Browse Tag: african feminism

“I Dare to Say” Book Review: A Lesson in Hope and Resilience from African Women

I first learned about “I Dare to Say”, a new anthology of African women sharing their stories of hope and survival, after I’d recently decided that, when it came to writing about Africa, I would only ever highlight stories of struggle alongside resistance.

Incidentally, I’d also just published a response to the Kony 2012 campaign about the need for more African women’s voices in the media. Needless to say, the publication of this anthology by FEMRITE, the Ugandan Women’s Writers Association, was timely.

When my copy arrived in the mail, I felt a sense of pride staring at the glossy cover, a sepia photo of two older African women dressed modestly in old garments. Something about the woman in the foreground felt familiar, wrinkles on her bare forearms, wearing the kind of smile that only follows after a really good laugh.

A month later, I realized it had been the memory of both my grandmothers that the image had invoked; they too masked a lifetime of pain and perseverance behind bright white smiles in the sepia photos of my family’s history, their stories held captive within fading images of moments when they temporarily forgot their burdens.

I had once felt I could never know what my grandmothers (and even my own mother) suffered at the hands of poverty, the unforgiving hand of patriarchal traditions, and Nigeria’s bloody civil war. I’d for a very long time resented my mother for her matter-of-fact way of moving through life, never stopping long enough to share the details with an eager first daughter who yearned for a deeper connection with the women in her family; I spent my childhood yearning for stories that lived beyond the slew of parental commands that came infused with generations of gendered duty.

My mother was the kind of woman that would casually toss harsh truths at you from the other end of the dinner table, right before asking you to pass the salt. “I Dare to Say” captures the reality of that kind of resilience – the kind that has learned to live in the next second, the next minute, the next day, never having had the luxury of sitting on a rock for timed introspection; the kind that’s learned to convert detachment into the instinct to keep breathing despite the suffocating feeling of hopelessness.

Reading the book itself was a lesson in perseverance; the longer I paused between stories, the harder it was to bring myself to brave the next one. So, onward I would press on, carrying all the pain, anger, frustration, and chest-heavy burden from being triggered by these women’s experiences, reliving their trauma with them.

Through tears and turning pages, I would question everything I believed: whether I was truly grateful for the life I was currently living or gorging my ego with self-pity, whether or not the work I was currently doing as an activist was meaningful, given how few of these women it touched. I would feel myself shutting down, wanting to close my heart to further pain by closing the book, and in essence, silencing these women’s voices.

But when African women facing overwhelming hardship and circumstances, re-live their trauma to share their journey with us, in order to engage us, educate us, even heal us, we owe them more than a few brief moments of empathy; we owe them our undivided attention, our gratitude, and our commitment to holding on to the voices and their stories as though lives depend on it; because they absolutely do.

“I Dare to Say” not only reveals to the reader, the unrelenting burden of resilience that comes with living in some of the most impoverished areas and under the most debilitating circumstances in Africa, but its first-hand accounts by Ugandan women offer poignant insight into some of the most prominent issues facing women all over the world today.

Here are a few reasons why this groundbreaking collection should be gifted, purchased, and read by every women’s and gender studies department, every single African feminist, every human rights activist, every father, brother, and uncle, everywhere:

1) Concise, Clear Focus on Concrete Set of Issues: Rather than attempt to cram the myriad of issues facing African women into a dense and overwhelming product, this anthology focuses on the ones tied to culture and tradition, and thus are often stigmatized, making their exploration more powerful. The editors organized the collection into four distinct sections:

  • Tears of Hope: Surviving Domestic Abuse
  • Farming Ashes: Tales of Agony and Resilience (Post-Conflict)
  • I Dare to Say: Facing HIV/AIDS
  • Beyond the Dance: The Torture and Trauma of Female Gential Mutilation.

2) Stories Remain Powerful When Read in Order or At Random: I read the stories in order, from start to finish. I must confess, however, that even though I initially believed the sections would prepare me for what was to come, each story felt like a different emotional expedition, raw and unexpected. So, I’m not sure how different the experience would be for a reader who opted instead to select stories at random. Nonetheless, the modular way in which the narratives were presented, certainly made the context around some of the issues a lot easier to learn and digest.

3) Ethical Curation: This Anthology Honors the Storyteller, Not Just the Story: Each story pays homage to Africa’s long tradition of oral storytelling, by acknowledging the power in both the listener and the person doing the storytelling. In every chapter, the moments leading up to the initial meeting between the writer and the subject are described in first-person and italicized. The interviewer literally holds our hands as they travel on overcrowded buses, walk through villages, and get their subjects to start speaking. When this happens, the narrative voice of the African woman, jolts you into the main story; its rough edges and insights feel raw and uncensored  in verbatim, and you can ‘hear’ her, and experience her story as you would if you were right there with her in the room.

Every so often, I meet a book that opens up itself to me in a way that, in turn, encourages me  to be more open with the world about who I am. “I Dare to Say” is one of those books; after reading it, I am forever changed. I feel stronger and prouder than ever to carry the weight of these inspiring women’s stories on my back; their bravery has encouraged me to keep telling my own story, keep fighting for a future in which all our voices are heard, and live from the same place of hope and resilience as the women who have walked this path before me.

The London Feminist Film Festival Seeks Submissions from African Women Filmmakers

Dear Readers,

I was contacted by the London Feminist Film Festival committee to help share some very exciting news. Not only are they receiving great film submissions from all over the world (from as far as Sudan and Burkina Faso!), but they seem very committed to making sure African women and the Diaspora are represented in the festival’s programming, including the films themselves and post-screening panel discussions.

If you’re an African woman filmmaker (or know of any) who identifies as a feminist or has produced a film exploring feminist themes, please submit! The deadline for submissions is August 31st, so you still have time to prepare your reel.

I may actually submit something myself; I’ve been in a feminist erotica filmmaking mood of late. On a more serious note, I’ve been casually collecting footage of African women having conversations (or proclamations) about feminism for the past few months via my Africans for Africa project. The London Feminist Film Festival (LFFF) committee is interested in seeing it, so perhaps their impending deadline will serve as enough motivation for me to edit the first round of footage so that I can send them a short on African feminism. We shall see.

Meanwhile, here are some quick-hit submission criteria:

  • Women directors can be from any country
  • Films should deal with feminist issues and/or be feminist in their representation of women
  • Films can be of any length or genre, and from any year
  • Non-English language films must be presented in English-subtitled versions

NOTE: Submissions by mail will still be accepted as long as they are post-marked on or before that day. Read the full call for submissions here.

More info about the inaugural London Feminist Film Festival below:

The London Feminist Film Festival was set up as a response to the underrepresentation of women in the film industry, as well as to the lack of films addressing feminist issues and the fact that the representation of women on screen is often narrow and stereotypical. The festival aims to counterbalance the mainstream film industry’s narrow representation of women and its neglect of feminist issues by showing a season of feminist feature films, documentaries, and shorts made by women directors from around the world.

Festival Director, Anna Read, says “We want to celebrate women creatives whilst ensuring that this feminist ethos also extends to the films we show. The festival will be a celebration of feminist films past and present. Our aim is to inspire discussion about feminism and film, to support women directors, and to get feminist films seen by a wider audience”.

The festival’s first matron, writer, critic, and broadcaster Bidisha, released shared in support,“In a year when the Cannes film festival had no women in its official selection, when less than 10% of industry directors, writers, cinematographers, and leading characters are women, the London Feminist Film Festival is here to challenge, change, inspire, redress, entertain, and satisfy. I support it wholeheartedly as a women’s advocate and also as someone who has always loved film and sat in countless screenings watching the action and the credits and thinking, where the hell are the women? Well, here they are.”

Read / download their Full Press Release.

Incidentally, the LFFF has confirmed Jacqueline Williams, author of Out of the Shadows: Black Women in Film 1900-1959, a book which explores the contribution black women have made to movie making in the first half of the twentieth century. They are still confirming more speakers which they hope to represent a wide spectrum of feminist perspectives on film and the industry.

As with many feminist spaces, the emphasis on “women” almost always tends to universalize the experiences of the dominant group (e.g. straight women, white women, theorists/academics with class privilege and a macbook, etc.) so that over time the space becomes monolithic and unwelcoming to minorities. The organizers are aware of this and are working quite hard to get the call out to as many communities as possible.

I deeply appreciate LFFF’s effort to ensure diverse voices are represented in every aspect of the festival, including their decision to do outreach so that they can mainstream films from minorities (vs. create a separate track for them). Hence, I would love to see ALL kinds of submissions make it into their submissions pool, not just for the sake of sustaining their enthusiasm about working diligently towards diversity (however important), but so that the voices of African women and the Diaspora (including LGBTI people) will be heard in this very important forum.

So! If you’re an African woman who either identifies as feminist or would like to submit a film/short that explores feminist themes, read the full criteria, then submit!

If you have any questions about submissions, feel free to get in touch with LFF directly via Feel free to join the LFFF Facebook Group and/or Like their Facebook Page. You can also follow the LFFF on Twitter @ldnfemfilmfest for more information and updates.

Melissa Harris Perry, Host of MSNBC Show, Digs My Principles of Afrofeminism

Melissa Harris Perry (who hosts her own NBC show) says my interview at Ms. Magazine, during which I talk about my Principles of Afrofeminism, is now one of her favorite reads. Okay, I can die now.


Note: This interview was published on Ms. Magazine’s via The Femisphere Series by Avital Norman Nathman (@TheMamaFesto). The latest installment focused on profiling African Feminists in the blogsphere. I was one of three, so I’m honored that MHP picked my interview to share.

When I decided to concept my own personal framework, afrofeminism (not to be confused with a contraction for African Feminism, because neither feminism, social justice, spirituality etc — all frameworks I pull from — have ever been enough for me), I secretly thought it was silly and that no one would get it.

Thus, to have MHP — a reputable, brilliant, woman of color feminist — affirm my ideas, including that Love as a Revolution is meaningful, is absolutely everything.

A little bit about her — and why I’m honored that she shared my interview with nearly 100,000 Twitter followers:

Melissa Harris Perry is the host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry” (which airs on Saturdays and Sundays from 10AM to noon ET). In addition to hosting her own show on MSNBC she provides expert commentary on U.S. elections, racial issues, religious questions and gender concerns for Politics Nation with Reverend Al Sharpton, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell and other MSNBC shows.

She is a regular commentator on Keeping it Real Radio with Reverend Al Sharpton and for many print and radio sources in the U.S. and abroad. Her new book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America (Yale 2011), argues that persistent harmful stereotypes-invisible to many but painfully familiar to black women-profoundly shape black women’s politics, contribute to policies that treat them unfairly, and make it difficult for black women to assert their rights in the political arena.

Her academic research is inspired by a desire to investigate the challenges facing contemporary black Americans and to better understand the multiple, creative ways that African Americans respond to these challenges. Her work is published in scholarly journals and edited volumes and her interests include the study of African American political thought, black religious ideas and practice, and social and clinical psychology.

Thank you, Melissa Harris Perry! I so wanna be like you when I grow up!

Check it out my interview on Ms. Magazine if you haven’t already; I share the core concepts behind Afrofeminism, including Love and personal relationships as a framework for change.

You can also read about my thoughts on Ms. Magazine’s Femisphere series: What Does an African Feminist Look Like?

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? 

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?

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