“I didn’t want to let my people or myself down”: Women’s Testimony from Conflict-Affected Countries as an Activist Politics of Future-making at the UN

Authors: Caitilin McMillan*, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill
Topics: Feminist Geographies, Social Geography, Women
Keywords: Testimony, Future, Women, United Nations, Activism
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

“Testimony” writes poet Beth Bachmann (2014) “feel[s] like sacrifice: opening and/ opening and upending the golden light/ My mouth is also a cup. There's a buzzing on my tongue/ where the honey should be.” Testimony, as it’s imagined here, is deeply entwined with desire. To open oneself, offer oneself, change and be changed in the process – speaks to yearning. Even as testimony is often presented as a witnessing of the past – this yearning beckons a future, a changeable horizon cultivated in the present.

Much of our lives are built on testimony – it's foundational to our human story as a form of intimate information conveyed through the ages about who we are and why the world is the way it is.

Since 2015, over 108 women from conflict-affected countries have briefed the UN Security Council during formal meetings. Their briefings form a mix of personal and collective testimony to the embodied urgencies of conflict in people’s lives. As representatives of civil society, they bear a weight to convey sensitive and often uncomfortable information to states in the hopes of unsettling complacency and sparking action.

Based on interviews with women who have briefed the Council from Afghanistan, South Sudan and Yemen, this paper reflects on how women wield their testimonies as a labor of future-making. Ultimately through engagement with literature on embodiment and ‘the horizon,’ this paper grapples with how forming and sharing testimony for these women not only bears witness to what was, but reimagines what could be.

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