Ladyfest Romania contribution to the book:
Are you talking to me? Discussion on Knowledge Production, Gender Politics and Feminist Strategies,
eds H.arta/Katharina Morawek
How to intervene?
Practices of her-stories
A conversation between Veronika E., Regina W. and Andreea, Ruxandra from the Ladyfest Collective Bucharest.
“A grrrl from Timisoara—who is involved in the local “underground” scene there—decided to start a Romanian Ladyfest after attending the one held in Amsterdam in 2003. Impressed by the premise of a feminist festival showcasing woman artists and by her whole Ladyfest experience, she felt that it would be a good idea to also try something like that, infused with the riot grrrl spirit, at home. Finally, in late 2004, she started planning the festival together with a girlfriend of hers who is the bass player of a political punk band from Timisoara and a few other grrrls they knew; in time the two of them were able to spread the word and get more help from several Romanian girls and women living in different regions and even outside of the country. Ladyfest Timisoara 2005 was a small scale event, but it was a much needed action that brought together Romanian feminists of various ages and younger ones especially, and everyone involved felt that it should be kept going. Afterwards, the organizing collective decided to stay together to plan more events and ultimately a second Ladyfest in October 2007.” Ruxandra
Ladyfest is one example of (re)claiming feminist/queer spaces through a collective process where different structures enable self educational space. For us Ladyfest is an intervention which re-appropriates and re-claims (public) space to inscribe an anti-discriminatory space to secure a feministic queer space that is able to provide structures through which “counter” knowledge is transmitted and produced. It can and should work as a tool, backed by a big network. There are different Ladyfest events with local priorities which are shaped by the people who plan it.
Most of them have in common that they are self organised gatherings with non hierarchical structures working non-institutionalised and including workshops, bands, talks, performances, debates, films, marches to struggle together against homophobia, sexism, racisms, anti-semitism, capitalism, discrimination…
The first Ladyfest in Romania was in 2005 in Timisoara. The second Ladyfest was organised in 2007 and took place in the capital of Romania. We talked with Ruxandra and Andreea about their experiences organizing Ladyfest Bucharest 2007…
Veronika & Regina: Self organised events demand a lot of work from everyone involved. If knowledge is produced in a DIY (Do it yourself) process, people need to have time to invest work and power without getting paid. What do you think about the relationship of unpaid work and having “full independence” to do political work?
Or to ask the other way around, do political interventions have to be without institutional backing?
Ruxandra: It is hard to summarise one position on this, and the Ladyfest Romania collective has not articulated a common stance or ideology as far as the extent to which it can rely on any form of institutional support for political interventions or projects in general. Our conversations regarding this problem have been about the very specific concern of what associations we would accept and why or why not. One thought is that it is virtually impossible to completely separate “institutional” from fully autonomous areas in everyday life: all of us have only a certain degree of independence and “choices” that we can make freely. “Full independence” probably only exists for the most privileged, but even then it is not a positive kind of “independence” but can be better described as the absence of some obstacles. In a different way, though, certain non-privilege also comes with its own absence of certain obstacles for political work (limitations or set mentalities that stop people from being aware and dedicated to working for change). But the reality that one often sees is that people immersed in activism tend to not even separate “political work” from other aspects of their lives, and so investing “work” and “power” without getting paid is not an issue (that cannot be addressed). Investing work and power without getting paid should ideally be part of what most of us engaged in progressive political work are striving towards, “being the change that we want to see”, to borrow a much-used phrase. No matter what your particular circumstances, the most important factor in this work is the existence of a community that one can be a part of, which provides the needed support system (not restricted to the financial). Perhaps the short answer is that political interventions do not have to be without institutional background because everybody’s life has an institutional background to one degree or another, but what is absolutely needed is the existence of a supportive, healthy community in which most of the political work happens, as well as the ties of this community to others and the way one manages these “arenas”.
Andreea: I don’t believe that there is such a thing as full independence however attempting to find legitimacy and validation by becoming an institution is hardly desirable either. I think it is hard to put and to expect others to put a huge amount of effort and time into an initiative while they are also working full-time jobs and trying to survive, however for all of us involved in political work, this is one of the ways we get the energy to keep going on with the rest of our lives. I would like to find a way to be self-sustainable without being institutionalised and without needing to fall back on a stressful job. I find that the ideal situation. Personally, I feel that it is best to do political interventions without institutional backing because I really feel that this leads to undesired compromises. When one has a 40 hour job in a completely unrelated field it is easier to somehow separate these two lives, but when one tries to find backing from an institution that seemingly has a similar agenda it is much easier to truly understand the differences and intents of an independent initiative and an institution’s initiative. For me it is best to keep the two separated or at least not feel that the existence and survival of an independent initiative is somehow based on the support of an institution because this generally signals the end of autonomous decision making.
V&R: The term Ladyfest starts its career with the first event organised in Olympia (Washington) in 2000. It developed out of a political punk and riot grrrl scene which saw the anti hierarchical organisation as a political act of self-empowerment. Since then a lot of ”Ladyfest Events“ took place in different parts of the world. So Ladyfest also became some kind of a label, which is an important tool to work with. It is also very popular and is sometimes perceived as an underground music event without its political motivation. So Ladyfest is a productive label which also includes an international network to come out of invisibility. Is it maybe a fact that Ladyfest is too often “only” recognised as an event where female musicians give concerts and therefore a loss of political content?
Did you experience or see any disadvantage to work with Ladyfest as a label?
R: We saw a lot of advantages in working under the “Ladyfest banner”: in particular, we became part of the informal Ladyfest network and received a lot of support in different ways from both other Ladyfest organising collectives across Europe and people interested in attending and promoting Ladyfest events. We did run into some problems with being pigeonholed as too non-political or even too mainstream simply because of the Ladyfest name, by some who perhaps knew of a specific Ladyfest elsewhere that hadn’t resonated with them. But as this did not reflect our own reality—in fact, there is not one formula for what Ladyfest should be like and it all depends on the local context in which it is organised—we didn’t worry too much about people’s prejudices and just put together festivals with a basic mission of DIY, grassroots activism on gender issues, building the programme on our interests as individual people within the collective and going beyond the standard “workshops and shows” festival format.
A: My exposure to what Ladyfest could mean or what generally was the content of the festival came mainly from the West (USA, Germany, Netherlands, UK). I have only been to one Ladyfest because generally what I saw in the programme the Ladyfests I would have been able to attend geographically seemed to focus mainly on artistic self expression with very little political motivation. It did not stand apart. This made me decide rather early that I wouldn’t want to be involved in Ladyfest in the West, at least not those which would have been accessible for me to be involved in. I find the situation in Romania entirely different however. Discussions, basic ones, which take place in everyday households and much more general settings in other countries, are missing entirely. Not only are there no discussions on a radical level, but even the most basic ones are absent. I thought Ladyfest in Romania could be something entirely new (because most of the Romanian audience has not heard of Ladyfest and therefore does not have any connotations attached to the name or label) which we could shape ourselves, while remaining open to a wider range of people. On the other hand being part of the Ladyfest network was positive for us in that it allowed us to receive a lot of solidarity and support from all types of Ladyfest groups on one level as well as getting in touch with some of the more politically engaged Ladyfest groups. So I really feel that in our case we tried to take and make the best of both worlds. For the future however we will have to re-evaluate how it is exactly that we want to continue. We want to pursue to best make an impact in the Romanian context.
V&R: Could you describe the “general approach” to feminism in Romanian society?
Still feminism is sometimes perceived and categorised as a Western concept, hardly perceived as a visible movement in (post-)Socialist Societies. Could you say something concerning this notion?
A: First of all there is no actual ‘feminist tradition’ in Romania. Before ’89 freedoms of expression was inexistent and while women were encouraged/forced to pursue higher education or trade schools in order to be active members of the working force the reproduction policies were incredibly barbaric. In 1972 a law was passed according to which the only women who could have access to legal abortion or contraceptives had to be over 45 and with a minimum of 5 children. This combination of ‘equality in the workforce but not in the home’ basically lead to a very schizophrenic situation, where post-89 Romania has one of the highest abortion rates.
R: The feminist movement that took place in Romania was anchored in liberalism and based on concerns of upper class women, much like the “1st wave” of the West, and even that is not well-known to most people because it didn’t register very much on the mainstream political radar. There have been some prominent women throughout Romanian history—revolutionaries, organisers, political dissidents, intellectuals—some of whom had feminist views (as well as some men), but as far as an organised discourse on gender issues and large scale movement, the only tradition that Romania knows is the state “feminism” of the five decades of the “Socialist Republic of Romania”. Actually, the idea that feminism is an especially Western concept, is quite wrong: not only have there been feminist sentiments expressed by women/people everywhere throughout history (if not a concerted feminist movement), but the discourse used by the state in Eastern Europe as early as the middle of the 20th century was quite radically feminist: we were supposed to have equality of opportunity for all people regardless of gender, with official measures to back this up in work places and other public arenas. Unfortunately, the reality covered up by the official propaganda in Romania and other East European “communist” nations was that society and culture remained as patriarchal and gender oppressive as ever. The problem was not so much the lack of concepts (although one can point to Marxist analysis and criticise its almost complete disregard for gender as a “class” distinction), but in the reality that the state controlled all human activities. Thus, in spite of the ideas about women’s equality and autonomy that were widely vehiculated and promoted, in Romania women’s bodies were actually very much under state control (abortion was considered a grave crime), just as homosexuality was condemned and punished. So one could say that in Romania, and other non-Western countries, what is actually missing is the tradition of a true (grassroots) feminist movement (which would first necessitate a real recognition of human rights as an important prerequisite for society at large).
V&R: The term ”Queer” offers the opportunity not only to fight against a man/woman dualism but to discuss discrimination in a broader sense including relations of racism, sexism, and capitalism. ”Queer” can be used to weaken a strict gender dualism for a diversity of gender-identities. In German speaking countries the term became popular within an academic discussion based on “Queer theory”. This could also be criticised because this term may exclude people who are not familiar with that discourse. When we look back at Ladyfest Vienna the word ”Queer“ seems to be of importance in order to describe identity politics. Do you think it is useful to use the term ”Queer“ within the context of fights and problems in Romania?
R: If the feminist/anti-sexist movement is still quite undeveloped and weak in Romania, queer activism is close to non-existent. “Queer” is not a term known or used much in Romania even in more radical communities, and there isn’t an equivalent Romanian term. It would in fact be very useful to be able to use the term “queer”—or an equivalent—more, in order to add to mainstream “feminist” analysis of patriarchal dualisms, gender relations, sexual identities… In the mission of the Ladyfest collective we did include some basic queer theory concepts, and Ladyfest is largely based on riot grrrl and queer culture. The festival in 2007 was an example of a queer-friendly space, both during workshops and discussions where we explored the various intersections between gender/LGBTQ and other issues in some depth, and for the shows and party portion of the programme. While it may be true that using a term that’s not yet anywhere near the mainstream can exclude people, this should not stop us from introducing new concepts and discussing the issues (in the right contexts). That’s part of the work that needs to be done. There is always a problem with language, with the articulation of new ideas and bringing new terms into use, to reflect new mentalities. During the “Take Back the Night March” in Bucharest last year, one of our more prosaic problems was the fact that we couldn’t come up with feminist, queer-friendly, anti-gender violence chants that sounded “natural” in Romanian—those we could think of (even the obvious, simple ones like “no means no”) sounded “foreign” or contrived or wrong… For feminism and feminist discourse, this is one of the main obstacles to be removed: how does one articulate anti-sexist critiques of the status quo when we are steeped in a patriarchal, sexist culture which even the language we use serves to further, rather than oppose? How does one go beyond the restriction of a very dualistic language reflecting the engrained dualistic thought patterns? It’s an even more pronounced issue when it comes to queer theory. To illustrate further, another concrete problem we had to deal with for “Take Back the Night” was that the city officials were worried by our “women-only march” and the fact that we applied for an authorisation through ACCEPT (a prominent LGBTQ group in Romania); they wanted to find out from us exactly what kinds of people to expect for this protest—were we doing a “gay march”, were there going to be transvestites and would the police have to protect us from anti-gay violence? Could we promise that there would be no gay men marching with us? It was impossible to explain why their questions were both unnecessary and inappropriate: in these talks with the authorities, we had to use only a language that they understood and to compromise in order to get an authorisation for our march at all. There is so much work to be done around these issues!
V&R: There are about half a million Romani people living in Romania: It is said that Romani people live a more “traditional life”, in the sense that the youth is more connected to their family. How does this perception reflects a different context from which Romani women have to start off to fight for equality in the Romanian society? We read that this agenda was part of your programme could you tell more about that?
R: It is true that some Romas live a more “traditional life” which can sometimes mean an even more patriarchal set of rules than it is the case for majority culture. But this is not entirely restricted to Romas: the same holds true for people from certain rural communities, for example. And some of the Roma traditions that are particularly patriarchal are a historical result of institutionalised racism, such as the early marriages—which during slavery times provided young Roma girls with some protection from sexual exploitation at the hands of non-Roma men, often their masters. Today, many Romas in Romania do not live in traditional communities and their actual number is closer to 2 million. However, anti-Roma racism (like misogyny) is a staple of Romanian culture across other societal divisions. The major problems affecting a great number of Roma women are racism and poverty, besides sexism both within and outside of their communities. At Ladyfest, we provided a space for Roma feminists to bring their own points of view and analysis, and we discussed these issues by looking at intersectionalities—in terms of what fighting the different levels of oppression might mean for each of us. In the anti-racist strategies workshop, the discussion went in several directions: from the history of feminist movement throughout the world, to the difficulties with discussing issues considered “tabu” in traditional and/or rural communitites to homophobia among Romas and the different ways that patriarchal standards are enforced in general.
V&R: How did the experience from Timisoara 05 influence the organisation of the Ladyfest in Bucharest in 2007?
R: We learned several concrete dos and don’ts from Timisoara, but the most important issue we wanted to address after the experience in 2005 was finding a better balance between the “artistic” and the “political” aspects of the event, in order to cater to everyone interested in feminist theory and activism as well as those attending the shows. We felt that we had to both promote the non-entertainment part of the festival more and choose more explicitly feminist artists to perform. In Timisoara, one problem we encountered that we couldn’t address “on the spot” was that we had large crowds present for the shows but those were dominated by guys, and the dynamic of the shows was oftentimes not very feminist; afterwards, we talked about the fact that for the next festival we needed to plan these things better (i.e. more consciously) and that in general it was essential to anticipate such problems when organizing a ladyfest. In terms of organising details, the experience in Timisoara ended up being quite different from the way we went about planning the event in Bucharest, but the experience of the festival itself was a basis for our interactions over the next two years up until the second Ladyfest: our group continued to work entirely non-hierarchically, based on a very loose structure where people focused on particular tasks and we did a lot of information and skill sharing at all times. We also got comfortable with organising in a women-only context, but with outside contributions from male allies.
A: We tried to take as much as possible from the experience of organising Ladyfest in 2005. We also organised some other smaller events in between the two Ladyfests and we always tried to stay self-aware and reflexive about our process, but situations and circumstances changed quite a lot.
The group which organised LF-Timisoara was much smaller and a lot of responsibility and organising fell to a few people. This did mean that at times it was easier and quicker to communicate and it was quite obvious who had to do what. For the edition in Bucharest the group was a lot bigger. We tried to begin planning and organising quite a lot in advance, but in practice we weren’t completely successful.
In terms of the actual festival we also chose to focus our energies differently. The first one was far more about the concerts and exhibits while for the latest edition most of our energy went to the organising of the first Take Back the Night March to take place in Romania and the workshop aspect of the festival.
V&R: There was a “Take Back the Night March” which is a strategy for raising awareness of violence against women and to reclaim the night. Can you tell us about that march in Bucharest
R: We organised a Take Back the Night event because we think that the issues of misogyny that run so deep in Romanian society need to be brought out “into the streets” so to speak, and that violence against women is one of the most blatant examples of this misogyny that urgently needs solutions—both in terms of it happening and in terms of the way it is talked about (or not talked about) by survivors and by society at large. As a group, we are very interested in combating misogyny in visible ways, through direct anti-sexist actions and protests. Take Back the Night is an international event with its own history, tied to the anti-violence feminist movement that also gave rise to rape crisis services. In Romania, in spite of the fact that there are many organisations working against domestic and sexual violence, the movement is highly institutionalised and highly ineffective, while grassroots organizing and especially direct action have been missing entirely; the resources are spread very thin, the mostly unquestioned patriarchal context in Romania makes it an uphill battle for everyone, and the few NGOs that do try to stay grassroots are not the most visible—and as they oftentimes provide some of the most essential crisis services, their energy for engaging in work towards more radical change is quite limited. We finally organised a Take Back the Night in order to bring some direct action tactics into this anti-violence work. However, our first attempt during Ladyfest Bucharest was not particularly successful as “direct action,” since from the start we had problems with the city officials (who on one hand were clearly afraid of a feminist/queer march and on the other never took us seriously); as a result of the negotiations for obtaining an official authorisation from the city, much of the meaning of Take Back the Night was lost from the actual event: we had our entire route changed and shortened drastically, and we ended up having to march surrounded by police officers. There were other problems on the organisation side, in that we weren’t able to get a very good turn out for the march, even in a big city like Bucharest, as well as the fact that this type of protest was something so new to those involved as well as the public, that most people didn’t even know how to react. The small amount of mainstream press coverage that Take Back the Night received was pretty incoherent, and had—not surprisingly—strong misogynist, anti-feminist and anti-LGBT overtones. To a certain extent we were successful, though: the rally before the march was a nice get-together with great speeches from members of the Ladyfest Romania collective, Ladyfest organisers from Vienna, male allies, a Roma feminist organiser; and the fact that we marched anyway, in spite of all the obstacles, could be called successful in itself.
V&R: The main approach to Ladyfest Vienna was to see it as an intervention:
A collective of women/ lesbians/ transgenders that re-appropriates and re-claims ( public) space to inscribe an anti-discriminatory space that includes a responsibility for everybody to react if there were assaults taking place, verbal or physical.
In order to “secure” a feminist-queer space we also decided to exclude people (genders) from certain events: for example there were no biological men allowed on the sex party that took place. Did you decide to make any exclusions and if yes: In which context and why?
R: We are a “women-only” group, so we made an “exclusion” from the get-go; our reasons for it have always been to ensure that we can work in a safe space, without the added burden of dealing with and catering to the usual gendered dynamics of organising (present, of course, even in non-mainstream, progressive, even radical and nominally anti-sexist environments). Regardless, though we have had several male supporters who were willing to help out with planning events for and around Ladyfest, in practice we never had to “exclude” anyone from the group because all those interested in joining the collective were girls and women. In Romania, feminist/anti-sexist activism is not yet widely spread or visible, not many people are willing to declare themselves feminist and especially to get actively involved with anti-sexist issues, and there are very few mixed groups and no male-focused groups dedicated to anti-sexist work (as well as no other women-only group besides us). Our “women-only” status has been both a political choice and a consequence of circumstance. Also—for us “women-only” means trans-inclusive, but no one who identifies as “transgender” has joined the group so far. For our events, the sole women-only spaces we declared were in 2007: a feminist self-defence workshop and the march part of “Take Back the Night”. The march was women-only because its whole premise was to allow us to “reclaim the night” as women, without help or protection from men, and the self-defence workshop fit along the same lines.
A: For the 2 Ladyfests we have organised we made no exclusions except for one women’s self-defence workshop which was a women-only space. Beyond this we did not make any decision to have a women-only space. I am not sure if this was a conscious decision we made or if this was simply the result of the way we organised the festival.
V&R: What kind of visual politics did you follow to communicate with the public and what role did the art context play to potentially provide and develop a resistive and emancipatory visual representation of the Ladyfest/ladyzzz?
A: As of now we do not have a stable ‘visual identity’. We tried to be very open about the visuals we produced (flyers, posters, logos, banners, zines) and left them open to wider involvement which is also a reflection of our politics and the organisation within our group. This hasn’t always been an easy and quick process, as we try to collaborate and reach consensus with all the work we do.
R: We did not develop any coherent visual politics, but we did discuss at some length issues of traditional gendered representations not only in the mainstream but also within “alternative” art, media, etc. In the past, with our logos and other visuals used to convey a “ladyfest identity”, we tried to focus on both rejecting and reclaiming misogynistic and otherwise discriminatory or gender-rigid representations, generally based on the idea of subversion of (and play with) what is usually deemed acceptable, with the expected and the stereotypical. We thought of this as a form of activism and a good way of interacting with the public and relaying our message in a way which is sometimes even more efficient than written text.
V&R: In the mission statement of Ladyfest Romania (Bucharest) 2007 it says that the group is at least non-profit, non-institutional and non-hierarchical. In order to gain independence it is important to work without the influence of institutions but on the other hand organising such an event sometimes seems hard without any subsidies. What do you think about chances and difficulties staying non-institutional? Do you work with other resources and or other supportive organisations?
A: In terms of our goals we will be able to stay non-institutional. Personally I feel that this is the best way forward, simply because it allows us the freedom to choose who to collaborate with, when, and on what terms as well as to pull out of certain associations. We are not against collaboration of course even with institutions if we feel that we can achieve a high level of transparency and non-hierarchical organisation together. We work with other resources on the level that we applied for funding whenever we organised any events. Mainly we applied for small fundings from NGOs whose grant systems are geared towards groups similar to ours or received solidarity donations from groups from the West who have access to more funds than we do.
R: For us with these two Ladyfest festivals, staying non-institutional was the only thing that made sense. We were not a hierarchical organisation in any way and we did not need an institutional backing for our purpose of putting on a DIY festival of shows and workshops. Of course, we did need funds to make the festivals happen—and we were able to get enough money from putting on benefit events and by applying for grants from foundations dedicated to helping out grassroots groups like ours, as well as through our contacts with the Ladyfest Europe network and the help we got from other Ladyfest groups in different countries (Germany, Austria, Italy…). In different contexts it may be quite hard for a group to stay non-institutional, but one of the good things about an event like Ladyfest is that it can be done with minimal resources. As a matter of principle, most of us in the group are willing to collaborate (and have collaborated) with others who have institutional ties, if the need should arise for some concrete goal; as a group, also, we always said that we wanted to do as much networking as possible, and that would include groups with institutional ties that address similar issues. But the Ladyfest planning in itself, and all the other events and projects we worked on during the more than two years of the group’s activity we needed no direct institutional support—in fact, we would have been hampered by any institutional ties because the nature of our group and its direction would have changed as soon as we catered to any interests or priorities that were not those from our mission.
V&R: Can you tell us something about your decision-making-process within the Ladyfest group?
Was it an open group, in the sense that people could join during the whole process?
Were power relations within the group discussed?
R: Our decision making process is based on explicit consensus—we work 100% non-hierarchically. In theory it is a very open group, but we noticed a lot of reluctance from people to step in and get involved in the process. This could be due to a variety of reasons: unwillingness to take on too much work from the start, lack of familiarity with organising (especially non-hierarchically where personal initiative and follow-through are essential), lack of dedication to the project, or intimidation (by the amount of work to be done, or the skills and knowledge necessary, or people). We discussed power relations several times, but the problem in our collective never seemed to be as much a differential of power among members but rather in the dynamics of the interactions and the transparency of some of the information sharing, which leads to “intimidation” through other means than just the obvious. We have had a serious problem in that our organising is done almost exclusively online, and so the official “group interaction” is quite removed from the real-life personal interaction among people. Therefore, misunderstandings or strange dynamics can appear while negotiating the two different spaces in which members of the collective interact with each another. In the collective, it seems to be very hard for people to feel motivated and to take on projects. In spite of this, though, our group has always put a lot of stress on skill sharing, on having several people working together on any given task and delegating work. The process has often been very difficult, but whenever we have worked with a fixed goal in mind, we were able to reach it and never had to compromise consensus or exclude anyone.
V&R: Who felt addressed by the event? How were the reactions or interventions from the audience at the Ladyfest in Bucharest?
R: Of course, the two Ladyfests we organised especially targeted people interested in anti-sexism, but they were in no way restricted to those actively involved with feminism—we expected to have participants from the underground/alternative scenes, from other grassroots groups involved in different human rights and social justice issues, from women’s organisations in general, the media, artist circles. This was in fact the case for both the festivals in Timisoara and Bucharest, but with the 2007 event we focused more consciously on building a feminist/queer community within the Ladyfest, to offer more space for discussion and activism around various sub-issues that those who participated were interested in exploring in detail. At Ladyfest Timisoara, a lot of energy had gone into organizing the concert portion of the event, and a lot of the audience concentrated on that, while the workshops were attended by far fewer people; during the shows, some people enjoyed themselves while others felt excluded or uncomfortable because the atmosphere tended towards the usual one at shows, with the male members of the audience doing a lot of macho posturing and bands not intervening. On the other hand, we knew from Timisoara that the workshops and all the informal discussions and activities that happened during Ladyfest were much appreciated by those comparatively fewer people who took part. Therefore, at Ladyfest Bucharest the shows did not weigh as much on the programme and instead we focused on the workshops; the reactions were overwhelmingly positive: while there were some people who only got a chance to listen to the few performers and didn’t feel the full impact of the event, the rest—who attended the activities planned during the day—participated enthusiastically in the wide range of topics that were explored and all the discussions, workshops, film screenings, and actions. In both Timisoara and Bucharest there were some small-scale interventions during the shows, from people trying to address problems with gendered audience behaviour. But more importantly, the involvement of participants (besides the organisers) during workshops and subsequent discussions, or the Take Back the Night rally and march in Bucharest, or other parts of the programme, meant that some true feminist activism happened at Ladyfest; this, according to many of those who attended, was probably the most successful aspect of the event.
V&R: If we talk about gender mainstreaming most people think about a quota regulation first.
But of course there are many playgrounds to battle for a more equal society and to implement gender equality as well in political, economical and societal spheres.
As this approach indicates action from the governmental side: What would be an important step right now to answer to (gender) discrimination (e.g. to upgrade working conditions of women) in Romania?
A: I tend to believe that the gender discrimination really begins at a very early age based on the way children in Romanian society (and elsewhere in fact, as I do not want to pretend that the situation is utopian elsewhere) are conditioned. I would say an important step would be some open discussions about the way women and men are viewed in Romanian society, what is expected of each gender and what is considered ‘normal’. I feel that without some sort of dialogue very few changes can actually take place and even if legislation is passed it often ends up being the equivalent of ‘putting a band-aid on an open wound’. I find it impossible to pick just one focus, or just one step.
R: Some of the issues that women in Romania face today in the workforce are the same as—or similar to—everywhere: less pay for the same work, limited employment opportunities, discrimination in the workplace including sexual harassment, glass ceilings, the prospect of smaller pensions, disproportional domestic burdens, racism, ableism, etc. There are some local specificities (perhaps fewer jobs are traditionally men-only domains than in other part of the world—and yet there is a post-communist backlash against this otherwise positive status quo), but overall Romania is working on addressing inequalities of opportunity through laws and measures to help women overcome official discrimination. The most necessary step for the authorities to take is to make sure that such measures are followed through and implemented—as in the case of domestic violence legislation, which now exists but is very poorly applied. Funds need to be prioritised and institutions have to be made to work much more efficiently to provide basic services and resources to people. Gender mainstreaming in Romania is not so much a matter of changing official discourses or getting institutions to agree to a “feminist” agenda, as really putting these into practice, fighting the misguided aspects of the general backlash against a “state feminism” and, most importantly, working to really change engrained mentalities about women’s value and respect for women’s rights.
V&R: The Ladyfest develops structures of self-organised education, e.g. in providing workshops and discussions. Do you see the “Ladyfest concept” as an option that transports an emancipatory potential of knowledge production to reflect his-story in order to tell her-story?
R: Yes, that would probably be the most potentially useful aspect of Ladyfest in general and its most significant role in the context of Romanian feminist movement. And the creation of “her-story” in the Romanian context has been exactly what we worked hardest on and dedicated ourselves to with the projects of our collective, even if not necessarily consciously.
A: I don’t see a unified ‘Ladyfest concept‘. What I know is that we decided to make self-education and discussion part of our Ladyfests.
V&R: Were there any Romanian feminist groups or events in the past you could refer to?
R: Not really, as though there have been other feminist initiatives and events in Romania in the past, before the first Ladyfest in Timisoara there was nothing done in a DIY, riot grrrl and/or strictly grassroots spirit, that we could draw upon in organizing our event. However, in 2005 we did use videos from the gender section of the library of the “Peace Institute” in Cluj, for both festivals we used materials from Romanian NGOs that focus on women’s rights for workshops and as education tools, we have built our own resource archive which includes some feminist Romanian zines/journals/books and other publications, and we have collaborated with women’s groups and individual Romanian feminists from different spheres. For the 2007 Ladyfest, in particular, we worked with the women from the H.arta group and were incorporated in their “Project Space”, which was partly about feminism.