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Tea with Mama Cash transcript: Imagining feminist futures

[Theme Music]


Zohra: Hello and welcome to the first 2020 episode of Tea with Mama Cash, because feminist activism works. In the spirit of starting a new year and a new decade, we wanted to dedicate this episode to talking about the future. Specifically, feminist utopias, dystopias, and how the act of imagining can be a tool for social justice. I’m Zohra, the Executive Director at Mama Cash, and today I am dressed for the future. I am wearing sparkly tights and, I can’t even describe, kind of goggles that are from Blade Runner because that’s my picture of the future. For this episode I’m thrilled to be joined by two special guests, who I know have a lot say on this topic. Hakima Abbas and Geeta Misra. Hakima, can you introduce yourself a little bit?


Hakima: Hi, I am Hakima Abbas, I am the co-Executive Director of AWID, which is a global feminist membership and movement support organization. Something about me, I only very recently discovered persimmons and they’re my favorite fruit now. I eat them as often as I can get my hands on.
Zohra: Welcome! Geeta?


Geeta: Hi, I’m Geeta Misra and I’m the Executive Director of CREA, a feminist organization based in Delhi, and something about myself: I love trekking and have climbed Kilimanjaro twice.

Zohra: What?! That is another episode in itself right there. Before we start unpacking what utopia means and what a feminist future looks like, I wanted to ask; what are your favorite works of science fiction or speculative fiction and why.


Hakima: So my favorite, Zohra, is Octavia Butler, of course, in all of her writings. But I think one of my favorite, if I have to pick a favorite of her novels, would be Wild Seed. I don’t know if that’s because it was my first Octavia, and you kind of never forget your first Octavia, or was it just the contents of the book. But I find her work amazing. But I think second place maybe might be The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, just because as an anarchist it was really great to spend time on that planet Anarres, which is like an anarchist planet. So, it was a great book in that way.

Zohra: Geeta? What comes to your mind when you think of writings, speculative writing, or anything like that.

Geeta: So, for me, one of my favorite authors who has a large body of writing is someone close to home in India. Her name is Arundhati Roy, and I like her writing because she presents literature as providing a shelter and a place where for us, when things get broken we can rebuild through writing. And she provides, you know, her book transcends all kinds of imagination and I think some of my favorite quotes which have remained with me ever since I read them, she actually talks about another world being possible. She says, ‘another world is not only possible, she’s on her way, on a quiet day, I can hear her breathing’. I haven’t written down the words, I actually remember these, and realizing the importance of literature, writing, words, written, yeah.


Hakima: Maybe to add, one of the things that I think Arundhati and Octavia do together, is really center characters of oppressed people. I think that’s also what makes some of their writing quite important.

Zohra: That makes me think about one of my favorite anthologies actually, which is called Octavia’s Brood, and it sources  its inspiration from Octavia Butler. But it’s a collection, it’s an anthology written by social justice activists, who went through a process together of understanding, speculative fiction, and science fiction writing. And how the work of activists in social justice is an act of science fiction. You’re trying to imagine a different future and you’re trying to craft a different world or different worlds. And then these activists went through some writing workshops and built this anthology together. I really found that moving, the whole way they came together to do this and how it was, people who otherwise hadn’t particularly thought of themselves as being related to science fiction at all. This was sort of not a part of their toolbox in terms of their activism. And then they came out with Octavia’s Brood, that was inspired by Octavia Butler who already was also one of my favorite speculative fiction authors. So, if either of you haven’t read that I recommend it to you and to our listeners if you are interested.

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Zohra: Utopia comes from the Greek ou-topos, meaning ‘no place’ or ‘nowhere’ and is very similar to eu-topos. And probably I said those the same because I don’t speak Greek, so apologies for that. But eu-topos means a ‘good place’. So if eu-topios per definition don’t exist, they’re too good to be true, why do feminist bother with imagining utopias. How, if at all, can they serve us, do you think?

Hakima: So, as you said, Zohra, a utopia is very much about this imagined society that’s nearly perfect. But, as we know, perfect is really subjective so I think as activists, and as you mentioned Octavia’s Brood, we can really focus on emancipatory, free futures, so utopic in the sense of really free and just. That’s what feels important in terms of our own visions of a world that could be free with equity, liberation. Where those things are achieved. And I think that’s really important because as we resist kind of oppressions in the present, patriarchy and others, we have to know and be able to also build towards the world that we want to create. We have to be able to do both in some ways at the same time. And so, these visions, by saying them and studying them and debating them has helped us kind both build the belief in those visions of a feminist future but also begin to build them in the present. And reveal to us where they exist in some form in the present. And at AWID one of the things that we’ve been talking about is those elements of feminist futures that exist in the now. In the emancipatory practices and systems that we’ve created as feminists, we’re calling those feminist realities. So it’s almost like moving from utopia no place to like an omnitopia, all places, everywhere. And the feminist reality that exists even if they’re imperfect, they provide us that sense of possibility for our continued struggle.


Zohra: Geeta, what do you think?

Geeta: You know, it’s an interesting question because I think as people we all love dreaming when the dreams are utopic or positive or affirmative. And I think sometimes to be accused of ‘utopian thinking’  can be seen as an insult, especially in our times where we pride ourselves in being grounded and realistic and sober. Is this a moment where we can be utopic? But if we sit with history  for a moment, and we see that changes in society or the way people think or who we include seldom begins with actual concrete development. We begin with acts of  imagination or sharpened senses, trying to build something new. A new way of organizing, communicating, representing, thinking. And to me, some of these details are in dreaming, and I’ve been connecting this back to your science fiction piece. That’s what it is, it’s part of thinking  and recognizing other ways of living which are equally valid, equally worthy of respect, equally troubling, equally beautiful, equally human. And I think that there’s a desire for this kind of thinking that allows us to make possible to do things differently, to do better, to be more aware.


And so, dreaming is also about thinking about a future where we want to re-envision it (?). We don’t like what it is now, we want to eliminate some harm, we want to think about different colours. How we collectively can think about something beautiful about our struggles. And I think it points to how many of us adapt to struggles also in a more utopian way. If you look at specific examples of a lot of our work, around issues of disability, of the dreaming about this in feminist science fiction, the way bodies get represented differently, what is normalized. These are all part of dreaming, dreams, about different ways of being, living and existing in the world.

Zohra: I really like the idea of dreaming, it being about dreaming and also Hakima your point about it, so Geeta’s point about dreaming, and Hakima your point about it, kind of bringing it everywhere. So from nowhere to everywhere. And, I’ve been thinking a lot about the climate crisis lately, as many of us are, and what I believe is going to be necessary is really dreaming and creating different alternatives and imagining something different than what we do right now. And I’m wondering how are you finding, how is imagining and dreaming contributing to what you actually are trying to pursue as well in the work that you’re carrying.


Hakima: I would say that dreaming is a hugely important part of social justice work, and as Geeta said, it’s not just dreaming for the sake of it. It’s really about dreaming to find a solution. Because anything that seems impossible is just impossible because we haven’t yet done it. And I think that carries in a lot of the traditions and struggles that I’ve been, I don’t know, am ascended to. But those really carry, so for example in Africa there’s a revolutionary leader from Burkina Faso called Thomas Sankara who said that it took the madmen of yesterday to really create the change that they wanted to create.


That you can’t carry out fundamental change without that certain amount of madness and that in this case that it comes from non-conformity. And he said we have to dare to invent the future. And I think that really holds, that if we believe in a society that can be free and can be outside of some of the more oppressive and dominant systems, that we have to start with the dreaming and with the future and with the idea of what that looks like, so that we can hold that in our strategy, even if we use different tactics to get there.


Zohra: And Hakima, thinking about what you just said. There is this specific strand of this imaginary work we’re talking about called Afrofuturism. What is Afrofuturism? And what does it offer us in this work we’re doing around world- making, thinking about race for example. And what you’re telling us about now in terms of, yeah, it takes thinking beyond.

Hakima: Right. Afrofuturism really comes from this sense that as colonized people in dominant narratives, that were erased from the future. And I would even say were erased from the past, to emphasize our subjugation. And from the present there really would be depicted as if we don’t belong to this time, you know. That we’re primitive, of the past, almost embodying an anachronism. Like we’re not supposed to be here. But of course, anything that exists now, our societies, our political systems, our knowledges, etc., our cultures that exist today are as modern as anything that exists today. And that’s the same in terms of colonial imperialism and white supremacist narratives that erased black and indigenous and other oppressed people from the future. From its design and from its [unintelligible], because the starting point for the future, that colonial future, is really a dominant white presence. So that’s, from out of there that colonized people, and particularly in this case Africans, kind of begin to build ideas in which we’re depicted, in which we are present.


And so people think of Afrofuturism as largely an artistic form, illustration, graphic art, and I know “Black Panther”, for instance, was a huge hit last year or the year before. And in music, like Fela Kuti had a song called “Two Thousand Black”. And of course the year 2000 felt like a long way away when he was writing that. But as I said, it’s also deeply part of African activism and movement building and African society. This idea that we have to write ourselves into the future.
Zohra: Let’s take a quick break here and then we’re back to talk about feminist perspectives on technology. The concerns as well as the possibilities. Very much a theme for the future, so stay tuned!


[Musical Interlude]

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[Musical Interlude]


Zohra: We’re back with Hakima Abbas, co-Executive Director of AWID and Geeta Misra, Executive Director of CREA, talking about feminist utopias. Technology often crops up in narratives about the future and is often portrayed as in dangerous or encroaching. Where do you think these anxieties around technology come from, and to what extent are they justified?

Geeta: So I think our anxieties about technology have always arisen, even before digital technologies existed, which are industrial or something to do with machines. I think humankind has always been inventing technologies to make life easier, to make life better. And as we trying to [unintelligible] new technology that has been an anxiety. We know when the press was invented, there was anxiety. So I think that our anxieties around these, arise from questions about our own humanity. Now the questions, if you look at them, are always the same. It’s the same old questions and conflicts which underlie any anxiety. And that is true even about technology. So they are about what does it mean to be human, how is this technology about how it’s going to interface with our consciousness, with our intelligence. How is it about our morality. It’s in essence what sets us apart and makes us specifically human is our humanity. And, in a way, I think we have constructed our humanness and our human identity in what we think is not sentient, what is not human.


And sometimes that is about technology. So let me give you an example. Right now, in the digital age, our lives are seen as no longer only physical. The way we live now is defined to some extent or another by technology. And the tapestry of our lives has shifted from the physical world to the physical plus digital. And we move in and out of these spaces, like trying to [unintelligible]. So just to complete what I’m thinking, all constructions of our identities happening in relation to something else. You know, something ‘other’. And in this sense I think this technology has now become this ‘other’ in our lives. You know we are in a constant, dynamic relationship with technology, it’s a [unintelligible], a goal. We ask questions about ourselves, we get some answers and then we have new questions. And this creates these anxieties.
Hakima: Geeta, what you were just saying made me think about technology as just any other tool, but also its relationship to power. I think that is really fascinating from what you were just saying that it’s not really about technology, it’s about who we are as humanity. And in my mind also how we use power and therefore what we use these technologies for primarily in different instances.


It reminded me of also how Octavia Butler talks in her books about the idea that humanity’s fundamental flaw is hierarchy and intelligence. And that kind of, that being something that perpetually will bring us back to these questions of power. So I totally agree with you and it’s a really fascinating place. And I think just as second thought, Zohra, brings me back to what you were asking earlier about climate and the environment and the planet. I think that there’s a dominant ideology where man can conquer everything with technology, even the harm that we’re doing to the planet. But we’re seeing so much really important resistance to that from lots of communities, from indigenous, peasant, rural communities, from young people, to say that it’s not just about conquering, but it also has to be about how we live in harmony with the planet and the ecosystems.

Zohra: I’ve been thinking about that a lot too, and that connects also with, Geeta, what you were saying right at the beginning around basically what counts as technology, and right now what counts for many people, what they think about when they think about technology, is things that are built out of particular kinds of materials.


But technology is also just how we do things. It doesn’t have to have a digital interface with buttons, or something like this. That’s not the only kind of technology. And so, when we’re thinking about the climate crisis and the ways we’re going to need to shift and the alternatives we’re going to need to generate and create, or revert back to. Some of that is technology too, it’s just not large infrastructure projects, for example, it’s not windmills or solar panels though they may have their place as well. There are other kinds of technologies that aren’t about new things that are built. That we will need to adopt and use and some of that is about the way communities have traditionally organized their resources or their environments or worked with the planet, and the technologies they used to use. I don’t think we’re all going to end up hand plowing for instance, but technically that is a technology.

Where do we think then that technology offers us hope? What are we excited about in terms of feminism and technology?

Geeta: I think, when I think feminist perspective, [unintelligible] I think technology allows us to do both, center ideas of autonomy and agency. But I think we are also interested in the excitement about technology because it is a domain of control, and it seeks to control and regulate autonomy, but it also gives us a lot of agency in which we can push back on modes of control and allows our self-determination and the ability to exercise our rights. And digital technology is giving rise to new rights claims and demands, and including the right to be forgotten.


So as feminists, technology is fundamentally interesting  to us because of this. We know it’s not neutral to view anything through a single lens, and often with women’s rights and the rights of people who are born women, have to live as women, we find that often this lens is limiting. So when you apply this to technology, then it is simple to develop an analysis about the alarming facts, about surveillance, about vulnerability, about attack. But then we do miss the whole story, and so I am glad you ask the question about excitement. Because [unintelligible] technologies are not just mirrors of our physical world, they also disrupt the norms of the physical world. And it disrupts the ways in which society plays out. So it gives us spaces for expression, for exploration, it gives us spaces to dissent, it gives us the ability to network, it gives us the ability to build alliances and meet people that we may not have communicated with before. It’s partly a mode of resistance, and it’s sometimes a tool and sometimes a site of pleasure, joy and fun.


And it’s become a source of pleasure and joy and fun, in our lives. And I think that is sense of crucial, the idea of us seeking (there’s another word here that I can’t get?), which are purely pleasurable, and not always instruments, instrumental. I think it disrupts this normative idea about what our place in society is. So in that sense I think as feminists, our job is to always maintain a systemic critique and an analysis of power and not be reductive in our analysis of technology. And then we question how power is produced, reproduced, disrupted, so no blind optimism and no blind alarmism helps us. And for me that is the excitement about what technology offers us.


Zohra: Let’s take a quick break and then I want to talk to you both more about the future but specifically about the future of feminist activism. Stay tuned.

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It’s time for feminist mishaps! Because nobody’s perfect and we’re all human. Geeta, I know you have a blunder to share.

Geeta: Yes, and I think I’ve shared the blunder with many friends, but in this public way, I’m quite excited actually to share it. I was on a holiday, I met a couple, a husband and wife from the UK. We got chatting, and they both said they worked for British Airways. And I was talking to them and I automatically asked the wife, I said how do you deal with all the passengers on the flight and all their demands and needs. It would drive me crazy. And she turned around and said “Oh actually I don’t, I’m the captain and I fly the plane”. And that was a very embarrassing feminist moment for me where I just assumed that they were both from an airline and she was a flight attendant. Never [unintelligible] in my headspace.

Zohra: That is amazing and classic, and I bet most us can really sympathize with that. Hakima, do you have anything you want to share?


Hakima: Geeta has just reminded me of a feminist blunder I had only a few weeks ago which is awful. But I was at home in Dakar, and I was…, there was a construction site. There were men in the construction site, and there was a woman in the construction site. And automatically I assumed, I’m trying to justify myself I think, but automatically I assumed she was there to provide meals or something. But no, she stood there and suddenly got out this huge drill, one of those ones you put into the earth and like [drill sounds] went in it. And I was  shamed forever, But I thought, oh. So we’re always  learning.

Zohra: Yes, I love that that was just a few weeks ago that, you know, this isn’t all in our very far past. It does happen all the time to all of us. Do you listeners have a feminist blunder of your own, I’m sure you do. Are you ready to come out with it? Send us your confessions, anonymously if you wish, and we may share it on a future episode. You can reach us on Twitter @mamacash or by email at The theme of the 26th AWID forum, Hakima, was feminist futures. What does a feminist future look like and does it look the same for everyone?


Hakima: I think that’s really the beauty of feminist futures is that they don’t look the same for everyone. That we create our feminist futures in the ideas and sense of them in our identities and in our multiple feminisms. The AWID forum in 2016 was indeed on the theme of feminist futures, and I think so many ideas about ways in which we could govern ourselves, our bodies, our nations, the ways in which we could have restorative justice. The ways in we could think about economies completely differently. Those all really came out and there were some beautiful visions of that, and building on that we’re going into the 2020 AWID Forum, 2021 sorry, it’s in January. And there we will be talking about where those visions are actually reality. So the theme of the 2021 AWID forum is feminist realities and we’ll be talking a bit more during that forum about feminist visions of the future. But also really focusing on how we’re building those visions in the present.

Zohra: And it’s really nice for Mama Cash to be able to be part of that effort, and as some of you may know and some of you may, this may be new information, AWID and CREA are in a collaboration with Mama Cash and a couple of others in a program called ‘Count Me In’. It also includes JASS (Just Associates), and the Urgent Action Funds around the world and the Red Umbrella Fund as well, and as well our partner WO=MEN in the Netherlands.


And we’re so excited about the next forum to see where we’ve gone when the last forum was talking about futures and then we’ll be in the future talking about the past about the present. So, that was a bit confusing but it made sense in my mind. And if we do more of that, thinking about the future, the past and the present all at the same time and as we’re coming to the end of the episode, I wondered for both of you, are there things that have happened in the past decade, since we’re at the beginning of the next decade, that 20 or 30 years ago you might have thought that will never happen in my lifetime. Whether good or bad.

Geeta: I think for me what happened in the last decade is the resilience, the imagination, the thinking, of so many feminists. That, you know, 10 years ago I couldn’t imagine that young women in India would sit in, resisting all kinds of oppression and the numbers would grow and grow. And it made me think that 10 years ago, I didn’t think we are the ones we’re waiting for. And right now I feel so excited about the fact that there’s feminists in every place, are in every section, in every age, in every place, at the grassroots of local, rural…. I see it in my country, and I see it globally, and the numbers and the imagination really excites me.


Hakima: I would add to that, I think some of the toppling of the dictatorships that we saw throughout the African continent in the last decade. But it was amazing to see from Sudan to Egypt to Gambia, people and particularly women taking to the streets and being able to topple some of these regimes. But then also fighting and working to keep some of those gains where possible, even under really difficult circumstance since then.

Zohra: I was thinking about the question for myself and trying to think about my highlights of feminist activism in the past decade and whether there was anything that happened that I thought yeah, that will never happen. And I think actually the things that I can think about are sort of terrible things. There are things that have happened that I thought would never happen, and I can’t think of anything that I thought that will never happen, and it happened. Because I, naively maybe, live in perpetual hope. So I always assume it can happen, it’s just a matter of time. And thinking about the future, taking the moment to think about the future, and this wonderful episode on feminist futures. What are your hopes and dreams, what would you like to will into being through our dreaming and collective imagination over the next 10 years for our feminist movements, for our feminist activists, and for women, girls, trans and intersex people everywhere?

Hakima: Zohra, can I ask what were some of those terrible things that you felt wouldn’t have happened, that happened in the last decade.


Zohra: I think the reversals on some fundamental rights, human rights of women. So, if we think about abortion for example, in some contexts where there was a dramatic push-back and attempts to overturn. The assassination of some high profile political activists when we know there’s constant assassination and murders of all kinds of women and girls and trans people and intersex people. But I thought that some of these activists were somehow beyond the reach of that, that sexism. And they weren’t, and I was caught a bit off guard by some of that.

Hakima: Yeah, you make me think that the trend also in Europe of the rise of these far-right, fascist parties also felt like a, not necessarily that it wouldn’t have happened, it wasn’t necessarily surprising, but it is something about the last decade that people had hoped would never happen again.

Zohra: Exactly. We know that change is possible and we know it can happen quickly, it can happen surprisingly. So as some of this whether it was surprising or not, there’s still a bit of ‘really?’. Can we think about that for the positive, what are things that we just think yeah, next 10 years, this is it.


Geeta: Well I think in the next 10 years we will find, hopefully, people suspending judgment around difference and diversity of people. That hierarchies becoming less blurred. Especially for people who are at the margins, I hope people become kinder, more empathetic. And really making friendships and alliances and by listening, deep listening and deep thinking about what injustice and justice, what is the vision of justice for particular people that are different from oneself. And that’s my hope, that we do build a shared vision of what a world without violence could look like. What is a shared vision of people who have disabilities, and trans and intersex and lesbian. How people can come together, and really understand what it means to have a shared sense of justice.

Zohra: Nice. Hakima, your dreams?

Hakima: I think I’m entering 2020’s with a lot of optimism because of how they started. I think seeing the people’s movements on the streets in Chile and in Iraq, in Guinea, all over the world, really focused as well on neoliberalism, on the economic system. People saying they’ve had enough, I think that’s a really hopeful start to the new decade. And I see a wave, again maybe this is my eternal optimist side, but I see a wave of people’s energies and excitement in lots of different types of people. And what’s quite important about this wave and these movements is also, for us as feminists how feminism is often being centered in these movements. Be it on climate or on the economy or on other things. I hope that in the next decade that we make some really significant gains, both in terms of what we’re resisting but also in terms of the feminist realities that we’re building.


Zohra: Thanks for listening! You can find Mama Cash, as well as AWID and CREA, on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Or you can find Mama Cash on You can find Tea with Mama Cash on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Soundcloud and Stitcher. If you want to help us build towards a more feminist future, there are many things you can do. You can rate and review this podcast, or tell a friend about it to help us reach more people. You can donate via our website, to support feminist activists around the world who are, today, constructing our feminist futures. And now, you can even start your own fundraiser with our awesome new fundraising platform. More information about that on our website, too. You can always reach us, and we’d love to hear from you, with questions, feedback or ideas, by email at or via the other channels. This is your host – Zohra Moosa – signing off until the next time.

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This podcast was produced by Amanda Gigler, Majk Mirkovic, Sophia Seawell and Susan Jessop, colleagues at Mama Cash – and of course we’d like to extend a very special thanks to Hakima Abbas and Geeta Misra for joining us today.