Browse Tag: african feminists

Spectra Speaks African Women Storytellers

Live Podcast: African Women and Girl Storytellers in the Digital Age

On March 13, as part of Women, Action, and the Media (WAM)‘s 4th annual national conference, I’ll be hosting a live podcast about African women in the Diaspora who are using media to subvert mainstream narratives about Africa, “African Women Storytellers in the Digital Age.”


About Women, Action, and the Media (WAM)

Founded in 2004 by writer, educator, and activist, Jaclyn FriedmanWomen, Action, and the Media (WAM) is an independent national nonprofit dedicated to building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media… “Because power and privilege is about who gets to speak and who is listened to. And, most of the time, it’s not women.”

In an effort to nurture local feminist networks and raise awareness of women’s and gender issues in the media, WAM annually coordinates an international convening of activists, journalists, academics, artists and media-makers, all taking some kind of media action at the same time, in various cities across the U.S. and Canada. This year, the conference takes place between March 13-24.

Incidentally, my live podcast is one of two virtual events in the conference lineup. Other events happening include: 

a film screening about sexual violence in the military, a webinar on how to edit Wikipedia, a social networking opportunity for women musicians, and an all-day local conference about feminist media in NYC. Learn more here.

Re-Birth of the Kitchen Table Conversations Podcast

I’ve participated in WAM events for the past six years; specifically, their annual multi-city conferences are fun, educational, and a great excuse for me to reach out to fellow media creators I admire and respect together for smart, insightful, and candid conversation. In fact, the very first podcast I ever hosted (LGBT Africans Speaking on Media, Gender, and Culture) was such a huge hit that it inspired me to create the Kitchen Table Conversations series, a podcast the offers a sneak peek into the lives of activists, artists, and thought leaders.

My travel schedule has made it impossible to maintain the podcast’s consistency, but I certainly credit participating in WAM’s festival with sparking my passion for utilizing the power of media to increase visibility for minority groups, recognizing work that’s overlooked in the mainstream, and creating virtual networks for support and empowerment. And now, I thank them for creating the opportunity for me to revive the Kitchen Table Conversations series.

Follow my SoundCloud and BlogTalkRadio channels for impromptu live and pre-recorded podcasts with my favorite changemakers, coming soon.

Tune in for a Live Podcast about Gender, Media, and the African Diaspora on March 13th

This year, I am so excited to be moderating a conversation about the media’s (mis)representation of Africa/African women and the power of stories to influence and empower. In true kitchen table conversation style, my guests and I will be pontificating on mainstream storytelling about Africa and the role of western media and social media innovations (both on the continent and in the Diaspora) in shaping these narratives. We’ll also, of course, be discussing the panelists’ amazing projects — African journalism, creative feminism, audio storytelling, afropop culture, media advocacy, and more!

Spectra Speaks African Women Storytellers

African Women Storytellers in the Digital Age
Hosted by Spectra Speaks
March 13 @ 6:30 p.m. EST

How are African women currently depicted in the media? If mainstream media were solely responsible for telling Africa’s story, what role would the African woman play? What role can individuals–westerners, Diaspora, Africans on the continent–play in influence new narratives? How are African traditions of oral storytelling honored (or compromised) by the rise of social media? What are some ground-breaking African-led media projects we should be amplifying? And what other/less popular forms of media offer potential for influencing Africa’s narrative?

Follow @spectraspeaks and use the hashtag, #africanwomenmedia to tweet responses to the questions above. Also, feel free to tweet questions you’d like the panelists to explore by using the same hashtag, #africanwomenmedia, as we’ll be dedicating a portion of the discussion to responding to your ideas/questions. You can also submit your questions anonymously, using this form.


Spectra Speaks ProfileSpectra (Host) is a writer, storyteller, and new media consultant whose work focuses on the intersection of media, identity, and social psychology as it occurs in activism and philanthropy. Last year, she successfully crowdfunded Africans for Africa, an independent project that involved travelling through Southern Africa for 6 months, training women-led social impact ventures in new media and technology for storytelling, awareness-raising, and thought leadership. She is the founder and editor of media advocacy organization, QWOC Media Wire,  and the engagement officer of Africans in the Diaspora (AiD), a startup foundation nurturing African philanthropy in the Diaspora. She writes about media, gender, and love at || Twitter: @spectraspeaks, @qwocmediawire, @AiDinnovations

yolanda-sangweni-by-lenyon-whitakerYolanda Sangweni is a South-African born writer and editor. She is the entertainment editor and founder of AfriPOP. Prior to joining Essence, Yolanda worked as a Features editor at TRACE Magazine and contributing writer for Arise Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar, Time Out New York, O: The Oprah Magazine (South Africa) and Glamour covering music, fashion and culture. AfriPOP! is an online magazine she started in 2008 with partner Phiona Okumu to highlight contemporary African youth culture, music, fashion and film from an Afropolitan perspective. She calls AfriPOP! a labor of love, “a celebration of our innovativeness, our funkiness, our style, our possibilities as children of Africa.” || Twitter: @afripopmag

Arao AremyArao Amenyfrom Lira, in northern Uganda, is a trained print and online journalist covering African immigrant issues in New York City. She ithe Founder and Executive Director of the Association of African Journalists and Writers (AAJW), a unified platform for African journalists to connect; collaborate; and promote better reporting and understanding of Africa and African communities. She is also the Social Media Editor at United Nations Africa Renewal magazine, a print and online publication produced by the Africa Section of the UN Department of Public Information, and Social Media consultant at the Africa-America Institute (AAI), a non-profit dedicated to promoting engagement between African immigrants and the U.S.. || Twitter: @araoameny, @AAJWnewyorkcity

Amina DohertyAmina Doherty is a young Nigerian feminist activist and artist whose work focuses on feminist philanthropy and creative arts for advocacy. Prior to her role as the Coordinator at FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund, Amina worked at the women’s rights grant-making program at the Sigrid Rausing Trust in London, the Feminist Majority Foundation in Washington D.C., and the London-based creative network, Arts & Business. Amina brings to her activism a passion for music, art, travel and poetry, which she chronicles via her blog, Following Her Footsteps. She’s is a self-taught painter, DJ-in-the-making, and freelance writer for several magazines across the Caribbean. || Twitter: @sheroxlox, @FRIDAFund

Selly Thiam

Selly Thiam is an oral historian whose work has appeared on NPR, PBS and in the New York Times. Raised in Chicago by her Senegalese immigrant father and American-born mother, Thiam graduated from Columbia College, Chicago, with a B.F.A. in Creative Writing, and later received an MA in International Journalism from CUNY, Graduate School of Journalism. She is the founder and Executive Director of None on Record, a digital media project documenting the stories of Africans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. She was a producer for the Storycorps Oral History Project and PBS’ Learning Matters, and a Carnegie Fellow at the ABC News Investigative Unit. || Twitter: @sellythiam, @noneonrecordGot a question you’d like a guest to respond to? Submit your question using the #africanwomenmedia hashtag on Twitter, or leave a comment below! Alternatively, you can use this form to submit your question anonymously


How to Increase Media Diversity: 3 Lessons from the London Feminist Film Festival

A few months ago, the London Feminist Film Festival approached me for help in reaching out to African feminist filmmakers for their open call. The media activist I am, I admit that I did make them jump through hurdles before I agreed to help them spread the word of the festival on my blog. But it was only fair.

In my relatively short experience as an activist (who is also a person of color), I’ve received so many requests from white-run organizations and campaigns asking me to “help them create more diversity”, often without any proof that they’ve attempted to do any of this outreach on their own. It’s almost as though they view brown people as the people primarily responsible for alleviating the “burden” of creating the diversity they claim to want in their spaces. Oh, who am I kidding? 9/10 times that’s actually the case. But I digress.

After a series of sharp-shooting, poignant questions to the committee (“What have you done to reach out to feminist filmmakers of color?” “Who is missing from your lineup, and why?” “What have you done to make this relevant to African feminists, specifically?”), and receiving thoughtful (and honest) responses, I found myself in a strange place: satisfied, and affirmed enough to see myself as partly responsible (as an afrofeminist) for ensuring their success. I didn’t just write about the festival; I volunteered to be one of their media partners and a judge for one of their jury awards as well.

Why am I telling you this? Well, there are lessons about diversity to be learned (and shared) here. 

It’s only been a few months since the LFFF’s initial email to me, but judging from the film festival’s program, the organizers efforts have really paid off. The lineup of films included in the program look fantastic; the panelists and jurors represent a wide range of perspectives, aaaannd (so far), they’ve avoided appearing to be The London White Feminist Film Festival, which is quite commendable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed “universality” (i.e. lack of intersectionality), result in the white-washing of so many spaces which would — with some effort — have the potential to truly empower and unify communities within communities.

It’s not every day I get to see I’m impressed with an organization’s outreach efforts (and results). So, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight A Few Awesome Things the London Feminist Film Festival Did to Support Media Diversity:

1) They Avoided the “We Are One” Trap: In my post calling for support of the London Feminist Film Festival (LFFF), I talked about the importance of diversity in media, especially in the context of solidarity groups; it’s actually quite easy to let diversity slide under kumbaya umbrella politics i.e. “we’re all feminists, women, etc,” ignoring inequalities as we embrace sameness. But the festival organizers, tempting as it may have been to default to what was familiar, made a commitment very early on in their organizing process to keep the inclusion of minority groups in mind, including queer/LGBTI women, African/Black women, etc.

2) The Organizers Did Their Own Outreach Before Contacting Minority Stakeholders: As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there’s a different between being asked to solve an organization’s (lack of) diversity issues for them (i.e. being tokenized) and being asked to lend your efforts and guidance to work with them towards a more inclusive space. As my communications with LFFF revealed a progressive approach to diversity, I was happy to become more deeply involved in ensuring the festival’s success. When I asked the organizers what they’d done to reach out to other minority groups, I was pleased to hear about their efforts, as well as their honest observations about audiences they were having trouble reaching, making it easy for me to see my role as offering support vs. being saddled with the entire responsibility of creating a diverse program for their festival. Still, I’m obviously not the only partner LFFF has been working with obviously; the LFFF committee has done a phenomenal job building a team of partners, community stakeholders, vendors, and feminist advocates with unique perspectives and talents to both both shape and amplify the 3-day event this weekend. So, this is a PSA to festivals, organizations, campaigns everywhere: outreach isn’t a buzz word, it’s work that needs to be done. So please do it vs. asking marginalized people to do it for you.

3) The Film Festival Resisted the Urge to “Caucus”

Instead of creating a ‘special’ track for Black films, LGBT films etc, the festival opted instead to create special tracks for their “outreach”, in order to improve representation in the larger pool. The result is an impressive festival program that reflects a range of perspectives and experiences, rather than the separation of “main” from “other.” Now, can everyone just adopt this policy? I’m tired of having to choose between discussions, sessions, films etc that represent fragments of who I am, and I’m pretty I’m not the only person with multiple identities that feels this way. Check out some of the films that I’m most excited about (and the range of countries represented), which will be screening next weekend:

  • Lesbiana – A Parallel Revolution is a documentary about the lesbian writers, philosophers, and activists who were key players in creating a revolutionary sisterhood in the 1980s (USA)
  • As a Warrior (Como una Guerrera) is a drama about a victim of domestic violence who finds the strength to be her own knight in shining armor (Argentina)
  • Sari Stories is a short about women in rural India documenting their everyday lives and talking about the problems of growing up as women in a patriarchy as they’re trained to become video journalists (India)
  • In Beautiful Sentence, women prisoners experience the therapeutic effect of creative writing (UK)
  • The Witches of Gambaga is an award-winning documentary about a community of women condemned to live in a camp for ‘witches’ (Ghana)
  • Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 highlights the contributions of award-winning, African-American, lesbian, feminist poet, Audre Lorde, to the Afro-German movement (Germany/USA)
  • And last, but not least, Kung Fu Grandma is about elderly women in Kenya undertaking a self-defense course to help protect themselves from rape by young men in their community (Kenya)

Note: Some of these films are available for free viewing online, so I encourage you to check them out. The LFFF has also granted me access to a few of the features as well, so I’ll be publishing my reviews (and reflections) of several of these films leading up to the festival. I’ve already published a few. But stay tuned for more!

Taxi Sister Film

4 Powerful Documentaries about African Women Everyone Should Watch

The London Feminist Film Festival opened with a bang last night — a sold out viewing of the UK premiere of Lesbiana, about the lesbians, philosophers, and activists that were key players in creating a revolutionary sisterhood. This weekend, audiences interested in more (Black feminist) lesbian history can look forward to the documentary, Audre Lorde — The Berlin Years 1984 – 1992. Note: This show is sold out — seems it’ll be a packed house!

But lesbians (and everyone else who loves them) aren’t the only group that’ll get to enjoy the London Feminist Film Festival. The organizers have made sure that the interests of African Feminists have been woven into the program as well. Four powerful documentaries highlighting the lives of African women in Kenya, Ghana, and Senegal will be making their debut with feminists this weekend.

I’ve gotten a chance to watch a number of these films, and I can assure you, they are not to be missed. So, if you’re based in London, and are on the fence about attending the inaugural festival, I encourage you to check out the synopses (and mini reviews) below.

4 Power Films about African Women at the London Feminist Film Festival

Taxi Sister (UK Premiere)

Mini ReviewTake a drive with Boury, a taxi driver in Dakar, Senegal, as she forges her way through a male-dominated profession. “There are no such things as Taxi Sisters!” a man growls. He towers over Boury, his voice loud and thunderous as he attempts to get her to submit to the idea that she is an impostor in the popular Dakar taxi stand. Boury vacillates between shaking her head and pacing back and forth in frustration while also keeping her eyes open for customers; she’s not driving a Taxi to make a point, she’s trying to make a living to support her family. When she’s on break, she and another Taxi Sister talk about being single working women, dating and relationships, and American tourists: “Watch out for people with big backpacks. They just walk.” Charting its own course, Taxi Sister takes viewers on a tour through Dakar’s streets, segregated by gender, class, and tourist visas, offering poignant, insightful, and humorous insights along the way.

Theresa Traore Dahlberg / Senegal / 2011 / 30 mins / Wolof and French with English subtitles


 The Witches of Gambaga

Synopsis: This award-winning documentary is about a community of women condemned to live in a camp for ‘witches’ in Northern Ghana. More than 1000 women accused of witchcraft in northern Ghana live in refuges, where they pay for protection from the chief who runs them. The Witches of Gambaga follows the extraordinary story of one of these communities of women. Made over the course of five years, this exposé is the product of a collaboration between members of the 100-strong ‘witches’ community, local women’s rights activists, and feminist researchers, united by their interest in ending abusive practices and improving women’s lives in Africa. Told largely by the women themselves, this is a uniquely intimate record of the lives of women ostracized from their communities.

Yaba Badoe / UK & Ghana / 2010 / 55 mins / English and local languages with English subtitles


KungFu Grandma

Synopsis: Elderly women in Kenya undertake a self-defense course to help protect themselves from rape by young men in their community. The rape of elderly women by young men is a big problem in the slums of Korogocho, Kenya. This documentary follows a group of elderly women who are taking a self-defense course to enable them to better protect themselves. The daily realities of the slums and the myths that may contribute to these violent attacks are explored. A powerful portrayal of women who have come together in solidarity to teach each other self-defense skills and to fight back. The film was shortlisted for an award at the One World Media Awards 2012.

Jeong-One Park / UK / 2012 / 27 mins / Swahili and Kikuyu with English subtitles


Ladies Turn

Synopsis: In Senegal, as in most of the world, football is largely considered a sport for men not women. Ladies’ Turn is a non-profit organisation working to give Senegalese women and girls their turn to play football and to develop important leadership and teamwork skills. Ladies’ Turn recognizes women’s football as a powerful tool for promoting gender equality, both by empowering the women who play and presenting new role models to other women and girls. This film shows the determination of the players and of the Ladies’ Turn organisation, despite the challenges and prejudices they face. With the help of Ladies’ Turn, Senegalese women fight to follow their passion for playing football all the way from small neighborhood fields to the tournament finals in Dakar’s newest stadium. An inspiring story of women pushing boundaries.

Hélène Harder / France & Senegal / 2012 / 65 mins / French and Wolof with English subtitles


About The London Feminist Film Festival

LFFF was set up as a response to the under-representation 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 will be a celebration of feminist films past and present, and aims are to inspire discussion about feminism and film, to support women directors, and to get feminist films seen by a wider audience.

Catch the London Feminist Film Festival this weekend at the Hackney Picturehouse. Check out the full program at the festival’s website:

African Feminism: What Does It 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? 

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