Living Decoloniality, practical examples of Decolonial re-existence through the aid sector,

a podcast by Carla Vitantonio with the support of the Centre for Humanitarian Leadership.

Welcome to Living Decoloniality. I am Carla Vitantonio

and I am a humanitarian and development worker.

And the sounds and noises that you are listening to in the background

are from the place where I live and work, Havana, Cuba.

In this episode, and in the following one, I’m going to focus on practices of decoloniality
that I found especially interesting for my work in disaster risk reduction.
I have been working on disaster preparedness and response for the past ten years,
and I could not help but noticing that oftentimes we refer to nature
to the environment around us as something detached from us.
We talk about climate adaptation and climate mitigation activities,
often referring to changes that we are producing in the environment around us
in order to repair, restore, and reduce possible harm, often made by us.
But is that really so? Can we really look at the human being and the nature
as two different sets where the first will conquer, tame,
modify and exploit the other in order to gain some benefit?
If you have been educated in institutions rooted in the Global North, or in institutions that replicated knowledge and standards from the Global North,
most possibly this is what you have been taught, as I have been.
But if we research, we will discover that this very idea of a world
centered around the human being linked to the image of a human being,
often a white straight man, taming nature, very much belongs to a dominant European framework
that was exported and imposed to the rest of the word.
This is part of what scholars call “colonality of being”.
This supposed hierarchy among human beings and more widely among beings on this earth
was imposed by European conquerors on great part of the world,
whereas other ways to see and live the world were oppressed,
brought to silence and often destroyed.
But luckily for us, there is an increasing number of people, researchers, activists
that try to live according to these alternative views of the world and to learn from them.

This is also a decolonial experience.

In this episode and in the next one I will share my conversation with people that are focusing
their decolonial practices exactly on this.

Today you will hear from two members of a group called the Feminist Hiking Collective.
There are many things that brought me to ask them for their time and wisdom,
above all the relationship with nature and the fact that they use feminist practices as an
alternative to the mainstream patriarchal model to live in the word.
But let’s hear from them who they are and what the Feminist Hiking Collective is.
Hi Carla, I’m Giulia and I’m one of the co-founder of the Feminist Hiking Collective.
I’m Ria and I’m also one of the co-founders of Feminist Hiking Collective.
The Feminist Hiking Collective is a Feminist No-profit organisation which is registered in Italy
and was funded by us in January 2020.
Our aim is to contribute to transformative system change through Feminist Popular Education,
Research and Resource Co-creation and to build collective feminist leadership and
power through hiking. We all wish to co-build a feminist world for the common good that is grounded
in our belonging to nature and is why we came together as a collective to work on this mission.

The words that Ria and Giulia used to describe themselves immediately brought me to think of
the relation between human being and nature and how colonialism and its legacy
manipulated this relation of belonging and mutuality into extractivism, something where one part,
the human being uses and exploits the other, Nature. I knew that the Feminist Hiking Collective,
FHC in Giulia and Ria’s word is reflecting in its own terms on colonialism,
neo-colonialism and coloniality. I asked them to share with me something especially on their
perspective on coloniality of being.

So for us we see coloniality of being as something that is
part of all aspects of our life and deeply embedded in society through races, individualistic,
capitalistic and patriarchal structures. We see coloniality and neo-colonism as something that is
interrelated and  upheld through all of these structures and impacts our lives and experiences
based on the lived oppression we have in society due to these structures. For us colonialism
derives mainly from the imbalance of formal power in society and from the Eurocentric structures
that seek to dominate us and nature instead of working with us in a collective way.
We also see coloniality of being as part of this whole as one of the many wider societal structures
of capitalism, neoliberalism, individualism, racism and patriarchy. Coloniality of being is part
of this wider whole that intersects and intermesh within each other in order to sustain dominant forms
of power and for FHCs politics specifically we see it as a separating factor between us and nature.
We will see coloniality of being between the separation of formal power within Europe and other
northern countries as well as the destruction of nature and our anthropocentric use of nature
and viewing it as something that is at our disposal and for our use. We no longer especially in big cities
and other industrialised contexts. We don’t see nature as something that we are a part of.
We see it as something for our use, something that is extracted and something that is there to
suit our purposes when and as we see fit. The extractivism that we see in society is for
capitalistic purposes and perpetuates all oppressive forms of power.

We see this order out society and something at FHCs specifically that we wish to dismantle.

Their statements on the relation between human being and nature reminded me of the work that many
colleagues do in disaster risk reduction while trying to reestablish a balance in the environment
around us or at least to mitigate the imbalance through climate adaptation and mitigation actions.
I was eager to hear from Giulia and Ria which practices the FHC as putting in place.
Hence I asked them to share with me some of their past and present projects.

We decided to take part in transformative work as a collective and work towards dismantling
dominant forms of power and leadership as well as reject capitalistic and individualistic
racist forms of power that are imposed in society. We function as a collective and practice
collective feminist leadership and our approaches are based on feminist popular education and
collective power. At the beginning of our formation as a non-profit organization our practice began
with a series of dialogues between many different groups, organization and movements in order to
learn and share practices of transformers justice and feminist leadership. For example we learned
so much from conversation with Jazz Mesoamerica about feminist popular education as well as
conversation and the work of Srilatha Batliwala on collective feminist leadership mainly which helped
us to inform the Feminist Hiking Collective politics and narrative. We also learned so much from
our sisters and friends from two indigenous groups in South America. The Movimiento de mujeres
 y diversidades indigenas por el buen vivir was the first and the second one was and is still the
initiative of Mesoamerica and the Mujeres defensoras de derechos humanos and their experiences of
terracide and destruction of land and how we need to be grounded in our collective power with nature
in order to protect it and defend it was so helpful for us. These initial conversations and dialogues
which Julia mentioned were so important in forming our relationships and learnings as well as
our vision and politics. For us overcoming colonialism and dominant forms of power is all
about the shared and collective process.

This process of building relationships and partnerships
then led for us to get involved in further research projects and work such as the ” from me to
we” mapping project: where we document practices of collective feminist leadership worldwide.
The for me to we project which is in collaboration with Devin Ruby from closer than you think
as well as Srilatha Batliwala allows us to document practices and failures of collective feminist
leadership worldwide so we have a way of documenting which tools are effective and which aren’t
and allows us to document these processes and share them with other people who are interested in
these practices.

As well as this project we most recently undertook a feminist hiking healing retreat in September 2023 with the support of Urgent Action Fund. This involved a week of hiking
and Val De Gresta in the Italian Alps integrated with feminist popular education activities on power
breathing and stretching and discussing practices and perspectives on healing. This retreat was
an amazing opportunity to have a co-created and collective space in person for activists focused
on the intersection of queer and environmental justice to share tools for transformative change
for healing and for collective power. We had an amazing time on this retreat and have so much to learn
and so many insights on what feminist hiking is something we deem as an important practice
of embodiment in order to change the way we perceive ourselves in nature and as collective subjects.

For us the embodiment of these learnings in nature is a significant step towards healing our
relationship with nature and as perceiving ourselves as something that is part of nature’s whole
and not separate from it. Finally we are also working at the moment on an ongoing research project
with the support of Jazz called Building We which involves undertaking research and dialogues
of on practices of feminist democracy worldwide and also alternative forms of governance in order
to understand the practices and tools for building feminist realities that are free from dominant power
and oppression structures which we see now. For this we would love to understand and do further
research on the practices and tools for building feminist realities that are free from dominant power
and oppressive structures.

What the FHC was telling me is that they started by listening and questioning
themselves. This brought me to a different interview that I had almost one year ago
with three researchers that built a decolonial practice that they are calling “the dialogues”.
If you want to hear more about it listen to episode three of season one.

Listening to  Ria and Giulia I realized three things. First that as Charles had already mentioned in
episode two of this season, decolonizing leadership models is also something we should think about.
The FHC is using to do so co-creation and collective power as an alternative to individual
and individualistic creation of content. Second that collecting and documenting practices and
knowledge means fighting against extractivism, giving everyone a name and credits for what they did
even for their failure because with them they contributed to building reality. Third that if there is
one common trait in every decolonial turn this is a moment for healing.

Coloniality implies
forms of violence and once we recognize and unveil them we need time to heal and reconciliate.

You listened to living decoloniality. Practical examples of decolonial
re-existence through the aid sector. I am Carla Vitantonio and you can reach me through my
Spotify and spreaker channels or through my Instagram Carla Vitantonio. This podcast was deliberately
recorded with minimum technical equipment trying to preserve as much as possible the feelings and
intentions of those who participated. If you liked it please subscribe and share it through your
network. Living decoloniality was produced in partnership with the Centre for Humanitarian
Leadership. The logo is a present from Eugenio Nittolo.