Berlin Conference Celebrates a Brand New Feminist Wave
Berlin's December 2022 Women's Rights Conference was simply exhilarating to witness.
As with many feminist events nowadays, the 2022 Women’s Rights Conference in Berlin was held at a privately-booked location. I didn’t know beforehand who else was invited, except for the other members of the local collective. It was all extremely confidential. For obvious reasons, I can't give too many details, but in the end, one thing is clear: feminists in Germany are steadily building a brand new movement.
On a cloudy Friday afternoon in early December, I trudged along a stretch of damp sidewalk. Dusk was settling, and everything was cold. Suddenly, a taxi pulled up ahead. Bright red brake lights glowed in the evening mist. A pair of white-haired women left the cab with their bags and walked into a nearby driveway. It was then that I knew this was the place.
We said our hellos in the main hall where the air was warm and dry. Then a friend at the front desk greeted us in two languages; she’d volunteered to translate from German to English for the entire weekend. She gave us name tags, room keys, and instructions on when and where to meet later for dinner. Organizers busily shuffled supplies to different rooms and hung colorful posters on the wall in preparation of the next days’ workshops. Soon the hall was filled with surprised and joyous reunions. Not much later, the final women arrived, and we all enjoyed our first hot meal together.
That night, the organizing team officially welcomed us all to the conference. We were 60 women, aged 23 to 85, and mostly German-speaking. I was huddled around a translator with two Turkish feminists, one Swedish feminist, and the English feminist Julia Long. Women from Germany's Feminist Party (Die Feministische Partei) were present, along with a member of the German Green Party (Die Grünen), plus many founding members of the first Lesbian Action Center (Lesbisches Aktion Zentrum) in West Berlin. A few of the Flying Lesbians were there, too!
Here were the women who had built women-only bars and bookshops in Germany in the time of the second wave. They’d translated whole libraries of feminist texts from English and French. Some of them even smuggled those texts and their own magazines into East Berlin when the wall still stood. Here, too, were the young women who survived medical transition, who defied modern misogyny and chose to come home to themselves.
"Here were the women who had built women-only bars and bookshops in Germany in the time of the second wave."
In their welcoming speeches, four organizers gave their thanks to the fifth – or rather, the first: Monne Kühn. Over months of meetings and late-night phone calls, it was Monne's driving force keeping the team focused and alert. “Look, I'm going to do this,” she'd said bluntly in June, “and if you want to help, you can.” One look around the room, and it was clear their hard work was worth the fuss. Monne then invited women in the audience to stand when she named their organizations, to rounds of applause.
Then the oldest woman was invited to speak. She was born before World War II. As a child, she survived the Nazi regime. Through the Cold War, she witnessed Germany’s occupation and division. She watched the wall go up in Berlin, and three decades later, she saw it come down. With a calm fury, she told the crowd that she never expected - in her long lifetime - to see the insidious misogyny we are seeing today. And she's seen some things. She rejected the dehumanization of women as mere “uterus bearers,” joking that “menstruator” doesn’t even apply to her anymore. Finally, she urged women to take action against Germany's planned self-ID law, which threatens the autonomy of all women and girls across the country.
The next day began with Julia Long illustrating the importance of language in this fight. She challenged us to recognize the tricks that wordplay pulls on our perceptions. Namely, calling a wristwatch a “trans-table” doesn’t mean you can then serve dinner on it. After her presentation, we formed groups to discuss the effects of language on our sex-based rights. We later reconvened and shared the observations and concepts developed by each group. This plenary was followed by a delicious lunch, and then speeches from international speakers.
Feminists from Sweden, Scotland, France, the UK, and Germany took the floor. They shared the latest news about self-ID from their respective countries, governments, and feminist movements. We then brought their ideas into new discussion groups focused on building German-specific strategies. What actions can we take in public? How can we affect legislation? Where should we exercise our free speech rights? One group encouraged monthly demonstrations and public discussions. Another group suggested taking action with joy, for this creates feminist magnetism.
After such a jam-packed Saturday, we embraced the evening with champagne and lively conversation. One of the organizers welcomed us into a dimly lit room for a performance of spoken word poetry. Then our very own DJane helped us find our groove with a late night disco. Before going to bed, I visited the film crew, who’d asked for volunteers to give their impressions of the gathering so far. I met Julia Long in the hallway, and we started chatting about incredible and inspirational women we’d met at different events over the years. We agreed that this German feminist conference, with all its action-oriented workshops and discussions between like-minded women, was simply exhilarating to witness.
Sunday began with lots and lots of coffee. With my second cup, I began to wonder: just how many women did the organizers and attendees inspire over the years? With their lifetimes of feminist work, how many women’s lives did they touch? How many more women will benefit because of this very conference?
After breakfast, the final groups presented their strategic ideas and announced that several women had already taken responsibility for initiating specific projects and actions. Then everyone in attendance agreed to unanimously sign a resolution in support of the FrauenAktionsBündnis Appel, a call to action by over 25 women’s groups across the country to oppose the erasure of sex in policy and legislation.
I hope this record of a lovely feminist weekend inspires other women elsewhere to join together. Let each of our gatherings serve as markers on the road to liberation. When we look back, we can see just how long and far we’ve traveled. But sometimes along this road, we happen to be traveling in excellent company. As we march on, let this testament stand: our collective power, when channeled together, can ignite great flames of resistance.
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