A feminist municipalist manifesto

Municipalism can learn from feminism how to reclaim politics and redistribute power, argues Laura Roth of the Feminisation of Politics Network

March 22, 2021 · 4 min read
From the report Feminise Politics Now!

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 of this, 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 preexisting 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:

  • Power

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.

  • Leadership

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.’

  • Gender balance

Beyond positions of responsibility, 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.

  • Care

In a feminist political organisation care work should be made visible, more evenly shared, and considered a collective responsibility. We embrace a holistic view of care that pays attention to people’s care-giving responsibilities, as well as valuing caring relationships, psychological support, burnout 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.

  • Non-violence

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

Cutting aross all the above principles is the fact that 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.

The report Feminise Politics Now! is available here. For more on municipalism, visit Minim

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