Browse Category: Advocacy

What Does an African Feminist Look Like? Ms. Magazine Features African Feminist Bloggers

I was recently interviewed by writer, feminist, and #africansforafrica ally, , for her Femisphere series on the reknowned Ms. Magazine.

The Femisphere is “a blog series of the many diverse corners of the feminist blogsphere,” and the latest installment featured three African feminists, Minna Salami (aka Afropolitan)Lesley Agams, and yours truly. Here’s the introduction to the series:

Despite centuries of cultural practice that has routinely silenced the voices of African women, one of the most vibrant and vocal online global feminist communities comes from Africa. The online writers from the African feminist movement are nuanced and complex as they share their stories, their lives, their struggles and their triumphs.

And here’s an excerpt from my interview:

My writing isn’t so much about the topics I write about as it is how I write about them. There are the usual suspects — women, gender, LGBT, and other identity issues — filtered through an international lens due to my Nigerian heritage and media advocacy and development work in Africa. But I also take the approach of highlighting solutions versus contributing to the constant re-articulation of problems I find over-saturates the feminist blogsphere.

I pride myself on thinking forward, and so I push myself to write from a place of hope and positivity. I believe that personal relationships — not just rhetoric — are the building blocks of progress, and that winning hearts — not just arguments — are what bring about real change. My afrofeminist principles are a roadmap for navigating the spaces between us as human beings, towards deeper, more empathic connections. My mantra is “Love is My Revolution”.

You can read my full interview here, during which I share my principles of Afrofeminism for the first time. Also, check out Minna and Lesley‘s interviews as well.

Diversity Is Important within the Context of Discussing Africans, Too

The series is titled “The Femisphere: African Feminist Bloggers”, but I think it’s important to note that all of the feminists included in this round are West African.

As I applauded the voices of my sisters, Lesley and Minna, I thought instantly of other African feminists I know, and wondered how they would feel about seeing a list of “African Feminists” occupied by mainly west Africans, and specifically Nigerians. Though African women’s voices are marginalized in western media, the fact still remains that Nigeria is one of the most economically advantaged countries in Africa, and its citizens, the most tech-savvy Africans on the web. Hence, we often dominate (or at least take up a lot of space on) Twitter lists, “Top __ lists”, and important media conversations about Africa.

Still, to expect that Ms. Magazine could capture all of this in a series featuring just three African bloggers is unrealistic. The short list certainly created obstacles to featuring a more diverse set of African feminist voices, but this is generally the case when we expect westerners to highlight our work; we’re either presented as special interest and thrown into the same bucket, or by way of tokenization, pitted against each other as we struggle for the few seats at the table, or in this case, slots in a blog series. (Must-Read: Ms Afropolitan’s piece on the problem with reductive Twitter lists).

I must add at this point, that Minna and Lesley inspire me daily, and that all three of us (including our Twitter #afrifem family) were absolutely thrilled and proud of this series. For this reason, I’m grateful to the writer for the work she put in researching this topic, seeking out writers/bloggers — including myself, and crafting questions that gave us enough room to talk about the complexity our work and present original viewpoints, versus react to reductive questions e.g. how is African feminism different from western feminism? Oy, if I had a penny for every time a white woman asked me to explain my experiences in relation to hers, I’d be rich.

Whose Responsibility Is It to Highlight African Feminism?

Too often, due to our voices being excluded in the media, our stories and perspectives are constantly re-presented, re-told, and/or reduced to incidental testimonies; due to the hegemony of western narratives, implicit in so many questions about Africa (and African feminists) is the fallacy that our stories come second, our perspectives are deduced from outside of the continent, and that our stories only exist to add context to other people’s conversations about us. So, over and over again, we’re asked to frame what we say about who we are around a western narratives; this is tiring, to say the least. Hence, the opportunity to share what I perceive as the nuances within my own framework, #afrofeminism, was (and is always) welcome.

Nonetheless, the responsibility lies on us as African women — and this is true for any group, LGBT, people of color, disabled etc — to create our own spaces, big enough to hold all our complex, nuanced perspectives. It is ultimately the responsibility of every African feminist to speak up, contribute to the conversation, create our own media spaces so that we don’t rely on westerners to portray African feminism authentically. As we continue to have conversations amongst ourselves, and define who we are, our stories and perspectives will carry more weight.

As Lesley Agams states so eloquently:

White feminism drowned out our voices with their privileged access to the media. I’ve heard their stories, I want to hear from my African sisters and not just the ones with Ph.D’s. Before the internet I mostly heard what white feminism and their black students had to say about me and about us. Now I can hear what my African sisters say about me and about us and compare our experiences, our priorities and our needs and articulate those when speaking to white feminisms. Maybe then when we speak in a loud voice together they will actually listen to us.

When people visit Ms. Magazine to read about “African Feminists” what will they walk away with? How are we unique? What experiences do we share? More importantly, given the short length of the list, what assumptions about African feminists are being perpetuated? Are we all Nigerian? Does it matter what country we’re from or where we’re living? (Yes, I think it does). What kind of language do we use? What spaces do we typically occupy?

What does an African Feminist look like? 

Our Voices, Our Stories: Training African Women’s & LGBT Organizations to Use Social Media is Critical

“Until lions write their own history, tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunter.” — African Proverb

Despite the richness, diversity, and complexities that shape the landscape that is my homeland, Africa is often depicted as one big safari (or war zone). Why is that? Because Africa’s stories are rarely told by Africans themselves.

This is no different for the African LGBT movement. For every western media news story I hear about LGBT Africans being murdered, raped, living in fear etc., there is an untold story of resistance, progress, and change. As a queer Nigerian writer, I have made it my responsibility to cover that change, to document our history as told by us — not through the eyes of western imperialists or saviorists, and to amplify the voices of my brothers and sisters who are leading the way.

For instance, on a recent trip to South Africa, I met an African transgender man who told me that he’d gotten most of his hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgeries covered by the government. In MA, where I’ve been living for the past ten years, we only just recently passed a workplace anti-discrimination law that includes gender identity. Many of my friends still have to work several jobs at  a time, throw fundraisers, and run online fundraising campaigns to pay for their gender reassignment surgery. But before I could congratulate him on such a feat, he dismissed the achievement almost entirely. “They can do better. I’m going to make the government pay for all the surgeries. What nonsense.”

Given all the negative news we hear about gay Africans (as well as either the apathy or aggressive criminalization by African governments), who would ever have suspected that a black, transgender South African would not only have gotten gender reconstructive surgeries covered by the government, but that he would be so bold as to demand for more,  i.e. full coverage for anyone transitioning, when countries like the US are still debating the recognition of gender identity in basic healthcare policy?

I immediately began to interrogate him about his experience advocating for trans-inclusive healthcare, and LGBT activism in general. Soon, we discovered a way we’d already been connected; I’d recently written about his organization in a recent article (“Will Transgender and Intersex Activism Unite Africa’s Movements?“) for Gender Across Borders. Small world. But he’d had no idea. So, before we parted ways, we exchanged emails, and he gave me a T-Shirt with his organization’s name and logo on it. I was so happy to have met a fellow gender non-conforming African, and resolved to keep in touch, and follow his work more closely.

But here’s the thing: after I got back to the states, I searched for his organization online and all I found was a website with no content. Not even a contact link. His umbrella organization had an active Facebook page, but the major new initiative he’d shared with me, along with some of the programs and work he’d talked about, weren’t mentiond in their updates. Basically, my new friend — and all his passionate trans advocacy — was invisible.

Two weeks ago I heard about the brutal murder of an LGBT South African, Thapelo Makutle, described by western and African news and media outlets as gay. Thapelo had recently competed (and won) a beauty queen pageant, was seemingly self-described as trans, but I had no idea which pronouns they went by; almost all the news stories I came across had been written by people outside of the  community most familiar with Thapelo’s work. I wondered if my friend had known Thapelo personally. I wondered what he would have written about the crime, and what steps he would have suggested to happen next in order to honor and continue to build on the work of a fellow transgender activist.

As the story spread far and wide, framed as an anti-gay issue in Africa, Thapelo’s trans identity taking a back seat — I began to feel frustrated. Now, news of the crime was being picked up by western media sites, who barely cared to include any details beyond the murder method and a reiteration that South Africa was unsafe. Where were the other less-sensationalized truths? What were they? Who could we trust, then and now, to deliver them to us? And, how will these voices be able to reach us in crucial times such as these?

These are all questions I’m hoping my new project — Social Media & Communications Training for African Women’s & LGBT Organizations — will address. For the next 6 months, I’ll be traveling through 6-8 countries (including South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, and more), hosting workshops on social media, writing and storytelling, branding and communications, blogging, tweeting, and more.

My goal is to support my brothers and sisters in leading the conversation about the LGBT African movement and the impact of their work, so that it isn’t reduced to a series of atrocities and vigils due to the west’s tendency to “re-tell” reductive stories about Africa (and the Diaspora in general). 

However, I must reiterate, that in addition to lending my hand to the fight for liberation at home, I am eager — and excited! — for the opportunity to learn from activists who have been creating change with little to no resources.

As the founder and lead-organizer of a nationally-recognized grassroots organization, and executive editor of a media advocacy and publishing organization, both of which serve queer people of color, including the Diaspora, I’ve had to learn to be resourceful in a variety of ways; but I’ve done all this from a very safe distance away from draconian anti-gay laws that threaten imprisonment and death (at least most of the time). I can’t imagine the hardships queer African activists face under such a climate. Yet, in spite of this, they persist, they survive, and often, against all odds, they thrive.

I will never forget how much the passion and conviction of my friend inspired me that day; it still encourages me to have courage, push through the fear, whenever I begin to doubt myself. I need this trip just as much as my brothers and sisters need my — and all of our — support for healing, for hope, and for affirmation.

So, goodbye to the overly simplistic, dehumanizing narratives western dogma continues to perpetuate about African; and hello to authenticity, autonomy, and self-determination. Instead of constantly being disappointed by reductive narratives about LGBT Africans (in the rare occasion they’re presented at all), I’m focusing instead on arming my community with tools and strategies to amplify of our voices. As far as telling our story of the LGBT African movement? I think we can take it from here.

David Kato. Thapelo Makutle.  And too many whose names we will never know. This trip is my homage to you. 

 

Support Africa Social Media Project

I’m aiming to raise more than $7500 by July 31st. I’m embarking on this trip completley on my own, and relying on individual donations; no sponsorships, no grants, just me. So, please consider donating if and as much as you can. I’ll be gone for 6 months, and am hoping to not become another “starving child in Africa”!

Suggestion: A good way to calculate a donation would be to think about what you’d be comfortable giving me as a one-time contribution, then multiply that by six.

All details about my project are available at http://www.indiegogo.com/africansforafrica

You can follow my journey @spectraspeaks and hashtag #africansforafrica on Twitter, or my Tumblr blog http://africansforafrica.tumblr.com/.

Alternatively, you can setup a recurring donation via paypal by selecting from one of the options below:


Africans for Africa Project
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We Are Not Invisible: 5 African Women Respond to the Kony 2012 Campaign

The Kony 2012, a campaign launched recently by Invisible Children to raise awareness of the issues of child soldiers in Uganda in which they propose what they believe to be the ultimate solution — arrest Kony, the LRA rebel leader responsible for over 30,000 child abductions — was met with overnight “success” (i.e. over 50 million views on YouTube) and then heightened controversy; there are critiques that suggest the video promotes a white saviorist approach to humanitarianism, others that applaud the effort but challenge the film’s inaccuracies, and many more that call for the inclusion of more African voices in Invisible Children’s advocacy efforts.

Almost overnight, the web was flooded with so much commentary from western media on the erasure of African voices that it became challenging for me to even locate perspectives from fellow Africans; ironically, African voices weren’t initially just being drowned out by the success of IC’s viral campaign, but by western voices sharing their own take. Fortunately, African voices stepped up to the  plate, offering a wide range of perspectives; you can find a compilation of African responses to the campaign here, and a more general roundup of the Kony2012 issue here.

Nevertheless, I’m (as always) acutely aware of the amplification of male voices on the Kony 2012 campaign. Hence — and in the spirit of women’s history month — I’d like to highlight African women’s voices. The 5 women below aren’t just adding to the conversation, but inspiring critical thinking about how we can be more conscious about the media we consume, more humble in our efforts to provide support to fellow global citizens, and mindful of the gift social media has given us. Africans now have the power to combat harmful narratives about Africa simply by telling our own.

So, here they are: 5 responses from African women to Kony 2012, and westerners seeking to support Africa, ethically and responsibly, now and in the future.

1) Solome Lemma
Involve African Leadership, Work with Organizations on the Ground

Soon after I heard about the Kony 2012 campaign (and watched the video), I read “You Do NOT Have My Vote” written by Solome Lemma under her Innovate Africa Tumblr.

Solome is also the Co-Founder of HornLight, a platform to share diverse, complex & nuanced narratives on the Horn of Africa. In this post, she stresses the need for African leadership:

…when your work and consequence affect a different group of people than your target audience, you must make it a priority to engage the voices of the affected population in a real and meaningful way, in places and spaces where programs are designed, strategies dissected, and decisions made.

Read the full post at innovateafrica.tumblr.com, and follow @InnovateAfrica on Twitter.

 

2) Rosebell Kagumire
Respect Africa’s Agency, Don’t Paint Us As Voiceless

While the cyberspace heated up with written critique upon written critique, Rosebell KAgumire, a Ugandan blogger and journalist that covered the LRA several years ago, decided to post a video summarizing her thoughts.

In this video, she passionately asserts the danger of a single story to dehumanize a people:

“How you tell the stories of Africans is much more important that what the story is; because if you are showing me as voiceless, as hopeless [then] you have no space telling my story. You shouldn’t be telling my story if you don’t believe that I also have the power to change what is going on.”

Rosebell also stresses the importance of including African leadership, as well as engaging other political players such as the Ugandan government and other African countries before attempting to implement any solutions.

Visit Rosebell’s blog here, and follow @RosebellK

 

3) Betty Oyella Bigombe
Historical Context is Necessary for Any Future Solutions

Although Betty isn’t currently directly involved with peace efforts for the LRA, nor has she written a formal response to the Invisible Children campaign, she has been quoted and cited several times as a notable Ugandan peace-seeking activist the Kony2012 video erases by suggesting that there’s been limited attention called to the issue. Not only was Betty previously tasked with convincing the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) guerilla rebels –negotiating with Kony himself over 10 years ago — to lay down their arms, following the failure of military efforts to defeat the rebels, her shared experiences working from all sides of the conflict provide counter to IC’s claim that there are just good guys and bad guys. From CSMonitor.com:

Bigombe has seen the LRA’s brutality first-hand. In 1995, when she was a government minister, she was the first outsider on the scene of one of its bloodiest massacres. Rebels attacked a town and captured about 220 men, women, and children. The villagers were marched several miles to a riverbank and all methodically executed.

Yet sometimes Bigombe sees glimmers of humanity, too. Once, one LRA commander grew pensive during a conversation. He wondered how his fellow northerners would perceive him after all the terrible things the LRA has done. He asked plaintively, “Can I ever go home again?”

Read her full story here, watch a video of Betty speaking here, as well as this recent interview with her on Enough Project.

 

4) Dayo Olopade
Support the Mundane March Towards Progress, Not Just Internet Sensationalism

As a fellow Nigerian, I was thrilled to see Dayo mentioned in this list of Africans commenting on the Kony 2012 campaign. She recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times about the gap between what the the Kony 2012 campaign suggests as a solution and what Ugandan people dealing with the daily impact of this conflict actually need. Here is an excerpt (edited for brevity):

In Kampala last month, I met Hadijah Nankanja, the local director of Women of Kireka, a collective of women touched by Kony’s marauding violence… Hadijah and I tried to come up with a way forward. Food production? Tailoring? Hair salons? And so forth. We didn’t come up with a concrete plan, but opening a small restaurant seemed to be the front-running proposition. Our informal brainstorming session took about the same time as does watching “Kony 2012.” I dare suggest that time spent marshaling such reserves of imagination, communion and capital to support jobs for displaced victims is far more helpful than this sort of advocacy. The kinds of problems Hadijah is trying to understand and solve are less sexy than the horror stories trailing behind Kony. But they are the nut worth cracking. The mundane march of progress in poor countries is what ‘awareness’ campaigns often miss. And when, as in this case, success is determined by action from outside the region, cries of a new imperialism should be taken seriously. Few international NGOs working in Africa define success properly — as putting themselves out of business. Invisible Children seems no better.”

Dayo is a Nigerian-American journalist covering global politics and development policy. She is writing a book about innovation in Africa. You can follow her at @madayo on Twitter.

 

5) Semhar Araia
Use Media to Amplify African Voices, Not Just Your Own

Semhar is the founder of the Diaspora African Women’s Network (DAWN), which “develops and supports talented women and girls of the African diaspora.”

In her opinion piece at the Christian Science Monitor, “Learn to Respect Africans,” Semhar refocuses the conversation on the impact of media on young people thirsty for information:

… young people’s minds are open and hungry. They should be inspired by knowing Africa is empowered, saving itself, and working with partners to remove Kony. That is the real story. Invisible Children must be willing to take their followers on a journey through the Africa that Africans know. They must be willing to inspire – but also to  manage – their followers’ expectations. They must be willing to use their media to amplify African voices, not simply their own.

It’s no wonder she started the twitter hashtag, #WhatILoveAboutAfrica. In response to negative portrayals of the continent put forth by western media, and most recently, through the Kony 2012 campaign, Semhar commands that we do more than just critique visions of Africa, but create them ourselves. Follow @Semhar and @DawnInc on Twitter.

 

So, that’s the word — African women have spoken. If you’re interested in supporting the people of Northern Uganda, but would like an alternative to donating to Invisible Children, consider supporting organizations such as Hope North Uganda and The Women of Kireka. In fact, Invisible Children has recently shared a list of other organizations working on the this issue in Uganda.

Finally, if you’re itching for a new video to share, share this one, make this one go viral. Viva Africa.

For Women’s History Month: Writing Our Way Back into History

Happy Women’s History Month!

There is a lot to say about women’s history. Yet, what is always at the forefront of my mind is that women’s history starts with me sharing my own story, contributing to the movement of millions of other women doing the same.

All morning I’ve been reading tweets about great women who inspired change — politically, socially, within the fields of science, music, the arts etc. It’s inspiring to see so much media that sheds light about amazing womens’ contributions to the history of the world, but let’s face it — not all of us are going to get interviewed on BBC, speak at a UN convention, amass the most followers on Twitter, or write a book that makes Oprah’s highly coveted reading list.

Does this reality make any of us less important? I don’t think so — but how many women from the everyday do? How many inspiring women — mothers, wives, teachers, students, scientists, artists etc — equate being a part of history with being a famous celebrity, or tech innovator, winning an election, or leading a political revolution? My guess is many. But, history doesn’t always have to be so dramatic to count — it just needs to be documented.

History, contrary to the popular misconception that the word is derived from “his” and “story” put together, actually has its roots in an ancient Greek word ἱστορία (hístōr), which can mean “inquiry,” “knowledge so obtained,” or — my favorite — “a written account of one’s inquiries, narrative, history.” Note that no part of the definition of history inherently suggests a limitation of “written accounts” to men, or white people, or any other marginalized group for that matter. So why have women’s stories been (and continue to be) left out of history?

Perhaps rehashing the etymological roots of a single word won’t change the  fact that history has long been recounted from the viewpoint of dominant society; Hollywood, arguably the world’s most influential movie industry is still run by white people, or men, or Americans (depending on which way you look at it); the op-ed pages of major news outlets — through which policy and thought leadership are driven — are also dominated by men who don’t understand women’s issues; and while stories of minority groups do make their way into history archives, the fact that they are often told from the point of view of the oppressor often leads to unrealistic, dehumanizing, biased portrayals of the people whose history is being documented for them. But, embracing the revelation that history is simply “a narrative accounted for” actually makes things less complicated:

In order to address the dearth of women’s histories — our stories, and voices being undocumented, under-valued, and falsely represented without reprimand — women must begin telling their own stories; we must essentially write our way back into history.

Incidentally, one doesn’t always have to “do” something huge to be someone important  — sometimes sharing the complex, intersecting pieces about ourselves (and inspiring others to do the same) can do just as much, if not more, to change the world.

For instance, I recently asked my straight, conservative, Christian brother — who does not consider himself a writer, by the way — to contribute a guest blog about his personal experience spending his first Christmas with me and my partner. At first he couldn’t understand why anyone would want to hear from him; he even stated in the piece that he’s just “a regular guy from Nigeria.” Well, three months later, I still get emails from so many young people telling me that they used his piece to come out as gay to their families. Three months later, I still have African students walk up to me after I’ve given a talk to let me know that my brother’s piece changed their lives, that his “writing” gave them hope. I’m about to hire one of them as an intern this summer, an opportunity she describes as opening her world up to more African community than she’s ever been exposed to before.

And in case you’re tempted to point out that my brother’s a guy, it was no different when my younger sister contributed a similar piece, Confessions of a Straight Girl, two years ago; a high school teacher reached out to me then for permission to use her piece to lead a gender and sexuality studies class.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Well, even if I want to write, my life is not that interesting. I’m just a [insert perceived mundane role here that has everyone wondering why you’re being so self-deprecating] with nothing to say…” That is simply not true. Bertrand Russell (a man) once said, “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.” When I think about how many boring history textbooks written by men are out there, it motivates me to keep writing, no matter how insignificant the voices in my head insist my perspective (on anything) is. And if positive-thinking doesn’t work for you, here are some other factors to consider:

  • Women are less likely to run for office in  part because they don’t feel “qualified enough”
  • “Mommy Blogging” has gotten the attention of a $750 million blog marketing industry; companies want to know what moms — not “experts” — think before they spend a dime developing new products
  • The It Gets Better campaign — videos created by regular people — has dramatically increased awareness of issues facing LGBT youth
  • There are too many men who really shouldn’t be talking (Rush Limbaugh and David Bahati come to mind) writing and saying all kinds of things, and even worse influencing millions of people with their biased point of view — shouldn’t we at least join them?

See, the problem with women not telling their stories isn’t just an issue of “balance” (i.e. we need men and women’s voices in equal measure), but an issue of “influence.” Thus, the reason I write as often as I do is not because I think I have more to say, but rather, there’s too much at stake in the world if I don’t say enough. So, in moments when I doubt my power to impact others, I’ve learned to tap into the deep dread I feel at the thought of someone else speaking for me, especially after I’m gone; someone giving my children their version of who I was instead of doing the work to make sure my children get to read my words. My writing ensures accountability to my voice, my perspective, my journey, my history, which is worth telling, and worth telling right.

So, for women’s history month, I challenge you to take charge of your own history, by writing it. Instead of passively sharing women’s history as recounted by others, how about you begin the process of formally documenting — journaling, blogging, creating art and media etc — about your own life? It’s simple enough these days: you could create your own blog using a free Blogger or WordPress account, sign up for Twitter and share snippets of your history using #myherstory.

Blogging and tweeting may seem trivial given the bigger picture of revolutionizing history, but tell that to the voters (29 and under) who  leveraged the power of social media to elect the first US Black president, or the people of the Arab Spring who tweeted, YouTubed and shared their revolution with the world, and in turn sparked many more revolutions — the occupy movements — worldwide. Yours truly will be participating in Gender Across Border’s Blog for International Women’s Day, thus joining thousands of women all over the world to celebrate this year’s theme, “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.” Why not be one of them? Your words matter. Our words matter. Women’s words matter.

Whether you’re a teacher who educates young girls in a classroom, a mother of four who loves to write erotica, a hiphop artist who has a thing to say about gender discrimination in the music industry, a bus driver who bakes cupcakes, a sibling with an outspoken, queer, activist of a sister, please speak. Please say something. You have to — the world is counting on you.

Saying No to Media Saviorism, Celebrating Africa’s Resistance

Dear Readers,

You may wonder where I’ve been for the past month. The answer: RESTING.

But, I’ve also been contributing to some of my favorite media outlets — Racialicious.com, plus now, Gender Across Borders — working on a chapbook (so fun!), and finally, developing a fierce editorial advisory board for my new media project highlighting diaspora voices. It’s all been very exciting, but has kept me very busy (ok, ok — I totally lied about the resting). The head-first dive into the global media blogosphere has left me with thoughts. And you all know what happens when I get thoughts.

For Gender Across Borders, I just published my first intro piece, “Celebrating Africa’s Resistance.” I invite you to read, share with your networks, and of course, use the comment section to leave me your thoughts. I look forward to reading your own reflections on the state of media coverage of African, the global south, and people of color, in general. So excited to be back!

Warrior Love,
Spectra

Say No to Media Saviorism: Celebrating Africa’s Resistance
Originally published at GenderAcrossBorders.com

When I hear “Gender Across Borders” the images that immediately come to mind are tragic: African women who face violence and sexual assault during times of war, groups of Afghan women in burqas shuffling through the unsettled dust of conflict resolution in silence, poor and starving African girls being nursed back to health for the premeditated purposes of child trafficking, and much worse. A quick google search for “gender justice” and “human rights” returns an inspiring list of organizations and websites (including this one) dedicated to addressing these issues in a myriad of ways: media coverage, non-profit direct service, volunteerism, advocacy, cause campaigning, etc. Yet, I found that as I clicked into each site, I was met with even more bad news, “shocking” reports, and yet, again, the same images: women being oppressed all over the non-western world.

As a daughter of Africa, who is currently based in the US, I wonder to myself if a time will finally come when cable networks will include coverage of Africa beyond the saviorist commercials that urge me to save poor and starving African children, if major news outlets will consider Africa’s resistance and self-liberation newsworthy enough for morning shows (not just “breaking news”), when independent blogs will consider amplifying more than just the “atrocious” acts that are often committed against us to also include our resilience — how African women continue to get back on their feet and march forward – every – single – time. Undoubtedly, many of these media organizations mean well and, despite the negative news coverage, are creating a positive impact by raising awareness; in my mind, the desire to bring to light the injustices that women face all over the world (given a white male-dominated media) is commendable. But, is oppression truly all that we can cover?

How about we — as global gender justice advocates — subvert the idea that women are perpetual victims by covering our collective resistance (at least much more often than, say, our male counterparts)? How about we more frequently discuss the kind of rebellion that may not necessarily inspire political protests as large in scale as the Arab Spring, but affirm brave acts that carve out new territory within the scope of women in government? How about we spend less time sharing negative news stories that go viral during major national crises, but focus on highlighting the slow and steady work of the underdog that is happening under the radar? How about we cut back on the sensationalism — the shock tactics and controversy we once deployed to get mainstream media to pay attention to issues important to us — and now spend time amassing an archive of positive happenings that could inspire legendary bed time stories of the many feminist heroes and heroines that have been paving the way to our liberation?

Just to clarify, I do not intend to create a hierarchy of media coverage (i.e. good media vs. better media) within the context of global gender justice; any coverage of women’s issues (whether positive or negative) is much-needed coverage of women’s issues. Organizations like Gender Across Borders, the Caribbean feminist collective, Code Red, Women, Action and the Media, South Africa’s LGBT news hub, Behind the Mask, the LGBT Asylum News online portal, and hundreds more doing similar work to raise marginalized voices within have already made considerable gains in this arena, and thus, granted me the right to be greedy — now, I want now to see women’s and gender equality issues covered more thoroughly; I want it all — the good, the bad, the ugly.

The desire for more coverage of women’s proactive, creative solutions to Africa’s problems in part from one of my Afrofeminist principles; namely, it is just as (if not more) important to live from a place of hope, than from a place of fear and constant criticism. But surely, I’m not the only one who’s craving more positive news. I can’t be the only African, LGBT activist, trans* person, immigrant etc who cringes at the thought of having my experience manifest as projected by public health reports and/or “cold hard facts.” (Apparently, as an African gender non-conforming person, I’m expected to live till the age of 35. I just turned 30, by the way).

There is obviously more discussion to be had about western media’s loyalty to third world suffering, its incessant feeding on plight of the global south, but that is not the focus of this post. I intend to explore this idea more fully in the future, but today, I’d like to focus on what I’m going to do about it. Today, I’d like to assure you of just one thing:

I will not be using my column on Gender Across Borders to talk about the plight of African women. Whereas, in the past, I’ve contributed my fare share of critique, one of my new year’s resolutions as an afrofeminist (more on that later) is to focus more on highlighting positive media (versus constantly reacting to negative news).

Instead, I’ll be covering women all around the world who use their art, performance, and media to raise awareness of critical issues and under-the-radar uprisings. I look forward to sharing my favorite musicians, artists, writers, and media organizations with you.

I want to cover LGBT Africa’s resistance — one that doesn’t place sexual violence, political warfare, and death at the focal point, but reiterates over and over again that every day citizens are standing fast against oppression, speaking up for each other in the face of the west’s infantilizing media.

I want to cover women’s movements happening around kitchen tables, in hair salons, within the sanctity of religious and spiritual spaces, and familiarity of traditional ceremonies. I want to give young people a chance to understand that real movements happen within the scope of every day, and not just within political discourse.

I want to show the world that Africa can — on its own — walk and run; that our continent has caught up (and, has already been leading) many parts of the world in various areas — social entrepreneurship, women’s political participation, innovation and technology, and more.

Due to my own background, there may be some initial focus on Africa, but I am determined to highlight acts of resistance as they are happening all across Asia, Latin America, and the Arab world, as well. As I will be contributing to GAB weekly, please feel free to send me any artists, performers, media and/or filmmakers, and organizations who are creating positive change (not just reacting to it) by commenting under this post, via my GAB email, or my Twitter handle @spectraspeaks.

If the work is creative, inspiring, and impacts women and/or gender justice, I want to hear about it. I want you to hear about it. The world must hear about it.

Viva Africa.

[ps — none of this negates the fact that I’m known for my ranting, and thus, will continue to do so, just in moderation]


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