Browse Tag: Women

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,

Kitchen Table Conversations: LGBT African Diaspora Speak on Culture, Queerness, and Media

In partnership with Women, Action, and the Media (WAM!), I’m hosting a virtual panel that features the perspectives of LGBTQ African Diaspora on African culture, queer identity, and the media.

The focus of the panel will in part be driven by pre-submitted questions from listeners, but will also aim to highlight the panelists’ experiences with various kinds of activism, including the use of new media to promote awareness and social justice issues surrounding Queer Africa.

I couldn’t be more excited (and nervous!) about collaborating with WAM! (to whom I owe much of my passion and enthusiasm for advocating for the increased role and influence of women in the media), and for the opportunity to share stories and reflections with my fellow queer African friends and colleagues.

I’ve called the event “Kitchen Table Conversations” because I’ve found that I’ve experience the most thought-provoking, enlightening, and inspiring conversations, literally, at my kitchen table… or in my living room, on the train, at the back seat of a cab.

Too often, right after a juicy pow wow with friends who are also African, queer, women of color etc., during which each of us weigh in on whatever issue it is — dating, family, politics, white people, westerners, “political correctness” and the like — by making a podium of the stove, delivering truths with the nonchalance of throwing salt into stew, and thickening our accents for dramatic emphasis, I’ve slammed my fist on my wooden kitchen table in frustration, shocking everyone with an American, “Dang! I should’ve recorded this.”

The Kitchen Table Conversations happen so frequently, that now my friends and I actually joke about doing just that — recording ourselves over dinner — before we begin; it’s become somewhat of an adventure to see what political insights we may discover before our eventual end-of-dinner gamble with wine (which we’ve found can either fuel or extinguish the uncensored passion we all carry underneath; the burden of having to feign resilience or resolve is washed away). I live for these moments, when our eagerness to speak and be affirmed causes us to interrupt each other, constantly, so that we share the experience of telling and shaping one story, our feet planted comfortably into soil. I wish I could share this with the world.

I doubt that a facilitated e-panel without food, wine, or in-person comraderie will serve to recreate the Kitchen Table Conversations that I’ve come to look forward to during almost every half-potluck (some cooking must take place before hearts bleed). But I do wonder what would happen if people could actually listen in to us at our most vulnerable, most desperate. I wonder what people would do if we dared say what we say over jollof rice, fried plantains, pepper soup, and egwusi… if we let loose the rawness we’ve been trained to sugar coat as tokenized peoples at podiums in western conferences.

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of havinIn any case, it’s Women’s History Month, which makes this panel featuring Queer African voices — and this on-going series (yes, I intend to keep hosting conversations like this) — even more important. Despite a variety of forums and media honoring women this month, queer African women (past and present) aren’t being celebrated for their work and their bravery. But whose fault is that? Mainstream media’s? Psssh. I gave up on that a long time ago. In fact, I’m grateful for the lack of coverage I see, and thus, the motivation to continue encouraging queer African women and trans people everywhere to continue making waves, making media, and making trouble.

So mark your calendars for Wednesday March 23rd (12PM-1PM EST), and stay tuned for more from the Kitchen Table Conversations series. It’s going to be fun!



Kitchen Table Conversations: LGBT African Diaspora Speak on Culture, Queerness, and New Media

Spectra, the sassy host and moderator of this panel, is an award-winning queer Nigerian writer and women’s activist. She is the founding director of Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), a nationally recognized grassroots  organization serving the needs of LGBTQ people of African descent and allies in New England, and the director of QWOC Week, New England’s first pride festival exclusively intended to raise awareness of health and social justice issues impacting queer/trans communities of color. She is the owner of Spectra Events, a socially-conscious event planning and production company that brings together her eclectic interests in Art and Music, Social Entrepreneurship, Technology, and Philanthropy, and routinely blogs about all things women, leadership, politics, and Africa.

Kagendo Murungi is a Kenyan filmmaker, activist and writer with a background in international sexual and gender rights advocacy and organizing for social and economic justice with working class and poor LGBT communities in New York. She was a founding member of Uhuru-Wazobia, an educational, advocacy and social membership organization for LGBT Africans founded in 1995, and co-director of Liberation for All Africans, an ad hoc committee of African gender non-conforming people, organized in response to a spate of anti-lesbian rapes in South Africa in 2007. She helped institute the Africa Program at the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and served on the international grants panel of the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.

Akwaeke Z Emezi was born and bred in the south of Nigeria, and is an Igbo and Tamil free love advocate, genderqueer Nutri-C addict, and natural hair aficionado. In the space where parathas and palm oil meet, she dances reverence to dope beats and follows the Christ. As a queer bard, blogger and drag performer, Z infects a message of self-awareness laced thoroughly with love and bravery, believing that only in knowing and accepting oneself utterly can we truly be free. A current Brooklynite, they adore traveling and beautiful people, and are constantly pushing for a life free of fear and full of marvelous.

Bukky Kolawole is the queer Nigerian founder of First Generation group, an organization based in Brooklyn New York that seeks to empower the diaspora to postively influence their communities by raising their voices collectively. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist (you can call her Dr. Bukky) who is interested in utilizing her expertise with behavioral change for the benefit of social change and building community. Her private practice caters to adolescents and adults in NYC, and is particularly passionate about meeting the needs of the LGBTQ community.

Iyayi-Osazeme ‘Lobuhle’ Odigie-Oyegun is a British-Nigerian, South-African-bred food interlocutor, who thinks in the language and poetry of food. She is the head chef and owner of Khandja Kalabash a Harlem based boutique culinary firm, specialising in afro-fusion cooking and the preservation, appreciation and proliferation of African culinary practices & cuisines. She hopes to queer the African Culinary Experience by combining traditional and contemporary methods and ingredients to introduce new dimensions of flavour to African cuisine. She believes that food is connected to every essential part of the human experience, and is a candid way of expressing LOVE. In the battle against homophobia, bigotry and racism, cuisine is her tool of choice!

Several more panelists to be announced soon.

Submit Questions to the Panelists! You are invited to submit questions to the panelists ahead of time by sending an email to the moderator at w/ the subject “Question for the Kitchen Table Conversation w/ LGBT Africans” or simply by commenting below. A handful of questions will be selected for the panel and will be presented anonymously (unless requested otherwise). Questions may be edited for brevity.

Listening Details

Date: Wednesdsay March 23rd
Time: 12PM-1PM

Bookmark this link to listen to the show here.

To Hell With Mainstream Press Coverage: Women, People of Color, and Trans People Should Create and Control Their Own Media Stories

For those of you who don’t know, my group – QWOC+ Boston – produces a week-long multicultural pride (LGBTQ) festival every year. It’s an impressive (if I do say so myself) array of art, music, discussion, and social justice events for LGBTQ people of color and diversity-conscious allies. We’ve spent the past 3 months creating these events and now they’re ready to go out via official announcements!

Next Steps: Generating so much buzz that people from neighboring states visit Boston to attend the events (and in so doing, validate our weeks of hard work).

As I prepared to send out the official QWOC Week Calendar today, I paused to take a look at my really long ‘Press/PR’ to-do list and noted the slightly underwhelming list of journalist contacts. Some would call that a #fail on press release day, but where there arguably should be an uppity list of noteworthy press contacts, I have, instead, a list of connectors — bloggers, event producers, community organizers, and crucial tweeps to reach out to for grassroots promotional support. This came as no surprise to me since I’ve been pretty successful leveraging social media to do outreach, promotions, and build QWOC+ Boston’s brand. Plus, mainstream media has routinely pissed me off with their half-ass coverage of issues pertaining to people of color, much less about LGBT people of color.

In the past, the media coverage QWOC+ Boston events have received has been light and fluffy at best — who-what-when just about summarizes the general approach, with opinion or speculation — usually from the lucky friend of a friend of an editor — driving the why-and-how portion (vs any sort of ‘investigative’ reporting). At this point, I’ve become accustomed to the two or three paragraphs (usually a composite piece) dedicated to highlighting “people of color” (usually the male, LGBT, african-american community) during pride, and not much else in terms of press coverage (unless of course it’s around the AIDS epidemic); women’s/feminist grassroots movements are almost always an afterthought (or viewed as ‘cute’  and thus, not ‘news-worthy’), so a part of me has given up on hoping for more.

But it’s not that New England papers don’t know how to cover POC issues (or women’s issues for that matter) — they should be treated as every other subject matter — with tact, professionalism, and thoroughness; it’s that they’re too lazy to challenge themselves to do more than just ‘highlight’ and ‘profile’ and deep down, they don’t think that we’re important enough. However, they’re notorious for shadily snapping photos of the 2-3 brown people at every mainstream event and then featuring them in their next media blast when everyone knows there were practically no people of color present. I’ll never forget the year my friend and I (unbeknown to us) made it the front page of Bay Windows as part of a “success!” news story on the popular Fenway Health Women’s Dinner event (see picture on the right). Great job! You scored a QWOC and a trans guy.

Incidentally, a few years ago, QWOC+ Boston received a front page profile piece in Bay Windows, written by Ethan Jacobs, a former staff writer. It was a well-written article I think because my bestie (who works in PR/Communications) prepped me for the interview; she gave me client-strong guidance as to how to manage the ‘reporter’, how to ‘brief my organizers’, how to make sure I got my ‘sound bites’ in, how to ask for the questions ahead of time etc. The result was a well-rounded story on QWOC+ Boston’s contributions to the local scene and our plans for the future. They did introduce us as “new” (I guess if white and mainstream media isn’t writing about you then you don’t exist, right?) even though we’d been around for two years, but at least it was a start; QWOC+ Boston was given visibility, credibility, and that article, which featured an overzealous quote by yours truly about our future, was the inception of QWOC Week.

Since then, we’ve been covered mainly via pretty pictures and short sporadic event blurbs within which they routinely misquote me, misspell my name, and repeatedly refer to us as “QWOC Friends” or worse, “QWOC” (without the plus, without the f**king plus), no matter how many times we insist on including this symbol (which represents our valued ally supporters) or having our name spelled out — Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston) — so that new people can recognize that we’re an LGBTQ organization that mainly caters to women of color. [Seriously, what does “QWOC” mean to a grad student who just moved here from Tenessee and is seeking community outside her stark and stoic chem lab at MIT?]

I posted an angry Facebook update about this recently, and a friend of mine who’s the director of Villa Victoria Center for (Latino) Arts and Culture sent me some timely words of empathy, along with a sample media kit — a short and simple PDF document that outlines some branding rules which you can make available to press contacts / journalists looking to write about you. It was a godsend — and my intern just recreated one for us. [Please feel free to download and use as a template for your org!].

No doubt, the consistent time and effort I’ve invested in building QWOC+ Boston via partnerships and collaborations has given me a visible position within a strong network of leaders — women, people of color, lgbt, african activists, social entrepreneurs etc. — whom I can not only count on for support, but for professional guidance as well. However, for many people, (practical) tips such as how to work with journalists or even design a press kit aren’t that easy (or cheap) to come by. I feel for non-profit/grassroots leaders who, like me, must often ‘wing’ it, learn by trial and error, or (per the reason of this post), suffer bad press by remaining at the mercy of privileged, mis-informed media professionals.

But as leaders of social change, we aren’t in a position to suffer “bad” press — which in our field, often means mis-informed, mis-quoted, downplayed, and at times, downright inaccurate press coverage on the social justice issues we care about. Our causes — “brands” for the sake of argument —  aren’t celebrities who can afford to say “any press is good press” and wait for the next scandal to hit the stands.

Africa has been receiving a lot of negative press lately around the “atrocities” being committed against queer/LGBT people. But which Africans (I include myself in this) are writing about the spike in homophobia as a manifestation of resistance to bullying from the west? That’s not a narrative you hear or read about everyday, but I assure you it exists beyond the popular argument that Africa is full of barbarians.

Remember the news coverage on the two “gay” men that were facing a harsh prison sentence in Malawi? — they both weren’t “gay”, one of them was a transgender woman. And whereas I do object to the west enforcing their labels on Africa, the fact that many mainstream news outlets blatantly disregarded her gender should be viewed as yet another wakeup call to all of us that taking a passive approach to media will almost always result in the insensitive, inaccurate face-value recounts of events we’re inundated with today (vs. insightful commentary on news stories, which by the way, we really should be telling ourselves).

The great news is, social media is saturated with media consumers, not as many (in fact, in my opinion, too few) media producers; we all have the power to create content in the form of our own stories, and in so doing, make a difference. We shouldn’t have to wait to be ‘given’ press coverage or “be written about”. For what we have at stake, this approach to gaining visibility and expanding influence is too passive to be worth our consideration. This is not to say that mainstream media coverage isn’t worth anything at all; I’m just concerned that if marginalized groups — women, people of color, trans people, immigrants, blue collar, anyone whose voice is always missing/mis-represented — put all their eggs into a basket that’s already filled with a bunch of privileged, cocky, a**holes then our stories are bound to seep through the cracks.

My intern and I worked on a blog post that discusses the concept of “Activism During QWOC Weekin lieu of an official press release. Our words, our vision, our perspective. And it’s been truly liberating to pass the link around to people and receive direct feedback. We’re planning to do several posts about QWOC Week in order to highlight different aspects of the week; inter-generational conversations, music and the arts, etc. See, by creating and controlling your own content, you aren’t subjected to anyone else’s perspective on what’s “important.” Incidentally, we just found out that “Family Week in PTOWN” is happening during QWOC Week and thus Bay Windows Ad prices are for a Special Edition print out that week. I’ve already received several recommendations to pitch a story around our “Family Day in the Park” to see if Bay Windows “decides” to run a story on it. But who cares if Bay Windows wants to cover us or not? We run our own blog!

I encourage you — whoever you are, you’re still reading so you must have something to say — to start contributing your voice to the mass media that’s being consumed by millions of users… every – day. In the short term, we should probably all come together, sit down, and brainstorm  how to proactively gain press coverage for our organizations, movements and causes. But who wants to plan this? Anyone? Not me — I’m too busy changing the world to worry about press releases, and I’m pretty sure you are too. So while we’re waiting for someone else to take this on…

Start a blog. Write an opinion piece — it doesn’t have to be that long. Just make a statement — any statement; celebrities do it all the time. Create a video on your fancy MacBook (so that’s it’s worth the 1000-something-dollars you paid for it) — people love to watch videos. (Did you know they’re the most popularly shared media type on the web?) Write an Op-Ed response to your neighborhood newspaper about an article that pissed you off. Just contribute something. Anywhere.

You are important. Your voice is important. Your content should be shared on Facebook. Damn it.


Update: We win! Bay Windows profiled QWOC Week in this piece here, aaaaand the reporter pretty much copy-pasted the blog piece that my intern and I wrote on our blog. The result? A well-rounded profile on QWOC Week (save a few errors — really, she estimated 2 dozen people showed up because she arrived at the beginning and was POC-shy so awkwardly approached a few people with her notepad, took a few notes, and jetted. Ah, white people… why are POC still so scary to you in 2010?)

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