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African Feminist Forum: Kikuyu Women In The ‘Thuku’ Revolt

14 Sep

Kikuyu Women In The ‘Thuku’ Revolt

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There has been considerable scholarly focus on the nature of women’s participation in nationalist struggles. The importance of this focus is to recognise women’s political agency and not relegate women to supporting roles in what tend to be understood as men’s political struggles.
The colonial literature has presented two caricatures of African women’s involvement in nationalist struggles: women as ignorant peasants threatened into feeding resistance fighters; or urban prostitutes, stripped of tribal affiliation, with nothing to lose. The reality, however, is more complicated.
This excerpt highlights a particular moment of anti-colonial mobilisation among Kikuyu women in Kenya. It is important to point out that this mobilisation did not suddenly happen; rather Kikuyu women’s had always exercised a degree of political agency in their communities. Along with men, Kikuyu women were adversely affected by colonial legislation depriving them of land, particularly as women performed most of the agricultural labour for the overpopulated reserves on which they lived, and were often used as seasonal workers on coffee plantations, too. Being forced to perform this communal labour and to pay taxes according to the laws of 1910 and 1934, greatly troubled women.

The women’s revolt started after the arrest of Harry Thuku, one of the founders of the Young Kikuyu Association (later renamed the East African Association, EAA) in 1921. Thuku was outspoken about the range of injustices attributed to the colonial government and, as a result, mobilised support not only in Kenya but also among influential and sympathetic people in England. Thuku was particularly vocal about the government’s doubling of the hut and poll taxes,  reduction in African wages, oppression by tribal police and forced labour of women and children especially.
It was this last grievance that particularly led women to support Thuku. African chiefs were ordered by the colonial authorities to seek out women and girls to work on European plantations, whose owners deliberately ignored the documented evidence of the indignities suffered by these women and girls. Gross abuses ensued: women were beaten, detained away from their homes and sexually molested by tribal retainers, as a result of which a large number were impregnated.

At a meeting in February 1922, Thuku told his followers to refuse to pay taxes and to stop working on government projects. By this time, his ideas constituted a direct challenge to colonial rule, and he was arrested. After Thuku’s arrest, the EAA called a general strike, mobilising a crowd of more than 7,000—mostly men—to march to the police station to secure his release. Only 150 women attended this march. When the crowd was requested to disperse, the women became angry because they felt the men were capitulating to the authorities.

In an act of traditional symbolism, one of the women in the crowd pulled her skirt above her shoulders while at the same time ululating and heaping verbal scorn on the men, implying that the women would do what the men should have. Others followed. By raising their skirts, the women were offering to exchange dress with the men and take their trousers —a symbol of manhood. It was a well-understood insult. The symbolism was effective in taunting the men and signalling the women’s repudiation of their authority, and the women’s challenge and the sound of their ululations stopped the larger crowd from dispersing. In the ensuing agitation, the crowd lunged forward, the police opened fire, and 21 people, four women, were killed. Many others were injured.

Although short-lived and unsuccessful in releasing Thuku, this incident was a strong testimony to the latent political dynamism and determination of Kikuyu women to defend their rights. The women had used a ritual practice to score a political point; an exclusively female institution had challenged both traditional male monopoly on political power and colonial authority. The bravery and ingenuity of the women was enshrined in the Kanyegenyuri song that inspired later female militancy. Their actions also showed that while the women did not wield as much power as men, they had the critical capacity to mobilise themselves quickly and over a wide area, and had the institutions and traditions to deploy when necessary.
Some speculate that the unity shown by the Kikuyu women at this point may have been as a result of ‘oathing.’ Oathing was a practice that involved members swearing their allegiance to the nationalist cause. It undoubtedly raised women’s levels of political consciousness and helped create the discipline and unity required to spearhead the attempt to rescue Thuku. The EAA was apparently the first organisation to oath women. While a step in the direction of treating women as equals, paradoxically, the organisation was at the same time denying women membership.

There is ample evidence of Kikuyu women coming together in succeeding decades to protect their interests, including by organising strikes and trying to better their work conditions. In 1934, thousands marched on the Meru administrative station and demanded that corpses buried under the Native Authority Ordinance be exhumed, because the burials had caused a drought. The informal action of women during this period included vocal protest, as they sang scurrilous songs about chiefs, retainers who were forcibly obtaining them for labour, and the government’s policies.

In 1938, a number went to Nairobi to object to the planting of grass ‘wash-stops.’ The following year, a group looted an Indian shop whose owner, they felt, was not giving them a fair price for their agricultural produce. In the same year, another group demanded the sacrifice of a sheep from an old man whose son had killed a man, which they believed was causing a poor harvest.
Yet another instance of protest, known as the ‘revolt of the women’, occurred between 1947 and 1948. It involved the women of Fort Hall and focused on the government’s soil conservation scheme. The women, who had been doing the bulk of land terracing work, refused to participate any longer, and their boycott brought the project to a standstill. The District Commissioner found it impossible to believe that the women had acted on their own and concluded that they must have been spurred on by a clique of young urban men intent on sabotaging the administration.31 His opinion was common among Europeans.
Such ventures into the political arena by Kikuyu women are all the more remarkable because, as a group, women in Kenya had largely been excluded from modern education and from any formal participation in the colonial political system. They confronted an informal coalition of African and British male attitudes. At an institutional level, Kikiyu women became frustrated with the fact that their activism was reduced to supporting men. In 1930, they split from the EAA and formed their own association, the Mumbi Central Association. When conditions demanded it, then, Kikiyu women showed that they had a strong political voice.

The African Feminist Forum: L. Muthoni Wanyeki

1 Sep

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L. Muthoni Wanyeki: Kenya
Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki is a Kenyan political scientist, human rights activist and the current Regional Director of Amnesty International in East Africa. Wanyeki is also the former Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and former Executive Director of the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET).

According to her biography, she wrote:

I am a political scientist who works on development communication, gender and human rights. I currently work as the Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC). Prior to this I was the Executive Director of the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), a regional feminist network.
I have chosen the political identity of “feminist” because I believe in my own autonomy, choice and freedom—as well as those of all other women. African women continue to face the denial of autonomy, choice and freedom in all areas of life, alongside an enduring lack of access to and control of all kinds of opportunities and resources. All too often inequalities are justified on the basis of culture and/or religion. We continue to contend with an alarming scale of violence against women individually and collectively. In the spirit of feminist politics, I have chosen to work (both politically and professionally) on all of these issues.
To build African feminist activism, we need to insist on ethics, and accountability for breach of ethics, within the African feminist movement. We need to support the African feminist movement with resources of all kinds, including the voluntary offering of our own energies, intellect and time. We should also encourage constructive criticism and debate on our analysis and our strategies.
I think we all begin because we’re angry at what we see around us: the gulfs between women and men between the impoverished and the enriched between Africa, the underdeveloped world and the overdeveloped world. We find ways to name those gulfs and to understand them. “Feminism” is not just a political identity in that sense. It’s a way of naming and understanding those gulfs. And I have other political identities, ways of naming and understanding those gulfs that intersect with feminism- dependency theory, pan-Africanism and socialism. But anger without love, for the humanity and potential in all of us, isn’t enough.
And so we need inspiration. I am inspired by people in all fields who devote energy, intellect and time to honing their skills and excelling. I am inspired by African artistic work and culture, past and contemporary, and by African intellectual work and thought. I am motivated by collectivity and solidarity, and by love.
That love must also be- deeply and fundamentally- for ourselves. We become cynical and de-sensitised, we hurt and we tire. And so we must learn to take care of ourselves as well. I take care of myself now by returning to exercise. I used to be a competitive swimmer, but I now go to the gym. I’ve started tae kwon do again. I’ve done two sprint and two full Olympic triathlons. I try to eat well and sleep enough. By doing so, I’m also being an African feminist, one who loves myself enough to go beyond my own survival, and to be healthy enough to enjoy community in all its forms.
What I want for myself and for all African women, is autonomy, choice and freedom, health, and happiness.

The African feminist Forum: Shamillah Wilson

1 Sep

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Shamillah Wilson: South Africa

Shamillah Wilson is an independent feminist consultant and life coach. She is based in South Africa, but her work has focused on women’s human rights, young feminist leadership development and institutional development across the globe.

According to her biography, she wrote:

I run my own enterprise Sowilo Leadership Solutions, as well as consult on women’s rights, HIV/AIDS and sexual rights. I am a feminist because I believe that human beings have the potential to be great – not based on anything but their humanity. Knowing that structural inequalities prevent women from accessing their basic rights, needs, safety and security, all of which ultimately hamper their self-actualisation, is enough reason to participate in feminist activities. I am one of those busy feminists who believe that my activism transcends all spheres of activity within society. One of my major passions is entrepreneurship, as I believe this is an area that we as feminists still have not engaged in enough as a creative entry-point into economic empowerment. If we harness our creativity into creating alternative economic paradigms, I believe we would have the basis for funding our revolution. After all, we have to model the alternatives instead of staying with just critiquing the status quo.
To me, feminism is about how you live your life. It is not about the separation of personal and professional. In my personal life I constantly try to challenge my thinking, my actions and how I practice feminist principles. In my professional life I bring it into everything I do – relationships with colleagues, my own relationship to power and also the outcomes of the work.
Despite a considerable history of feminist thought and activism in Africa, feminism is still seen by many as “unAfrican”. Struggles for women’s liberation and emancipation are continuously undermined by fundamentalist agendas and misogynist attitudes. There is also the fact that feminists are a minority, not aided by the fact that many women still are not comfortable calling themselves feminists. We also face a lack of cohesion among feminist movements, amplified by fragmenting forces.
As we move forward, we need to work on popularising feminism among younger women and grassroots women, and to make feminist language accessible to them. We also need to become more visible and coordinated in response to issues and trends. There is a need to celebrate the achievement and honest engagements that we have made to date. And we need to ensure that we take care of ourselves at the physical level, the emotional, and the spiritual levels. All of these feminist values need to translate into real strategies for addressing the financial concern of ourselves and our feminist sisters that we have long neglected.
Despite all the challenges, I continue to be inspired by solidarity, innovation, and seeing people being able to change their own realities.

The African Feminist Forum: Isatou Touray from The Gambia.

1 Sep

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Isatou Touray is an African feminist activist from the Gambia. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with her through The V-day movement and The One Billion Rising campaign, when we met an African women’s symposium, that was held in 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya. In September 2016, she announced her candidature for the Presidency of the Gambia, making her the first ever female candidate in history to run for this office. Madame Touray has been known for her decades-long efforts towards women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, including the end to female genital mutilation (FGM) in the Gambia.

According to her biography, she wrote:

I was born in Banjul where I received my education. I initially trained as a teacher, and was posted in various parts of the country, including the rural areas. I observed that women were working for over 18 hours and walking for long distances to collect firewood with their children on their back. As a home craft teacher, I worked with them on activities such as improving family health through improved nutritional education and on building skills for income generation. I realised that these women were also exploited and that their concerns were not taken into consideration in most development activities. I saw them being mobilised to attend workshops, and then have nothing reported back to them. They would come to me asking, “What came out of the promise made by the Ministry?”
From that point I committed myself to grassroots activism. I engage communities through awareness raising and training. I use information derived from the field to engage the state and call for accountability. I now belong to several networks, and the experiences I gain from these global initiatives are disseminated to empower communities, decision makers and legislators to advance the feminist agenda on development. I have also conducted doctoral research. I now work as Executive Director of the Gambian Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Girls (GAMCOTRAP), a women’s rights organisation that I co-founded in 1992 to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights, and work to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation.
I call myself a feminist because I believe in the power and soul of women. I don’t have to act like a man or manifest macho tendencies to be accepted in certain contexts. I feel that my rights form part of the whole, and what I chose to be should not be the reason for discrimination. I have seen how women are subordinated in various cultures, traditions and religions. I have seen and experienced the inconsistencies of interpretations about issues affecting my life and how these come to be different for men. All these experiences have accumulated over the years and made me a feminist. If feminism is about liberation of women I have chosen to do only that. If feminism is about women’s self-determination and to regain my integrity, I have chosen to live it! I am a feminist activist  because I would like to see a transformation that gives both men and women equal opportunities to self-actualise. I want to be part of creating a world free of discrimination, a world that recognizes diversity to enable us to  live in peace and harmony with each other. Of late I have taken to writing about our experiences and documenting  our work for posterity and public consumption. We need to leave a legacy that is remembered in the future.

The African Feminist Forum: Aïssatou CisseCissé

31 Aug

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Aïssatou CisseCissé was born in Niayes Thioker in Dakar in about 1971. Her mother suffered from rheumatism and during the birth Cissé’s hands and feet were dislocated by the people assisting the birth. This left Cissé with permanent disabilities. She was able to achieve a lot with the support of her parents.

Cissé has become a successful writer. She wrote her debut novel Zeina in 2002 and Linguère Fatim two years later. She won an award in Libya.
She wrote about the injustice of a Senegalese girl who was sent to jail for having an illegal abortion. This was despite the mitigation of the pregnancy having resulted from her being raped at the age of thirteen.
Cissé was appointed a special advisor to Senegal’s President, Macky Sall. She has worked with the Minister of Health and Social Action to improve the country’s sports facilities for people with disabilities. She assists with a Senagalese organisation called ASEDEME. ASEDEME is a self-help group started in 1989 to assist 50 children with learning difficulties to have an education.

According to her biography she wrote:
I have always fought to defend women’s rights. My activism started when I was very young, beginning of course by fighting for my own rights! I grew up with an education which had been imposed on Senegalese society by its Western colonisers, and entrenching the oppression of women (we tend to forget that women in the West have long been oppressed). I also grew up in a context where religion was used to confine women’s space and take away our voices. In the fight for women to reclaim their voices I have personally pledged to leave no stone unturned. People often call me a feminist, and I respond that if that is what being a feminist is, then I claim the name!
Throughout my life I have been inspired by Queen Pokou and Queen Djeumbeutt Mbodj. For me, they symbolise women’s empowerment because they demonstrated that a woman’s place is not only behind the stove. Each of them was able to lead kingdoms made up of men, women and children, and did so firmly and justly.
As a writer I focus my creative expression on the experiences of women and children. I fight against polygamy by writing novels, depicting the negative aspects of this practice. I also fight against early marriage, forced marriage and female genital mutilation through my writing and by mobilising people. I create awareness among women and girls on widowhood rites that force a woman to marry her deceased husband’s brother, which must be totally eradicated because it is a terrible form of violence against women in rural areas. I received an award for creativity from the Lebanese publishing house Namaan for my novella Linguère Fatim on the courage of the African woman. I am currently working on a manuscript entitled L’Avenir est Mien (The Future is Mine).
The manipulation of religious belief to serve men’s interest is a major concern for African women. We need to keep raising awareness about the fact that the laws and beliefs that entrench inequality are actually just man-made interpretations. Women still face discrimination against women at work, be it in the private or public sector. And we need to change the commonly held view of HIV and AIDS as being a “women’s concern” and transmitted by women to men. Most of the media campaigns we see show a man meeting a woman and having sex, and realising afterwards that he is HIV positive. In reality it is often the male partner infecting the woman!
I think that our duty to ourselves as feminists is to help children change their attitudes by making them understand that boys and girls should have equal opportunities- at home, by equally sharing house chores, at school by being admitted on the same conditions and in marriage by freely choosing his or her partner

The African Feminist Forum:Everjoice J. Win

31 Aug

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Everjoice J. Win is from Zimbabwe and has been active in the women’s and social justice movements in Zimbabwe and the African continent for most of her working life. She has worked with the Women’s Action Group and the pan-African Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF). She served as a consultant to many local and international NGOs. For close to a decade, Everjoice was global head of Women’s rights at ActionAid, an international NGO, (www.actionaid.org). Ms. Win also previously served as a Commonwealth Technical Advisor to the Commission on Gender Equality of South Africa, and as Associate Country Director with Oxfam in Zimbabwe. She co-founded and served on the boards of several civil society and women’s rights organizations. These include; the pro-democracy National Constitutional Assembly of Zimbabwe (NCA); the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, the Women and AIDS Support Network, the Women in Politics Support Unit, the African Women’s Leadership Institute and the African Feminist Forum. A keen writer and blogger Everjoice Win also contributes to various print and online pubications, (see; http://www.mg.co.za and http://www.everjoicew.blogspot.com). Everjoice currently works with an international NGO and is based in Johannesburg.

According to her biography she has written:

I am a Zimbabwean, and while I have worked in many countries I always regard Zimbabwe as my home. I have been an active member of the struggle for women’s rights and recognition in Zimbabwe, Southern Africa and beyond. In Zimbabwe I have worked with the Women’s Action Group and Women in Law and Development in Africa (WILDAF). I have also helped found a number of other women’s organisations.
I currently work as the International Head of the Women’s Rights Theme at ActionAid International, based at their head office in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this role I oversee the broad strategic direction of the organisation’s programs and campaigns on women’s rights.
I call myself a feminist because, well, what else is there to call oneself? Let’s look at the options: a gender activist (what is that)? A development worker (sounds like something to do with banking)? A human rights activist (but which humans)? Feminist just says what needs to be said. It communicates the exact “attitude” that needs to be communicated and how far I am prepared to go on anything.
Many women in Africa fear naming themselves as feminists, which means, by extension, endless apologies and fear of being named. Another problem is the overwhelming tendency to tick boxes, deliver projects, hold events and activities rather than focusing on the long hard political work of transformation. We need to stay true to our vision, in spite of the seemingly intractable practical problems of HIV, conflict, or the food crisis.
I keep asking myself in whatever I do or say – will this change women’s lives in the long term? Will this alter power relations? I have been lucky to always work in organisations that enable me to do this. I am able to work with other feminists, take time out to just talk things through and re-strategise. Although I strive to think of the big picture it is important to ensure that the practical interventions remain strategic and speak to feminist values and behaviour.
As a movement we still need to grow our numbers numerically and to build more organisations that define themselves and work as feminists. Related to this is building individual feminist leaders and their leadership skills inside and outside our own organisational “safe zones”. And we must not be afraid to take up more “air time” in public spaces and claim our space in the mainstream.
My heart fills with joy when I see a young black woman break out of her shell like a fledgling: growing wings, flying up, up, and away. I laugh when I hear my 14 year old son say very loudly “my mum is a feminist and she is head of women’s rights! ”And he tries to explain to someone in great detail! I am inspired by very materially poor women that I often meet, but who have a great sense of self and are very clear about their rights. A beautiful heavy African summer downpour on Sunday night followed by intensely beautiful sunshine on Monday morning keeps me going all week!

African Feminist Forum part 4

30 Aug

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Mariam Kirollos: Egypt
She is driven by the rhythm of music, she believes in a woman’s right to be treated as a human being and she likes chocolate.

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Nancy Kachingwe:
Nancy Kachingwe works as a political advisor for ActionAid South Africa. She has rich history working for Civil Societies in Africa and International.

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Dr Zeinabou Hadari: Niger
Zeinabou Hadari is the Permanent Secretary of the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) of Niger, under the Ministry of Public Health, which works in partnership with the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). The GFATM is an international financing institution based in Geneva, Switzerland that donates money to countries to support large-scale prevention, treatment and care programs against the three diseases. The CCM of Niger is a public private partnership composed of key stakeholders operating at the country level to intensify the fight against the three diseases.
Ms. Hadai is an activist for women’s human rights and a co-founder of two NGOs in Niger working to advocate for women’s human rights and female leadership promotion in Niger and the African region: MAPADEV (African Link for Peace and Development) and REFEPA-Niger (Niger Women’s Network for Peace). She has extensively collaborated with local human rights associations, including the Niger Human Rights Association (ANDDH), by coordinating and presiding over its library scientific committee. She is also affiliated with ASNID (Niger Information Specialists Association) and the AURA Toastmasters Club of Niamey for leadership in oral communications development.

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Korto Reeves Williams:

Korto Williams is a Liberian feminist and a strategic civil society leader in Liberia and the sub-region. A major contributor to shaping political discourse on women’s rights and feminism, she serves on the board of Urgent Action Fund (Africa) and is a member of the Liberia Feminist Forum and the African Feminist Forum.

I live in a country which The Economist magazine described in 2003 as “the worst place in the world to live”. Now we have made history by electing the first female president in Africa. These descriptions eliminate every other country except Liberia.
I work as the Women’s Rights Coordinator of ActionAid Liberia, meaning that I am the one who angers people, despite my smile, as I bring up taboo topics, demand women’s rights, and hold no apology for this stance. This responsibility entails working with community women on one day, and sitting in a room filled with old men who say “only a virgin can be raped” on another. I am a poetess too and have used poetry to heal my war wounds and exorcise stubborn demons out of my life.
Liberia is a deeply patriarchal society, male dominated and inequitable. Women suffer daily violations of their rights as if it were normal. I come from the background and belief that this anomaly should be deconstructed and challenged to move ahead. In doing this, women must have the ideological and spiritual drive to feel strong in their position. It is in feminism that I have found answers and clarity of purpose. It is in feminism that I have found the description and structure that certifies my feelings, thoughts and outrageous anger. I call myself a feminist because I have no other description for my beliefs.
While working, I also completed graduate school, and wrote a research paper whose premise focuses on the inherent need for feminism in women’s struggles. I will use this document to share information on Liberian society and how the mainstream perceives women contribution to social change. This analysis, I believe, will help both young and old women value feminist reasoning and positioning.
We have a way to go in understanding our united strength, deconstructing the myth of male supremacy and the practice of patriarchy. In Liberia, feminism is considered a derogatory ideology. How do we share the joys and values of this movement that breathes life into our being? Only by lifting the cover from our eyes-male and female- will we know that the world is different and changing.
To build the feminist movement in Africa, we need more women to identify openly as feminists. We need to support documentation of feminist literature. And we need to hold feminist forums nationally as a means of outreaching and being more visible as feminists. Whenever I encounter the intellect of a woman, ready to challenge falsehoods that violate our rights I am inspired. I am humbled when African sisters provide this intellectual ambience!

http://www.africanfeministforum.com

The African Feminist Forum: Dr. Amina Mama.

29 Aug

Amina Mama is a Nigerian-British writer, feminist and academic. Her main areas of focus have been post-colonial, militarist and gender issues. She has lived in Africa, Europe, and North America, and worked to build relationships between feminist intellectuals across the globe.

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As per her biography she has written:
I am a researcher and university professor and teach courses on gender and the politics of development development, militarism, feminist theory and methodology and women’s movements. I hold a tenured professorship as the Chair in Gender Studies at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and am currently serving as the Barbara Lee Distinguished Chair in Women’s Leadership at Mills College in Oakland, California.
Most of my research work has been collaborative, involving teams of African researchers and activists working to develop and apply feminist principles and methods that aim to bring theory and activism together. I am currently developing a collaborative project on Gender, Militarism and Women’s Activism in the West African sub-region, and most recently completed research projects on African sexualities, and gender and institutional culture in African universities. As a full-time professor I use feminist pedagogies in the classroom, and contribute to developing political-intellectual communities of feminist thought and practice through projects like the Feminist Scholars Network, the Gender and Women’s Studies (GWS) listserv, the journal Feminist Africa, and by working with colleagues on the development of a feminist curriculum for teachers in public universities.
The greatest external threat to women (and by extension humanity) is the growth and acceptance of a misogynistic, authoritarian and violent culture of militarism, in all its manifestations within the various institutions of the global capitalist military industrial complex, as these are variously iterated around the world. I think that the survival and well-being of women in Africa today is continuously threatened by the historically- sediment accumulations of misogyny that take many forms. This sustains the injustices meted out to women of all ages, bearing fruit in the exploitation of their bodies, and the wastage of their talents. This places an historic responsibility on those of us who live and live well. We challenge history every day that we do so. We need to be aware of this, while not succumbing to the potentially paralysing sense of guilt, collective trauma, internalized misogyny, and humiliation. The challenge is instead to make good of whatever opportunities we have to live graceful, peaceful, happy, ethical and generous lives in community with others.
As a feminist, I am dedicated to the liberation of women all over the world, but especially in the African contexts with which I most closely identify. I regard my life as a continuous process of seeking and learning and I try to infuse this principle in my professional work as a teacher and researcher, in my personal life, relationships and child-rearing practices, and in my activism and support for others sharing this vision.

http://www.africanfeministforum.com

The African Feminist Forum: Jessica Horn.

29 Aug

Jessica Horn is an African feminist activist, writer, poet and technical advisor on women’s rights with roots in Uganda. Her work focuses on women’s rights, bodily autonomy and freedom from violence, and African feminist movement building. She was named as an African woman changemaker by ARISE Magazine and as one of Applause Africa’s 40 Africans Changemakers under 40. She joined the African Women’s Development Fund as director of programmes in October 2015.

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As per her biography she has written:

I was not born a feminist, but became one pretty soon after I took my first breath and gazed on a world full of possibility but also pain for many girls and women that I encountered. As a feminist I share the belief that women’s oppression can no longer be the legitimate means of ordering our world. No society is healthy if its girls and women face violence for exercising the simple desire to be free. As a feminist I understand the necessity and beauty of women’s struggle for autonomy and choice, and the need to transform society for the benefit of all people. And I am re-born as a feminist every time I see a woman or girl resist social limitations and master the art of spreading her wings.
I grew up on university campuses in Southern Africa and later the South Pacific, surrounded by post-colonial and anti-apartheid debate. While this framed my early political consciousness, I found that feminism provided me with a much more embodied understanding of power.
The body, as the beginning place of rights, of self-expression, and of resistance, has always fascinated me. I found a home for this passion in the movement for women’s right to self-determination over our bodies. Since my teenage years I have joined with others in activism, and later study, training, research and funding around women’s sexual rights, freedom from violence, and making empowered choices in the era of HIV and AIDS. I have done this in many capacities including through volunteer work with HIV+ women’s groups, as Coordinator of Amanitare, the Pan-African network on sexual and reproductive rights, as a human rights funder, and now as a consultant to human rights groups, government bodies, and progressive donors. I was part of a fantastic team of activists that created Uhai, the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, a pioneer in African philanthropy. And during the moments in between I take time to nurture my other great fascination- art as a medium for dissent. I have a published collection of poems Speaking in Tongues, and I’m currently working on forming a collective of African feminist artists.
I was raised by a woman that I have come to recognise as a revolutionary mother, who used the act of mothering as a process of education and affirmation for the minds and sensibilities of her children. From this upbringing I learned that the real catalyst for liberation is neither force nor discourse, but the revolutionary power of love. One of the biggest threats to Africa’s social fabric is the blasphemous theology of hatred that is being spread by religious fundamentalists. We as Africans need to be more vocal in saying that discrimination and violence against lesbians and gay people, unmarried women, sex workers, or HIV+ women is neither godly, nor just, nor African. Change begins here, today, between us. We need to recognise that the choice to love rather than despise each other is a political act. We need to keep expanding the feminist embrace

http://www.africanfeminsitforum.com

The African Feminist Forum: Kasha Nabagesera

28 Aug

To continue with my series of recognising African feminists​, today I would like to acknowledge Kasha Nabagesera.

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera (also known as Jacqueline Kasha) is a Ugandan LGBT rights activist. Kasha is the founder and executive director of the LGBT rights organisation Freedom & Roam Uganda (FARUG) and 2011 recipient of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

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Her biography according to Wikipedia states the following:

Kasha attended several schools, often being expelled because of her sexual orientation, or because she wrote love letters to other girls. She attended Gayaza Junior School, Maryhill High School, Mariam High School, and Namasagali College. Following High School, she enrolled at Nkumba University where she obtained an Accounting degree and her bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. She then followed that with a Diploma in Information Technology and a Certificate in Marketing from the New Vision Group in Kampala in 2004. In 2005 she enrolled at Human Rights Education Associates, a global human rights education and training centre based in Massachusetts for distance learners. She obtained a certificate in 2006 from the Johannesburg Media School for Journalism so that she could learn how to deal with media in a hostile work environment. She later trained activists at this school for activism from many African countries including Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and others. In 2008 she became a trainer of trainees, obtaining a certificate from Frontline Human Rights Defenders in Dublin, Ireland.
Known as “Bombastic” to her many friends, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera excelled in school in athletics and took home more than six awards for her achievements in the 100m, 200m and 400m relays as well as the high jump and long jump. She was also involved in drama classes and was often assigned boys parts while in High School.
In addition to suspensions and expulsions from schools for openly living as a lesbian, Kasha was also caned (beaten with a cane or rod) beginning at the age of seven, and repeated many times in school for expressing her love for other girls. She was also the attempted victim of something called corrective rape, by male students at her school, the attempted undressing by male students to ascertain if she was, in fact, a girl and not a boy pretending to be a girl, and she was forced to dress in “gender appropriate” girls clothes and report to the administration at University who forbid her to wear baseball caps and any other clothing deemed suitable for boys. And the punitive measures continued unabated. She was also humiliated by a poster pinned on walls at the University proclaiming her as WANTED, displaying her picture and treating her like a common criminal, because of her same-sex attraction.
To humiliate her even more, freshman orientation included a briefing on Kasha to warn incoming freshman from associating with her or they might face expulsion. She was forced to sign a memorandum of understanding with university officials that she would refrain from being within one hundred meters of the girl’s hostel and was forbidden housing within the university premises or dormitories. This barbaric and dehumanizing behaviour was justified by school officials as a precaution to prevent Kasha from influencing other young ladies and “turning them lesbian.”

Unknown

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera never “came out of the closet” because she was never “in a closet” in the first place. She always lived openly as a lesbian because she simply didn’t know it was illegal, and didn’t understand that it would, in her words, “later turn out to be a big deal.” “Every time I got picked on or punished for being a lesbian I thought they were just using it as an excuse to bully me. It’s only when I was suspended at (the) University that I took interest in finding out why my sexuality was a big deal for others and that’s when I found out that it was illegal to be gay. I did research and found out not only in Uganda, and other parts of Africa but all over the world, and that was my turning point.”
The threats and beatings were terrible and unrelenting. Kasha’s mother kept telling her she was just being stubborn and that she would outgrow it. When Kasha was nearly expelled from the University, Kasha’s mother told a meeting of staff and faculty that “Kasha was sick” and “her sickness didn’t have a cure so they should leave her to finish the final semester and they wouldn’t have to deal with her anymore.” It was hard to hear her mother say these things they both knew were untrue, but it got her through those final months and Kasha credits her mother’s action to defuse the tense situation, and in the process, saving her education.
When she was finally finished with the University, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera and some friends founded Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) in 2003 after witnessing and experiencing the harassment, discrimination and violence Ugandan women face because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. This pioneering organization became a first of its kind in Uganda to fight for LGBT sexual orientation and gender identity rights. Kasha led the organization for ten years, stepping down as Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda the 4th of July, 2013 after ten years of leadership.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is a community-builder who loves her work and being able to give some measure of redress to the many members of the LGBT community who feel lost, rejected and alone. She also likes to give hope to her many brothers and sisters in Uganda and elsewhere but acknowledges that it is hard right now. She loves to meet people and share common experiences that unite us, and learn from other unique lives. She speaks of her “lovely family from around the world” that she has been privileged to meet and learn from.
Kasha says that “it’s very important that we are who we are, especially looking back in history at how our race has been undermined, we need to stand up and be counted. Our black pride should never be allowed to be discounted again because of our skin colour. It is important that we work and achieve greatness for ourselves instead of waiting for others to do that for us. We cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand and feel sorry for ourselves, we need to stand with our heads high and proud for trying our best to make this world a better place for justice and equality, freedom and liberation.”
She is considered to be the ‘founding mother’ of the Ugandan LGBT civil rights movement. In 1999, when she was 19 years old, she publicly campaigned to end to homophobia in Uganda, a country where homosexuality is against the law.
In 2010, Ugandan newspaper Rolling Stone published names and photo of individuals it claimed to be gay, with the headline “Hang Them”. Among the names were Kasha and her colleague David Kato. The pair eventually sued the tabloid, and in doing so set a benchmark for human rights in Uganda. Nabagesera explains the precedence as an attempt to protect “privacy and the safety we all have against incitements to violence.”
Kato was later killed following the legal battle with the publication. Nabagasera has continued the fight for gay rights in Uganda. Under the auspice of FARUG, she has fought to decriminalise homosexuality in Uganda by circumventing the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill; a bill which mandates stiff sentences ranging from prison sentences to the death penalty. Furthermore, the bill mandates that citizens who do not expose gay and lesbians to the authorities, face up to 3 years in jail.

In 2010, Nabagesera opened the only Ugandan bar for LGBT people; named Sappho Islands, the bar was situated in a suburb of Kampala. It closed in 2011.
Not one to sit still, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is now concentrating her efforts on advocacy and lobbying on behalf of Africa at the United Nations, the African Commission and European Union. She is currently working on the Project Planning, Administration, Advocacy and Leadership (PAL) project and a special program called Reclaiming the Media, to present the other side of the LGBT community to Ugandans and repeal Uganda’s recently enacted anti-homosexuality law.
Kasha receives hundreds of requests from Uganda’s LGBT citizens who are frightened and in hiding because of their government’s recent enactment of anti-homosexuality laws that criminalise their identity, impose harsh prison terms and even punish their friends, families and employers for failing to turn them into authorities. It has created an unbelievably oppressive crisis for Uganda’s LGBT community. Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera and her partner, JLW, make their home in Kampala, Uganda, and spend time together watching movies and playing board games. They have a pet German Shepherd named “Arzu Don Pedro” who will be three years old in June. They go out with friends to party when they can and Kasha tries to cook for friends on Sundays. She loves children and babysits her nieces and nephews when she can. She looks forward to one day starting her own family.
Kasha is the only founding member of the LGBT movement from the 90s still living in Uganda.

Kasha’s leadership in the face of extremist adversity has been recognized by many around the world including “Velvetpark Magazine,” the world’s leading queer women’s magazine, described her as a “Braveheart” and voted her the most inspiring queer woman in the world in 2010. In 2011, she was listed in celebration of 100 years of International Women’s Day. That same year she was a guest speaker at the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy. Kasha was also listed among the 50 most inspiring Feminist Women in Africa in 2011​ and received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders in 2011.
In November 2011 she was recognized​ with the Rafto Prize in Bergen, Norway, along with Sexual Minorities Uganda, an umbrella organization she co-founded in 2004. She was honoured with the Honorary Award of the “QX Magazine” in Stockholm, Sweden in February 2013, the James Joyce Award from the University College of Dublin in April 2013, the Sean McBride Award from Amnesty International Dublin, the Civil Courage Award from Berlin 2013, the International Activist of the Year Award for the GALAS (Gay and Lesbian Awards, organised by the National Lesbian and Gay Federation of Ireland), the Nuremberg International Human Rights Award 2013, Kasha has always referred to the Ugandan new anti-homosexuality Law as a Nuremberg law.
In May 2011, it was announced that Nabagesera would be awarded the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. She is the first gay rights activist to do so. According to Michelle Kagari of Amnesty International, the award “recognises [Nabagesera’s] tremendous courage in the face of discrimination and violence against LGBT people in Uganda. Her passion to promote equality and her tireless work to end a despicable climate of fear is an inspiration to LGBT activists the world over..”

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