In the first post in a series on municipalism and the feminisation of politics, Laura Roth lays out a feminist municipalist manifesto. This topic will be explored further by additional authors in the coming weeks.
Municipalism means transforming how power is distributed in our societies. Our strategies question how politics is done, what political institutions do and who runs them. If we want to reclaim politics for common people, we must build new institutions that are open, horizontal and accessible to everyone. To get there, we can learn from past movements that have focused on dismantling privilege. Feminism is not the only example, but it is a great place to start.
We take the feminisation of politics to mean ‘making politics more feminist’, but that does not simply mean seeing more women in traditional positions of power. We recognise that implementing feminist principles in daily organising is incredibly hard, even at the local level. Efficiency, electoral needs, media visibility and urgency are the enemies of prioritising the feminisation of politics, while new municipalist organisations also struggle with entrenched patriarchal practices. Yet building such projects in towns and cities is easier than trying to tackle the monster of pre-existing state institutions (parties, parliaments, bureaucracies) or believing that those institutions will magically embrace feminist purposes.
From this starting point, we propose a series of principles that sees municipalism and feminism as great allies:
Feminists understand power as built collectively through cooperation, not as a resource taken from others through competition. Feminising power means both sharing and creating power, incentivising collaboration and abandoning confrontational discourses – including with opponents.
Feminist leaders do not need to be the strong, infallible decision-makers of traditional politics. They can be coordinators, people who inspire or mobilise others to find solutions together. As Caren Tepp, of Ciudad Futura in Rosario, Argentina says: ‘a leader is not the coach of a football team. She’s more like a captain, who plays alongside the others, who knows them and is there for them. She can make mistakes and be called into account like any other’.
Beyond positions of responsibility – electoral lists, board members, etc. – gender balanced organisations pay attention to how much time men and women take up in meetings, ensuring events are not male-dominated. The starting point is a gender diagnosis of organisations, to identify persistent imbalances.
In a feminist political organisation care work should be made visible, be more evenly shared and considered a collective responsibility. We embrace a holistic view of care that pays attention to people’s caregiving responsibilities, as well as valuing caring relationships, psychological support, burn-out prevention, self-care and the promotion of well-being.
Participation and democracy
For new municipalists, democracy means direct participation in discussion and decision-making and, when it comes to organising, horizontal and open structures. This is only possible if we build decision-making structures that are easy to understand and flexible enough to allow anyone to feel at home within them.
Most spaces of human interaction include some form of violence. Even where physical violence is rare, verbal, environmental, psychological or sexual violence persist. Organisations must reflect collectively on this reality and strive to address it. Non-punitive protocols and participatory processes can be productive.
Intersectionality and diversity
Cross-cutting all the above principles, but requiring separate consideration, feminist practices cannot be based on a gender dichotomy. Different, intersecting forms of privilege and oppression structure our realities. Assigning resources, strategies and responsibilities so that people from marginalised groups are listened to, and able to lead is essential.
These and other feminist practices depend on face-to-face interactions, a disposition to change, trust and shared experiences. New municipalism offers a great opportunity to experiment with these innovations. It is one we must embrace.
If you have any comments or thoughts about the relationship between municipalism and the feminisation of politics, please send them through to:
A feminist municipalist manifesto