Browse Tag: africa

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.

Lessons from my Mother: African Women and Feminism

Yesterday, countries around the world celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD), a day during which thousands of events — political rallies, business conferences, government activities, networking events, local women’s craft markets, theatric performances, fashion parades and more — are held to inspire women and celebrate achievements in gender equality.

This year’s theme, “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures,” called for intentionally including young girls in the discussion and creatively brainstorming solutions for bridging the divide between generations. Hence, Gender Across Borders hosted a successful live blogging event, in which over 200 blogs explored a plethora of ideas such working with girls in conflict areasprotesting female genital cuttinginvesting in girls leadership,  and — the piece I wrote — women writing their way back into history. In an attempt to highlight African women’s contributions to IWD, I also created a “Africa on IWD” board on Pinterest. You can view the board here.

Looking at the colorful collection of images, videos, and blog posts of African women celebrating all across the continent invoked mixed feelings; on one hand, I was proud to see African women, both individuals and organizations, respond in droves to the call, but on the other hand, being so far away from home on IWD made me a tad homesick, causing me to reflect on how it is I came to be so involved in women’s issues.

I attended an international primary school, where International Women’s Day was a chance for all of us to celebrate women from different cultures via music, art, dance, and charity. Often, students would read inspiring facts about women from their home countries, followed by traditional dance and music performances, international food expos, and a myrid of opportunities for students and their families to learn and give back. Yet, global women’s activism wasn’t just tied to my school’s programming.

Growing up in Nigeria, the idea that improving the lives of women was a cause worth fighting for didn’t just come from organizations, or brochures, or formal programming; I had strong women around me who constantly put this into practice in the every day, including my own mother.

As a child of the Biafran war and the first daughter of her family, my mother faced the heavy burden of supporting her family through the loss of a number of relatives, including her own mother who died from sickness. To this day, she credits the support of women’s organizations for her survival. And thus, she committed herself to charity from a very early age. I remember my mother telling me about the one night she’d prayed the hardest to God; it was during a bomb raid. She’d close her eyes and clasp her hands together as she’d recount the promise she made to God that if she made it through the night, she’d dedicate the rest of her life helping people, much like the older women — human rights advocates, volunteers, missionaries — who had risked their lives during the war in order to deliver relief to the region in which she lived — food, clothing, sanitary pads. She’d trek over 10 miles back and forth every day just to deliver food and drinking water to her family, but she never really emphasized the distance; what remains with her is the memory of dedicated women that were waiting to receive her on the other side.

My mother’s life was spared and she kept her promise. Inspired by the circumstances she’d witnessed her own family go through after the loss of her own mother, she founded and led the first program in the country to advocate for the rights of women who had lost the heads of their households and had young children to care for (The Widows Trust Fund).  Later on, she became president of the International Women’s Society, an organization that works for the advancement of women and children in Nigeria. As a social entrepreneur, she founded Garden of Zinnia, an organization that creates holiday gift baskets — a popular tradition in Nigeria — by partnering with local vendors i.e. market women, local artists and craftspeople. Every year, hundreds of people — from the elderly basket-weavers to the young girls who sell the wrapping ribbons — rely on my mother’s unwavering commitment to supporting women who are working to support their families.

As a young girl, I remember accompanying my mother to meetings, fundraisers, award ceremonies and the like filled to the brim with inspiring African women. I witnessed my mother giving awards as well as receiving them. I didn’t understand the word “feminism” when I first heard it, but I watched my mother’s active mentorship of the young women she invited into our home and took under her wing. I didn’t understand the term “economic empowerment” when I first heard it, but I saw my mother apply this principle in her work as a business owner each year she refused to replace local products in her gift baskets with expensive imports from overseas. My family never sat around discussing women’s liberation at the dinner table; my mother never thought to write about her experience as an African woman navigating gender, war, and poverty; she simply lived the principles she believed in. It is because I watched my mother, that I strongly believe in applied advocacy for women’s issues in all its forms — gender equality, LGBT human rights, and women’s visibility in media — not just as a celebration on a single day, but as a way of life; not just as ideas to be talked about, but work to be done.

I appreciate the 2012 International Women’s Day theme — Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures — for the reminder that women’s contributions to the world don’t always have to come in press releases, or conferences, or non-profit programs to make a difference; that sometimes, the greatest impact is felt within the scope of the every day; that my mother is a woman worth celebrating; and that, I — the first daughter of my family, a proud afrofeminist, women’s and media activist, tirelessly fighting for gender equality — am the future she inspired.

Question to Readers: Did your relationship with your mother — or other parental figure — shape your activism? influence your politics? If so, how?

3-10 Women Arrested for Being Lesbian in Cameroon: Gender Bias in Anti-Gay Prosecution

Recently, BBC news reported that three women — allegedly involved in a love triangle — in Cameroon have been arrested on suspicions of practicing homosexuality. Other sources state that ten women are being detained before trial, but it’s difficult to ascertain the exact number of women charged due to the remoteness of the area.

According to the Washington Post, homosexuality is considered criminal in Cameroon and punishable by a jail sentence of six months to five years, plus a fine of 200,000 francs. But this case may be a first for Cameroon; until now, men have been the primary target for anti-gay arrests.

In September 2011, Alice Nkom, a gay rights defense attorney and founder of the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals, led an AllOut.org campaign to draw attention to the country’s aggressive anti-gay crackdown during which ten men were apparently snatched from their homes and public places and thrown in jail:

One of them, Jean-Claude, has been sentenced to 3 years in prison merely for sending a text message to another man. I’ve heard countless recent stories of homophobic violence throughout the country. I’m 66, and in ten years of defending lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) people in Cameroon, it has never been this bad.

Despite receiving over 70,000 signatures, including a strong backing from the international human rights community, three men were sentenced to five years  imprisonment — the maximum sentence — for alleged “homosexual acts” a few months later. At the onset of the trial, Nkom insisted to BBC that the men were targeted for dressing feminine and that their only crime had been to wear women’s clothing.

Worth noting is that there haven’t been any (reported) incidents of similar raids or arrests involving women. Still, rigid perceptions of gender roles have long been theorized as the root cause of homophobia; men are more frequently met with public shaming and arrests, but this does not necessarily mean that human rights violations against women based on their gender presentation and/or perceived sexual orientation aren’t happening.

Women are vulnerable to attack by neighbors and acquaintances who suspect them of same-sex interest. All parties know that if the attack is reported, the victim could be arrested under Article 347 bis of the Cameroonian penal code. 

According to a a 2010 Human Rights Watch report, Criminalizing Identities: Rights Abuses in Cameroon based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity:

Women are more likely to be controlled and punished for same-sex relationships in the family sphere than in the public sphere. In one manifestation of this control, Cameroonian women have little freedom of movement and their access to public space is highly restricted, which only means they are less likely to be arrested during a police raid on a gay bar. However, women are also more prone to abuses in the private sphere than men are.

The report asserts that this “control” of women in Cameroon is further reinforced via strict gender roles:

… the men of a family control the intimate lives of the women of the family… Researchers found that the community also singles out men and women who are not fulfilling the desired roles of masculinity or femininity.

As with this newly reported case, the women were arrested after the husband of one of the alleged lesbians reported the matter to the police.

This case, originally reported on February 20th,  has been adjourned until 8 March 2012, with the women being detained till then. In an interview with the Advocate, Nkom describes the treatment of LGBT people in prison as inhuman, horrid, violent. By the time the case is revisited, the women may have been in prison for over two weeks, prompting concern for the women’s safety.

No other information has currently been made available, but updates will be posted once more details have been confirmed.

International Women’s Day Screening of Africa’s “Waiting for Superman” — “To Educate a Girl”

Originally written for GenderAcrossBorders.com

In a world in which over 72 million children are not in school — and most of them are female — what does it take to educate a girl?

Framed by the United Nations global initiative to provide equal access to education for girls by 2015, the documentary film, To Educate a Girl, takes a ground-up and visually stunning view of that effort through the eyes of girls in Nepal and Uganda, two countries emerging from conflict and struggling with poverty.

In Nepal, Manisha, a teenager who works in the fields while her three younger sisters go to school, is contrasted by three young listeners of a hugely popular youth-oriented radio program. We learn how the program has helped them deal with issues of early marriage and poverty in order to stay in school.

In Uganda, we meet Mercy, the six-year-old daughter of an impoverished single mother who is about to embark on her first day of school, and Sarah, a teenage war orphan who is haunted by a tragic past but still managing to study.

Through the experiences of girls out of school, starting school or fighting against the odds to stay in school, To Educate a Girl offers a compelling look at the lives of young women who are striving to achieve their dreams in the face of conflict, poverty and gender bias.

The film, directed and produced with support from the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), is already been compared to Waiting for Superman, another documentary film that focuses a critical lens on the broken public education system in the US and explores the “achievement gap” within schools mainly along racial lines.To Educate A Girl, however, places the conversation about education within a global context–the millions of children around the world not even in school, and the experiences of girls in particular as they navigate culture, poverty, and gender bias in order to access even the most basic education.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, UNICEF will host the film’s New York premier. The screening will take place on March 8th (time), at Teachers College, Columbia University, and will feature a Q&A with award-winning filmmakers Frederick Rendina and Oren Rudavsky, and representatives from UNICEF.

Note: The film can also be viewed in full at ViewChange.org

Check out the trailer:

To Educate a Girl (Trailer) from Talking Drum Pictures on Vimeo.

African Women’s Organization Partners with Nigerian Artist NNEKA to Promote Women’s Rights Through the Arts

Originally published at Gender Across Borders.

On Thursday, February 16th, 2012, the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) hosted an event at their headquarters in East Legon, Accra, Ghana to officially ‘out-door’ musician and activist, Nneka Egbuna (“NNEKA”) as their Ambassador for the Arts.

Invited guests included Professor Ama Ata Aidoo (internationally acclaimed feminist African writer and academic), Nana Oye Mansa Yeboah, Chairperson of the Akuapem Community Foundation, and a diverse number of African women artists including Yasmeen Helwani Nsiah, Lady Jay Wah of Pidgen Music, Anita Erskine, Sherrifa, and Stephanie Benson.

Women’s rights organisations were also well represented including Adowa Bame of WISE (Women’s Initiative for Self Empowerment), Lucy Mensah of WUAGG (Women United Against Aids in Ghana),  and Patricia Blankson-Akakpo of NETRIGHT (Network of Women’s Rights in Ghana).

The African Women’s Development Fund was founded 11 years ago by three inspirational women – Hilda Tadria, Joanna Foster and Bisi Adeleye Fayemi, who was also AWDF’s founding Executive Director until last year. They created an amazing organisation aimed at supporting women organisations in their work to make real change in women’s lives – to ensure the recognition and implementation of ALL women’s human rights (economic, social, cultural, political etc) across Africa.

Their continuous, dedicated efforts, despite the immediate concerns facing women in Africa, are commendable. Their milestones speak for themselves; in partnership with numerous organizations, AWDF has provided over 19 million dollars in grants to more than 800 organisations in 42 African countries. Yet, AWDF continues to push the envelope; their decision to include the Arts and Sports as two new thematic areas is just one of the ways that this organization demonstrates their commitment to implementing long-terms solutions in Africa.

In her welcome speech, interim CEO, Theo Sowa, emphasized the potential impact of leveraging the power of music and the arts as a platform for change:

The arts can be powerful catalysts of such individual and collective understandings. Artists can produce works that translate dusty words into clear and heartfelt understandings of issues and ways of dealing with them. Art can touch the souls as well as the minds of countless people, inspiring passion, anger, joy and other emotions that can catalyse action in ways that court cases and academic lectures and even protest marches may never achieve. Art can bring information and meaning into lives in ways that can be more real, more grounded and more influential than any number of texts. Arts – traditional or modern – are integral to our cultural lives… and changes in social, economic and political arenas will never truly take root without parallel changes in our cultural norms, beliefs and practices.

Photo Credit: Emmanuel Bobbie

According to Nana Sekyiamah, Communications Office at AWDF, the decision to invite NNEKA to be the organization’s first Ambassador for the Arts, was in part due to her “incredible passion, and commitment to using her gift of music as a means of provoking social change.” Sekyiamah added that “Nneka’s message is hard hitting in the issues she addresses (corruption, exploitation, the environment) yet its a message of one love and hope.”

The daughter of a Nigerian father and a German mother, NNEKA was born in Warri, Oil City in the Delta region of Nigeria at the height of its new found wealth in the mid 70s. Her lyrics reflect much of her history and life in Nigeria as well as her time spent in Western Europe. Her songs stress the issues of capitalism, poverty and war and are often loaded with moral and biblical messages and references, with some music commentators comparing her to Erykah Badu, Neneh Cherrynd Floetry.

Yesterday, NNEKA performed during the event and shared her thoughts on becoming the AWDF’s Arts Ambassader via a short video interview. During the interview, she shares, “It’s easier to use music [to promote change] than to stand up at a podium,” thoughts similar to that of Ama Ata Aidoo, who closed her speech by recognizing the power of music and the arts to change people’s lives.

I have seen traumatised children respond and come to life in music workshops; have seen communities that have been fighting for years come together over games of football; have seen the power of film to touch people’s hearts and change their thinking; have experienced writers whose works have changed my life and motivations.

Learn more about the Africa Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) at their website, www.awdf.org.


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