, and for the topic of the future of feminism, Samira Azabar and I were invited. Samira Azabar is a sociologist and member of the collective BOEH – boss over our own heads – a feminist organisation that became famous for fighting for the right to wear the veil. They sued the public schools  for forbidding the students the right to wear veils – as e.g. some Muslims choose to do. That lawsuit really pisses off all the right people 😉

10981195_794657187297121_5588537960072353003_nFirst off, the audience was amazing. I’ve been giving lectures about feminism for 8-9 years now, and have been subjected to audiences that varied from interested and willing to engage with feminist topics to downright hostile. My two favourite moments were here, with Other Voices, and a feminist training afternoon with the youth division of the Green party (note: I’m not a member of said party). Some of my worst hits were talking about women-only spaces to an audience of members of the communist party, and simply mentioning the word “police” in an anarchist space. I’ll talk about those in later posts 🙂

As a feminist in Belgium you sometimes feel intellectually starved. Many of these debates end up wasting all their time with non-issues as “do feminists hate men”, “not all men do this/that” and so on. Frankly that gets dull after a few times. The same goes for interviews – you’d think the journalists of mainstream papers would catch on after dozens of interviews  with the same boring questions, but they never do. Which means you can never move to actually relevant and interesting topics.

In public debates there’s always this one guy who asks the first “question” and goes on a rant for 15 minutes (“I’d like to address three points. First…”). Not here: I learned a lot from Samira, the other speaker, as well as the audience. One of the men in the audience had a lot of questions but consciously checked whether he wasn’t talking up too much time, that was amazing to see.

The discussion went through various topics like the impact of the colonial past of Belgium on the feminist movement today, the impact of the diminishing of the left in the 1980’s-1990’s and the end of the second feminist wave, how to organise, intersectionality and resistance and hope for the future.

11074435_794657937297046_1474439985076068945_nAfter a first part of the debate there was slam poetry by Anissa Boujdaini. Things I learn: slam poetry is amazing 🙂

During the break I was hungrily wolfing down some quiche – I can never eat before public speaking events as I get too nervous. I happened to glance outside and saw, to my horror, a group of white men dressed up in blackface. In Brussels, every year, there’s a group that “celebrates” the good ol’ days of colonialism, the Noirauds. Belgium hasn’t come anywhere with coming to terms with its colonial past.

After that was a lively discussion with the audience. There were many questions and we stayed until the security guards came to close the building. We talked about consciousness raising spaces, how to deal with people who objectify women, or self-objectify, listening to stories and call-outs, alternative organisations for society as practised in some non-Western cultures and e.g. in history by Native Americans, the role of men in the feminist movement, the large and continuing problem of racism in the feminist movement…

This evening left me happy, with many new thoughts about our future. It was great meeting Samira Azabar and Bleri Lleshi and for me personally, it was also a victory as this was the first debate I joined after a long hiatus due to struggling with depression and anxiety attacks. Yay 🙂

Part of the story of that night can be read in Dutch, in interviews with Samira en Evie: