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Becoming Io: Facilitating Spaces for Feminist Conversations

We finally did it! – Isis International is now Io: Facilitating Spaces for Feminist Conversations – or Io, for short. According to Greek mythology, Io was the consort of Zeus and was chased away by Hera to Egypt where she became Isis. This mythical association between Io and Isis reassured us as we made the difficult decision to change our organizational name of 45 years.

In 2014, as the world grew horrified by the murderous exploits of the Islamic State, code named by global media outlets as ISIS for short, there was a swirl of concern among our allies and funders. Were we being affected by the inadvertent association, they asked? Were we thinking of changing our name? At that time, we stood our ground and justified keeping our name.

Our decision did not withstand the test of time, however. We were dogged with challenges – banks were making financial transactions harder, staff and Board members found it increasingly hard to state our name without someone smirking or reacting negatively, and our social media account was filling up with comments from haters, and worse, ISIS sympathisers!

The final nail in the coffin was in December 2016. For the first time since Isis relocated from Rome to Manila, the police knocked on the doors of our office. Trouble was brewing as rebels identified as ISIS operatives began consolidating power in Southern Philippines – and by May 2017, full blown armed conflict took place as ISIS operatives laid siege in Marawi. Board and staff members unanimously agreed that keeping Isis as our name was too great a security risk.

The same fate befell our sister organization, Isis-WICCE in Kampala, Uganda – they too were facing the reputational and security havoc from the unfortunate name association. We were informed that even funders who know our contributions to feminist movement building might think twice of having our names on their public lists of recipients.

The Boards of the two sister organizations held a series of discussions online to attempt to find a new name in common. In the end, we decided to find our own respective geographical context appropriate names. So, Isis WICCE is now Women’s International Peace Center, and Isis International is Io. We cherish our common founding story, and will continue to find ways to build upon the shared history in the future.

New name, now what?

We are well aware of the perils of name changes as an attempt to stay relevant – and Io is undoubtedly emerging from the ashes of over a decade of declining funding and flagging energies and hopes. The handful of us who remain decided that there were at least three contributions that we could make to feminist movement building, our core mission since 1973.

Firstly, we wanted to experiment a more sustainable model of financial sustainability. Bahay ni Io, our beautiful custom-design Filipiniana-inspired office, already generates sufficient income through space rentals to fund itself and the small body of staff that keep it running. We want to build upon this and increase potential economically viable spaces and explore models of mutually beneficial space sharing with other organizations and individuals.

Secondly, we want to continue our once highly successful Feminist Activist School, expanding our curriculum to include skills building in feminist facilitation towards increased meaningful dialogues and critical conversations in our collectives and organizations, promoting a more facilitative model of feminist leadership for movement building.

And finally, we have created an accessible Feminist Archive which makes available articles and materials from Isis International’s rich history of feminist movement building. Full uploading of the Archives is still in progress but plans are ongoing to continue making links between the past and current events that matter to a new generation of feminist activists through the use of social media.

We are not starting new, we are building on 45 year old history of feminist movement building and it is because of this that we are giving ourselves space and time to make this transition, holding lightly to our ideas of end outcomes. We want this transition that is Io to be safe-to-fail – actively integrating what we learn every step of the way as we become Io. What do you think? Let us know in your comments below.