Origin of the approach
The approach which centres the interests and needs of those affected as a key component of awareness work originated in the second-wave feminist movement. During the 1970s and 80s, women and queers had hardly any rights of their own. Marital rape, for example, only became a punishable offence in 1997 and the principle of „giving the accused the benefit of the doubt” still applies today. These circumstances made it almost impossible for women, trans, inter- and non-binary people to hold perpetrators of violence accountable.
Therefore, from the beginning of the 1970s, women and lesbians met to create places and groups to take political action. They analysed that men’s violence is not an isolated act but is structurally conditioned by the patriarchal system. Thus, they dispelled the myth of the “stranger in the bush” as the perpetrator of violence. At this time, they took up the concept of partiality and developed the tool of the „power of definition“.
In 1976, the first autonomous women’s shelter opened in West Berlin. Here, self-help groups offered shelters and counselling and intervened against sexualised violence.
In 2012, Ann Wiesental and Fabian founded the first Festival Awareness Crew for Fusion, which offered awareness at a festival. Three years before, the group AuS (Awareness and Support) had started a similar attempt, which failed because fusion was not yet open enough for it. In 2012 and 2013, two conferences in Dresden by the group e*vibes led to a spread of the awareness approach. More and more queer feminist groups took up the approach. Between 2010 and 2017, Ann Wiesental organised four nationwide networking meetings of awareness groups.
In the early 1980s, Audre Lord came to Berlin, which marked the beginning of the empowerment movement of Afro-German women. They created an important basis for knowledge about the existence and functioning of structures of domination and the possibility of resistance against them. An awareness of multiple discrimination and the intertwining of sexism and racism in capitalism emerged.
The analysis of patriarchy as based on a gender binary in addition to classism and racism has emerged mainly in recent years, especially since Butler’s book “Gender trouble” appeared in the 90s. This book called the category of “woman” as the feminist subject into question. At the centre of today’s feminist struggles, which include the awareness movement, are the experiences of trans, non-binary and inter-people, as well as agender people, women and lesbians. The awareness movement positions itself against a feminism that is trans-exclusive and shows solidarity with the sex workers’ movement.
In 2017, many awareness groups were founded, including Initiative Awareness Leipzig, rave*awareness in Berlin, A*Team Freiburg. In 2019, the Awareness Leipzig initiative organised a nationwide networking meeting “Free Spaces Safe Spaces”. At this meeting, it was noted and discussed that the broadening of awareness has unfortunately also led to the formation of new actors in the mainstream who have little to do with the movement and important basics of the awareness approach are not implemented.
The first formulation of the approach that is centred around giving control to those affected, arose in 2004 through the drop-in centres against sexualised violence Tauwetter and Wildwasser, and the Weglaufhaus Villa Stöckle. The approach centred around giving control to those affected focuses on supporting those affected only for their own interest, in order to bring reflected experiences into the work and to enhance professional approaches. At about the same time, the concepts of community accountability and transformative justice also spilled over from the USA to Germany (see “Strategies”).
In 2007, activist Ann Wiesental initiated the first awareness group, she founded the “Antisexist Contact and Awareness Group” with activists and groups from the queer feminist movement on the occasion of the G8 summit. This was the first time a movement under the name “Awareness” started in Germany. After 2007, Ann Wiesental designed a concept from the term “awareness”. She did this in and with the movement and in interaction with many activists and groups. Some of these groups are re.ACTion Münster (Antisexismus_reloaded, Unrast Verlag), Antisexismusbündnis Berlin (AS.ISM brochures), Gruppe TAM and Kampagne Definitionsmacht.tk. The awareness approach was developed, among other things, at the “Antisexist Practices Conference”, which took place annually from 2007 to 2012. This nationwide conference was initiated by Ann Wiesental and organised and shaped by queer feminist individuals and groups.
How it continued
The Awareness Leipzig initiative, rave*awareness and Ann Wiesetal continued to reflect on this point. To react to this development, they joined forces with AwA* (Vienna), A*Team Freiburg and Safe Night e.V. (Hamburg) from the movement and founded the Awareness Institute in 2021. More and more collectives/initiatives from the movement that do educational work are joining the Awareness Institute. In the meantime, more and more festivals, organisations, and organisers are taking up awareness, and this development is far from finished.