Looking back to our WECF strategy meeting in Paris

As an organisation that is spread out over multiple countries, it is important to create opportunities to strategise together in person. Thus, in the morning of Friday 19 January, WECF team members got together for an organisation-wide strategy meeting in Paris, France. The day before, people had traveled from our offices in the Netherlands, Germany, France and Georgia by train, and they had been joined by members of our Board of Trustees, as well as financial and strategic partners based in France. This day would mainly revolve around presenting our projects and strategic discussions. In addition, this day was dedicated to the farewell of Corinne LePage, who decided to step down from her role as president of our Board of Trustees and is followed up by Co-Chairs Aniek Moonen and Marieke van Doornink.

After a breakfast-board meeting to approve our internal budget for 2024, we started the day in La Maison Zero Déchet (the Zero Waste House) with a thematic roundtable session. The 40 participants were organized into four groups, each of which focusing on one of four themes: ecofeminist climate action, ecofeminist toxic free future, ecofeminist energy- and water solutions, and ecofeminist biodiversity and agroecology. There was time for everyone to attend two thematic discussions, each of which was dedicated to informing and updating each other about projects and brainstorming about synergies and opportunities between offices and stakeholders. In these conversations, we were supported by several experts. Our Indonesian partner and member of our International Advisory Board Yuyun Ismawati, for example, provided insights in our discussion on toxic free menstrual health. In addition, our Board of Trustees co-chairs Aniek Moonen and Marieke van Doornink shared their expertise on the topic of climate justice. The roundtable session led to numerous discussions about inspiring ecofeminist initiatives. We discussed opportunities for working together on solar-home systems, such as balcony-solar modules – including for countries facing war, like Ukraine. We also looked at the amazing work done by partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo to legalise land-rights for indigenous women, and their non-timber forest products like honey and edible insects that create livelihoods and protect biodiversity. Moreover, we learned how participatory citizens information sessions on toxic products in menstrual and other products can lead to fast changes of behaviour, and how to apply this to other sectors.

Following the thematic sessions, we continued with a strategic discussion using the fishbowl method, in which the group is divided into an inner and an outer circle. The inner circle discusses a topic, and the outer circle listens, takes notes and asks questions. In this case, the inner circle consisted of our Board of Trustees members and representatives of our strategic partners. Topics discussed included what inner circle members found inspiring about the previous session, new things they learned, concerns about political trends, as well as opportunities to increase cooperation towards ecofeminist movement building. This led to an engaged conversation that was both sobering and hopeful. We spoke about today’s worrying state of affairs regarding the impacts of climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the precariousness of rights, the dilution of values, and the prevalence in xenophobic, racist and sexist public discourse and policies. In this context, we discussed the importance of constant measuring and communicating on the impact of our work, as well as imagining new forms of cooperation, working on shared projects, creating new circles of proximity and going beyond competition in the search for funds – towards coordinated, collective action. Of particular interest was the input from the invited French stakeholders from organisations such as Climate Action Network and RAJA Foundation, on how we build collaborations based on points of connection, without erasing the particularities of each organisation. Together, we will have to carry out political advocacy, nourished by our field projects, to ensure that the position and voice of women and genderdiverse people, as well as care for others and the planet, are always taken into account.

Concluding our morning, we left the Maison and headed for the office of Huglo LePage Advocats, where our Board of Trustees president Corinne LePage’s environmental law firm resides. Here, we had lunch together and we could relax for a moment. While we were eating, we listened to words of thanks to Corinne from our executive director Sascha, director Annemarie and programme coordinator Anne, who had all known and worked with Corinne during their many years at WECF. The collaboration between WECF and Corinne is a long-standing one, as it dates to when Corinne was a member of the European Parliament. To express profound gratitude to Corinne, Christy – our national Director – gifted her a hand-made card with stories from all WECF offices, together with hand-made woolen socks with Ukrainian colors, on behalf of the WECF team.

The socks were personally knitted by WECF’s partner, human rights’ lawyer, and Russian refugee in France Nadezdha Kutepova, who we also had the pleasure to host for the lunch. Nadezdha is an advocate and proponent of the rights of the victims of nuclear radiation pollution in the Russian Chelyabinsk province.She lived through the violence of Russian authorities and had to flee her country as her family was threatened and her organisation closed.

During the lunch, Corinne took some time to express her hopes and concerns, both for WECF and the world. She drew attention to the great threat of belligerent authoritarian regimes, such as that in Russia. In this conversation, Corinne stressed how the Russian regime profits from the war in Ukraine, as well as from its nuclear sector, continuing to import radioactive waste, including from EU countries. These ecological catastrophes jeopardise local communities’ health, as in Chelyabinsk. Corinne also expressed her concerns about potential nuclear accidents in France itself, whose nuclear sector increasingly deploys third parties. The resulting delays and security breaches force enormous financial costs onto society, which require billions of taxpayer’s euros to cover.

We cannot rely on nuclear energy to be an answer to climate change: it is too slow, too expensive, and too high-risk. Instead, investing in renewable energies needs to become a priority. Corinne also emphasised the regression in health policies in France and Europe more broadly. Despite the overwhelming body of evidence for links between hazardous ‘forever chemicals’ – like PFAS and glyphosate – and endocrine disruption, infertility, cancer and the overall health of new generations, very little is done at the policy level. Corinne insisted on the essential role of WECF in the fight for a toxic-free future, particularly in combination with our advocacy for women’s rights, which is under increasing pressure from far-right movements.

At the end of the event, Board of Trustee co-chairs Aniek Moonen and Marieke van Doornink expressed their vision on future strategic opportunities for WECF. In addition, our Board of Trustees secretary Jolein Baidemann announced her candidacy for the upcoming elections for European Parliament, and shared that she will be working to bring ecofeminist priorities to the forefront in European policies.

At the end of a long we went back to our hotel. Some of us stuck around to enjoy the city for another day, while others returned home in the morning. Overall, we felt that it had been a productive and satisfying gathering. Moments like these, when we can all get together, are precious and important for strengthening our human relationships and shared vision for building the ecofeminist movement. About this, our Director of WECF in the Netherlands Christy Aikorhin said:

It was a unique opportunity to look at the past with gratitude and forge forwards towards the future with feminist hope.