This International Women’s Day, we are taking the opportunity to highlight a new book on transnational feminist and antiracist activism from our Decolonizing Feminisms series. In Power Interrupted: Antiracist and Feminist Activism inside the United Nations, Sylvanna M. Falcón redirects the conversation about UN-based feminist activism to consider gender and race together. As the primary international institution that engages the issue of human rights, the United Nations has sponsored three World Conferences Against Racism (WCARs) and has been immersed in the debate around issues of racism for the past 50 years. The most recent, the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, presented race and gender intersectionally in certain contexts, thanks largely to the concurrent NGO Forum Against Racism, which gave activists, advocates, and concerned citizens a space in which thousands could intensely debate and discuss the ongoing global challenges of racial discrimination.
The goal of antiracist feminists, particularly feminists of color from the United States and Canada and feminists from Mexico and Peru, was to expand the discussion of racism at the UN level, especially because the UN had not explicitly addressed the issue of racism on a global level since the 1983 WCAR.
Using a combination of interviews, participant observation, and extensive archival data, Falcón situates contemporary antiracist feminist organizing from the Americas alongside a critical historical reading of the UN and its agenda against racism. Her analysis of UN antiracism spaces, in particular the 2001 WCAR, considers how an intersectionality approach broadened opportunities for feminist organizing at the global level. The Durban conference gave feminist activists a pivotal opportunity to expand the debate about the ongoing challenges of global racism, which had largely privileged men’s experiences with racial injustice. When including the activist engagements and experiential knowledge of these antiracist feminist communities, the political significance of human rights becomes evident.
We spoke with Falcón about her book, publishing this spring.
Q: What inspired you to get into your field?
Sylvanna M. Falcón: Right after college graduation, I had the opportunity to attend the 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. Meeting feminist activists from all over the world was an inspirational and life-changing experience. I then moved to San Francisco and became associated with a youth-based human rights group and started to work at the Family Violence Prevention Fund (now called Futures Without Violence). Taken together—the Beijing conference and my time in San Francisco—I learned in an applied way about human rights as an organizing framework and method, about the challenges and promise of community organizing, and about the importance of public policy. Sociology as a field gave me both the flexibility and the structure I needed to investigate the questions I wanted to ask as part of graduate study. I also have a doctoral emphasis in Feminist Studies and this interdisciplinary field provided me with the methods, models, and tools to think about scholar-activism. Continue reading