Browse Tag: Women

African Women in Tech: Abake, Lead Developer of SpeakYoruba App

African Women in Tech: Learn More about SpeakYoruba App Developer, Abake Adenle

In my last post about the challenges of learning African languages in adulthood, I mentioned that there aren’t as many resources available to help people (re)learn African languages (as compared to the suites of products available to learn western or eastern languages like French, Spanish, Mandarin, etc).

However, due to innovations in e-learning — including the use of smartphones, this is changing; African language learning resources are becoming more readily available and accessible to not just Africans, but the entire world.

Take for instance a new app developed by mobile content developer AJA.LA: SpeakYoruba is the first in a series of mobile apps aimed at preserving and promoting African languages. According to the site:

“SpeakYoruba is perfect for kids young and old looking to build a basic Yoruba vocabulary, or for anyone with an interest in African culture, music and heritage!”

As the African diaspora continues to expand its borders, the need to promote and preserve African languages becomes increasingly important. Through the SpeakAfrica Apps project, the team aims to develop a series of apps capturing the aesthetic beauty of African culture and providing a modern platform linking Africa’s diaspora with heritage African culture.

I recently interviewed the lead developer for the SpeakYoruba app, Abake Adenle, a Nigerian diaspora living in the U.S. about her motivation for developing the app, including its reception so far.

Side Note: I must say, I was already pretty excited to have discovered the app, but I was even more thrilled to learn a women tech entrepreneur was behind it. We need more e-language-learning tools for African languages in the world, but we need more African women entrepreneurs in technology and innovation, too. #proud

Check out the short interview with Abake Adenle posted below.

SPECTRA: This app has created a way to connect Diaspora to their home countries, namely first generation Yoruba Nigerians for now. How much pressure are you getting from other Nigerians to produce apps for the other languages?

ABAKE: A lot! Before the app launched Techloy (Nigeria’s top tech blog) posted about the app and numerous people on twitter started asking about when a version for their language would be made available. Since the app launched in the Apple App store, I’ve asked users to provide feedback on additional features and updates for the app, and beyond developing a version for Android, expansion to other languages has been the most frequent request.

SPECTRA: Do you have any interesting stats on the users who have downloaded the app so far? Where are they based? Age range? Nigerian or other Diaspora?

ABAKE: The majority of downloads come from the US and UK (with most coming from the US) and only a handful of downloads coming from Nigeria, which is pretty much in line with my expectations and broader app download trends. I think the most interesting “trend” I’ve noticed is interest in the app from what I call the “young adult” demographic. I initially designed the app with children in mind thinking their parents would download the app for their kids, but so far most of the downloads seem to come from “young adults” looking to build basic Yoruba language skills.

SPECTRA: Which other languages are in the pipeline? (Don’t worry, we won’t hold you to it)

ABAKE: At the moment, I am working on adding more cool features and tools to SpeakYoruba, developing a version for Android and hopefully expanding to include more languages popular across West and East Africa :)

SPECTRA: Beyond teaching people the basics of African languages? Do you see any other uses for the app thus far? 

ABAKE: I think SpeakYoruba is a great platform for presenting various aspects of Yoruba culture in a modern way. For example the app’s soundtrack is a Yoruba folk song performed by Baba Ken Okulolo, one of Nigeria’s high-life legends. The song is one of the things people say they like most about the app and I am extremely happy to be able to use a Yoruba song/a piece ofYoruba culture many children may not get the chance to hear in a way that is modern, fun and educational.

SPECTRA: It’s refreshing to see African women in technology. Most power lists in technology coming out of Africa contain men predominantly? Your thoughts?

ABAKE: It is unfortunate that more women aren’t part of the “tech scene”, especially in Africa. However, I think it is important that women who are there now, women like Sheryl Sandberg and Ory Okolloh, should be recognized. Also, there are numerous programs in place outside and within Africa encouraging women to participate in technology. Hopefully, with each new generation, we’ll see more and more women becoming part of the tech scene.

SPECTRA: What are some of YOUR favorite apps? 

ABAKE: My favourite apps are usually news-related (New York Times, Bloomberg, etc.) or just good old iBooks as I have been reading more and more books on my iPad. One standout app for me is BeatSneak Bandit, a fantastic game by Swedish gaming company Simogo; it’s pretty addictive!

SPECTRA: Anything else you’d like people to know? 

ABAKE: I am currently running a promotion where anyone who sends proof of download (a screenshot showing the SpeakYoruba app icon) to info@ajalaco.com will receive a free “I Can Speak Yoruba” t-shirt or tote bag! I am very pleased with the feedback the app has received so far and am looking forward to updating the app with more and more features and expanding to more languages. Download links can be found at www.SpeakYorubaApp.com!

SPECTRA: How do you say, Love Is My Revolution, in Yoruba? 

ABAKE (taking the hint…): Download the app ;)

 

Check out the SpeakYouruba App trailer below:

I Dare to Say Anthology, FEMRITE, Uganda Women Writer's Associate

“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.

Spectra Speaks London Feminist Film Festival

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 info@londonfeministfilmfestival.com. 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.

Africa Union Protocol for Women's Rights: Progress or Pitfall?

The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women: Progress and Pitfalls for LGBT Rights

Given the recent news about Liberia’s president fence-sitting on the issue of current anti-gay Liberia law, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to address gender bias within an African context.

(I maintain that “traditional” gender roles haven’t been adequately explored as the root cause of many intersecting societal problems, e.g. sexism and homophobia,  and that Africans — straight or gay — should work together towards their elimination if we stand for true progress. Here’s my explanation.)

My search for information on successful models for promoting gender equity in Africa led me to an article about The African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women, the first comprehensive legal framework for women’s rights in Africa, and an international governing tool that seeks to “improve on the status of African women by bringing about gender equality and eliminating discrimination.”

From the UN Women West Africa’s blog:

The Protocol is the first human rights instrument to call on state parties to legislate against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and other harmful practices and also provides for the right to health and reproductive rights. The Protocol is also the first human rights instrument to explicitly provide for the right to a medical abortion when the pregnancy results from rape or incest or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the health or life of the mother. It also provides for the right to property and inheritance, equal rights in marriage and divorce, and the rights of elderly and disabled women.

In the above summary, I noted almost instantly that there weren’t any explicit protections / provisions made to advocate for sexual minorities (i.e. LGBTQI Africans), which is unfortunate if true (Note: still waiting for comment from UN Women, and will update once I hear back) because the protocol seems to be working; to date, 32 out of 54 African states have taken steps in accordance with the provisions and have implemented strategies to combat the mistreatment of women.

For example, per the protocol, several countries including Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania, have legally prohibited the practice of Female Genital Cutting, and  Zambia’s newly established Division of Gender in Development now reviews existing laws that discriminate against women.

In fact, the pace at which many African countries have embraced the opportunity to improve the conditions of women in their countries has been encouraging enough that UN Women and Equality Now (on behalf of pan-African organization SOAWR, Solidarity for African Women’s Rights Coalition) have launched a new initiative to train lawyers across Africa on the protocol’s application using this manual.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if African lawyers were also trained in legal advocacy for non-heteronormative women who are mistreated or denied basic rights for not conforming to dogmatic gender roles? I think there is a case for this, as well as using this framework to hold governments in Africa accountable should they choose to promote or sanction the criminalization of LGBT African people.

For one, a clear stance against using culture as an excuse for the mistreatment of women is already included in this protocol. In fact, President Sirleaf of Liberia arguably earned her presidency on a platform that challenged tradition; her work advocating for the rights of women has even earned her a Nobel Peace prize. (Ironic, that this same position is what is keeping her from walking the talk when it comes to providing protections for LGBT Liberians.)

But, more importantly, as a media activist primarily concerned with movement building among African women, I believe that a push to include protections for sexual minorities within the protocol would provide a way for African women’s organizations (including those which are focused on LGBTQI issues) to work together, rather than in separate caucuses.

I foresee some resistance to this of course. In my experience, many African women (even those doing human rights work), much like Liberia President Sirleaf, still view discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation as separate from women’s issues, often paralleling them when they should be discussing them as intrinsically connected. But the same “traditional” gender roles that keep women trapped in abusive relationships (even at the expense of their lives) are the same ones that cause men to view corrective rape of lesbians as a justifiable lesson in womanhood.

So, before we — as African women – can begin making demands of our leaders, perhaps we need to have more conversations among ourselves. Luckily, we don’t need a charter to do this.

“My sisters, my daughters, my friends – find your voice.” — President Sirleaf

DAWN

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.

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