The analogy of witches as the fellow travelers and comrades in arms of feminists is not a recent phenomenon. This iconic figure has evolved over time, embodying a woman who is either free, crazy, dangerous or all three at once. But it was really at the start of the 1970s, in the midst of the neo-feminist wave, that the witch suddenly reappeared as the personified symbol of women's struggles. And how did those witches fight for their rights? They took the streets by demonstrating and taking advantage of the tools at their disposal, i.e. their bodies, sisters, and communication channels (radio, books…).
History is full of women who challenged the cultural and social limits set by the community to which they belong and who shaped, through their bodies in movement and actions, forms of resistance to norms. Mistrust of women who engage their bodies in movement, especially uncontrolled movement, is an ancient belief: “Nothing irritates a man more than a woman who dances” (Paracelsus, sixteenth-century physician). Other examples of how women protested were the development of feminist radio stations and the publishing of innovative tests. For instance, in 1975, in Italy two free and feminist radio stations, Radio Donna and Radio Strega (Italian for 'witch'), began broadcasting in Rome. That same year, American feminists, encouraged by the work of a committee of the World Council of Churches, prepared a 'non-sexist' liturgy entitled “Virgins, Witches or Whores, Let's Break the Circle”.
The aforementioned examples of activities carried out by women to speak up can be included in the field of cultural diplomacy: The gradual opening up for women in diplomacy paralleled the widespread mobilization of women’s international movements for gender equality (Garner 2013). In the 1990s, these efforts culminated in vibrant transnational coalitions of states, inter-governmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations, which actively pushed for the wider inclusion of women in diplomacy and in many other international fora and arenas. Framing and situating gender equality as part of the general concerns for peace and security, the United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in the year 2000, a resolution which constitutes a significant milestone in the struggle for women’s participation in diplomacy and enjoyment of their rights5.
In a case study has been proved that cultural diplomacy, among others, does serve as means for facilitating dialogue and cooperation in the area of Women’s Rights. The exchange of ideas and of cultures, which can take place in different fields such as sports, literature, music, business, etc. as well as the inter-cultural dialogue on different levels and in different sectors can enable the progression of Women’s Rights. To this support, during the Discussions on Cultural Diplomacy and the Representation of Women in Politics, from 14th December 2013, Ferdous Ara Begum made an interesting presentation on CEDAW and its effect. She stated that “power of cultural diplomacy can bring a change in the mindset of common people and attitude of government and political will to change the situation, to change the stereotypes about women rights”6.
Speaking of witches and the role of cultural diplomacy in levelling up attention to women’s rights, it is worth writing a couple of information about the abovementioned exhibition: “Witches! Be afraid, witches are back…”7.
As already slightly introduced throughout the above paragraphs, the exhibition wants to establish a dialogue between the witches of yesterday and today by successfully presenting this comparison in order to better understand it. Through art, archives, cinema, dance, music, comics, performance and a touch of magic, you will get to know the questions about the figure of the witch and explore both the way in which she has filled our collective imagination and her representation across the centuries until her current social, cultural and political relevance.
The exhibition is organized in 4 parts: the first one deals with the first feminists struggles; the second one in about how women/witches were perceived and unfairly treated from the Middles Ages to Renaissance; the third one is focused on the image representing the changing of witches perception: from ugly women to a new figure of emancipation. Last but not least, the fourth part is about the granddaughters of witches fighting against patriarchy.
From these lines, it can be agreed that cultural diplomacy does have a role in such matters but also such an exhibition, proves the power of cultural initiatives to deal with sensitive topics like women’s image, their rights and roles in society.