Those Who Hold Up Half Our Skies

As today, May 25th marks Africa Day, I’ve seen many posts about the heroes of this continent. As is often the case, the names that were mentioned were predominantly, if not all, male. It reminded me of being at the 8th Pan-African Congress in Accra in 2015 and feeling the same way – this sinking feeling that half the stories are not being told.

Below are my thoughts and reflections from that day, which unfortunately are still relevant.

Where are those who hold up half our skies?!
Often forgotten, without whom the sky would’ve fallen?

All morning, we heard the high-level dignitaries pay tribute to pan-Africanists. I didn’t hear one female name being mentioned. Is it that we have done nothing for this movement? Is it that our contributions are meaningless? Or is that we are invisible? That we have been removed, or were never included in the collective memory and public imagery of Pan-Africanism? For those who would ask me who those women are, the list is  by no means exhaustive, but here are a select few that I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to:
Amy Garvey
Winnie Mandela
Graca Machel
Amina Mama
Ama Ata Aidoo
Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Miriam Makeba
Angelique Kidjo
Maya Angelou
Mable Dove Danquah
Taytu Betul
Adelaide Caseley-Hayford
Bibi Titi Mohamed
Fatoumatta Toure
Funmilyao Ransome Kuti
Gambo Sawaba
Muthoni Likimani
Thenjiwe Mtintso
Djamila Bouhired
Taytu Betul
Wangari Maathai
Charlotte Maxeke
Albertina Sisulu
Audley Queen Mother Moore
Louise Thompson Patterson
Thyra Edwards
Bonita Williams
Williana Burroughs
Sallye Bell Davis
Grace P. Campbell
Charlene Mitchell
Rahima Moosa
Emma Mashinini
Ruth First
Lillian Ngoyi
Sophie Williams

And countless others – often forgotten, who mobilized for Africa’s liberation, challenged
enslavement and colonization in defiance of imperialist, patriarchal culture and for a complete liberation of Africans – fighting multiple forms of oppression, domination and exploitation.

Interconnected Struggles
As Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara remind us:

Revolution & Women's Liberation
None of us are free until we are all free. This is in line with the emancipatory nature of the pan-Africanist vision. We must not buy into a hierarchy of oppressions, but rather collectively fight the multiple forms and systems of oppression and exploitation that keep us subjugated. Systems such as patriarchy which ensure women and girls are dispossessed and under siege every day, that ensure they are unsafe in their homes, streets, schools and places of work. How do we convey to them that their lives, and their dreams matter to us? That we will be their dream keepers, as Langston Hughes proposed, and will wrap their dreams and heart melodies in blue-cloud cloth and protect them from the too-rough fingers of the world?

We must recognize that ‘the struggle for Africa’s liberation and development is also a struggle for women’s liberation, gender equality and gender justice.’ Until we realize the interconnectedness and inseparability of our various struggles for justice; including gender, economic, environmental and ecological, and social justice; our movements will remain fragmented and our progress as a people will be stifled.

Power
If we thought the task ahead of us unsurmountable, Malcolm X reminds us: “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression, because power, real power, comes from our conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.”

Toni Morrison, in reference to another system of oppression; racism also warns us of distractions that will derail us: “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you from explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is
necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

Let us not get distracted.

Compassion – where is the love?

A comrade reminded me that at the heart of Pan-Africanism is love, a compassion for humanity – the ‘sympathetic apprehension of another’s suffering as intolerable’. Perhaps Che said it best when he said:

“At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love. It is impossible to think of a genuine revolutionary lacking this quality.”

Similarly, Malcolm X summed up his ethos towards the end of his life: “I have had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I am a human being, and as such, I am for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”

May this be our politics – one in which love for one another, for humanity, for the continent, for the movement, for the earth and its inhabitants trumps our love for power, prestige and privilege.

A luta continua.

Sources and for further reading:
Pan-Africanism & the Women’s Movement (African Women’s Journal, Issue VI)
Feminism & Pan-Africanism (Feminist Africa Journal)

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