Weaving wisdom and strength together
Lydia Alpízar has lived a trajectory of vibrant youth activism that started in the climate justice movements of Costa Rica and Mexico and continues to this day. Former executive director of AWID and founding advisor for FRIDA, Lydia speaks about the wisdom, strength and courage that we gain from building our movements together.
“What’s in the water here that you’re all so amazing?”
This was the question Lydia asked one of the young Lebanese feminists whose office space in Beirut was being used by the founding advisors for a meeting. The first (official) meeting held about the feasibility of a global young feminist fund – the meeting that would bring FRIDA to life – was one of Lydia’s favourite memories in thinking about the beginnings of FRIDA: the energy, passion and commitment to see this fund emerge was palpable.
“The kinds of relationships that were brought into the room, into that process, for a meeting like that, I think was very special. Friendship amongst feminists and among women are some of the most important resources and some of the most revolutionary kind of relationships in our movements and in our lives. I definitely think that influenced [the energy in the room]. But there were many people there that were meeting for the first time, so I think that there was a sense of trust in the process that is very important for the work that we do. How do we build political trust? Or political confidence – that word might work better – in each other and the process that we’re building.”
“There was also a preparatory process to get there.” AWID was able to support the process through core funding for the first five years of FRIDA, including these initial meetings, the feasibility study, and the hiring of its first coordinator. “We were not just building from scratch, because we were trying to honour the experience for all the people in the room. I guess that helped. But yes, some of us have worked together for a long time. Ana Criquillion and I met each other in the Beijing process in the 1990’s! And Jessica, I had met a few years before, because she was a donor. Amina had been in the Young Women’s Institute at the big meeting of 2006. Cindy and I had worked a lot together. Angelika also I had met, she was at the Global Fund for Women. So yes, there were people in the room from different generations that had met each other, that had done work with each other. I had been on the board for the Central American Women’s Fund a few years before, so I was very familiar with how they worked and really respect their work.” As Lydia mentions in a recent video of her personal journey, “Activism goes back and forth between touching the lives of people whose lives touch you.”
“I have had the privilege of working with some of the most incredible feminists from different generations, different levels, and different experiences. Some of them have passed, and have left a very major mark; some of them I have worked very closely with, and have left a very big mark on my life. Some others I didn’t work as closely with, but they left a big mark on our movements, and therefore I feel part of that history and influenced by them, appreciating them as well…we need to have the perspective that we come from a long history of struggles of peoples, of the planet.”
Lydia’s activism started in her late teens, when she participated in a development education programme for young people taking place in Canada. Coming back to Costa Rica, Lydia worked with a group of young people to start a youth-led climate justice organisation, and got very involved in getting young people to the UN Earth Summit happening in Brazil in 1992. Her climate justice work intersected with women’s rights when she got involved in organising youth participation at the Beijing Conference in 1995. “I began to see how women’s rights issues were central to the environmental justice movement, and to all other major social and economic issues.”
As is so apparent today, Lydia’s work at these conferences, of insisting in the participation of youth and young women, and amplifying young women’s voices, was just the start of what would be a life-long trajectory of impactful movement building and making space at the table for young feminists. “I do think your whole life as an activist influences the way you engage in your work. For example, for the Earth Summit, we as young feminists played such a key role and were making decisions. What was really clear was the contribution that young women were making, and yet it was unfortunate how [those spaces] worked: that even though young women have done so much work, they don’t get recognised or given the space… It was still a space dominated by men.”
When Lydia moved to Mexico in 1996, she co-founded Elige: Red de Jovenes por los Derechos Sexuales and Reproductivos, a feminist youth organization for sexual and reproductive rights. Working with this organisation informed much of Lydia’s understanding of the complexity and transience of youth activism and how that affects access to resources. “When you do work as a young person and as a young woman, it’s very clear that the issue of resources is a challenge. People don’t tend to trust, they don’t think young people are responsible, and they only want to give you money for certain things.” It was this reality that not only sprouted the seeds of conversations about starting a young feminist fund that is self-led, but that also motivated FRIDA’s founders to develop FRIDA from a movement building perspective. It was about “having a different vision of how we understand resource mobilisation for our movements, one that really puts at its core the need to work together so that there are more resources to do this work, because it is crucial work.”
“What I really liked about FRIDA was the understanding that we didn’t talk about young feminist women. We talked about young feminists. From the start, there was a clear understanding that feminists include trans* people, young men and all other gender conforming people, and so there was a much more encompassing perspective of who a young feminist is than the one used when you say, young women. We thought the politics of that were really important, because we wanted FRIDA to contribute to feminist movements where our political agenda will be more important than how we define ourselves.”
Building FRIDA from a movement building perspective meant recognising “that the fund doesn’t stand on its own…but instead is understood as an alive and very key part of the movement: playing the role of mobilising resources and redistributing them to a really key partner of the movement that are young feminists. [FRIDA] is not seen as something technical and apolitical… but is seated as part of the movement.” The intention behind starting a young feminist fund lied in “supporting the capacity of young feminists to work together, really pushing the grantees to understand themselves as part of the movement. Each organisation need not only become stronger and more effective in what it does, but it is for all of us to become that, and to work together and grow in strength.”
“I am convinced,” Lydia states, in her letter of goodbye and gratitude working with AWID, “that in order for us all to succeed, we need each other; and that none of our achievements are really individual ones, but the result of our collective work and power.” It was in this spirit, of knowledge sharing, passion and collective action, that the FRIDA fund was born.
To read Lydia’s full interview on creating the world’s first young feminist fund, click here.