My FEMNET journey – Six Years Ago Today

BBOG - NebsSix years ago today, April 18, 2011, was my first day of work at the FEMNET Secretariat. New city, new position, new challenge. Little did I know that my four plus years would mean I would criss-cross the earth, deepen (and question) my pan-African and feminist politics, be an active participant in game-changing global, continental and regional policy making processes, lead campaigns and take to the streets (on numerous occasions), be in the same spaces with presidents, movers and shakers, incredible and passionate activists and idealists who put everything on the line to make sure the earth would be better than the way they found it.

We made magic happen, with sisters (and brothers) from across Africa and across the globe, and for those experiences and more, for working with colleagues who became family, for being allowed to build wings and fly, to innovate and renovate, to imagine and deliver, to be challenged and to grow exponentially, both professionally and personally, I am forever grateful.

My FEMNET journey will always be a part of my story, and all of you characters who populate it. Thank you for fighting the good fight, for your love, your warmth, your passion, your courage, your persistence and so much more. I miss you, on a day like today and on many days.

Everything You Do Matters

Don’t be disheartened.
Don’t be disillusioned.
Understand that everything you do matters.
If a pebble in the oceans can create ripples,
Why do we doubt that the pebbles and bigger stones thrown into the universe
(Whether to build or destroy)
Don’t set the beginning of foundations
Or create cracks in our systems
Preparing them to come crumbling?

Are “Women’s Rights” Dirty Words?

I was talking to someone about what I do.  I told him I work for a women’s rights organization. He raised his hands and backed away. We began to discuss why.  He told me he has nothing against “women’s rights” but that sometimes we go overboard. We should take it slow, and go with culture.

But culture is dynamic I told him. It’s not static. Culture is learned, and so it can be unlearned.

You may have heard of Liz, a 16 year old who was gang-raped on her way back from her grandfather’s funeral in Busia, Kenya. She was dumped in a pit latrine. She is wheel-chair bound and has the worst case of fistula, a condition that doesn’t allow her to control her urine and feces. Though she recognized three of her rapists and reported to the police, the police caught them, ‘punished’ them by ordering them to cut grass and then let them go. A campaign to get #JusticeForLiz has been launched – to address the wider issues of patriarchy, impunity, lack of public accountability and the culture of violence that permeates. Please sign the petition and engage in the conversations. Liz is one case – there are countless more like her.

I see my world – and among all the beauty, I do see ugly. I see a culture of violence, a culture of impunity, a culture of disrespect, a culture of absolute injustice. So my question is, do we wait for culture to catch up or do we do whatever we can to make sure that the culture our kids and their kids grow up is a culture that encourages integrity, accountability, respect and justice that allows people to live dignified lives?

At the end of the day, I think we all want respect and we all want dignity. That’s it. And my struggle for women’s rights is to do that.

If this is crossing the line, then yes, watch out – we are crossing lines.

Candid with Bothaina Kamel, Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate

Candid with Bothaina Kamel, Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate

Following FEMNET’s Third Regional Conference for African Women in Political Leadership held in Nairobi, Kenya from Aug 29th-31st, 2011, I had the opportunity to sit down and candidly chat with Egypt’s First Female Presidential Candidate, a beautiful, humble and genuine Bothaina Kamel.

What inspired you to run for presidency?
We made a revolution in Egypt, started by the youth in Tahrir where coalitions and politicians introduced themselves to represent the youth, the revolutionaries, and to give a message to the Egyptian people. That is, the right of elections, and the right for all to run for presidency. Women are a marginal group, along with Nubians and Coptic Christians. I wanted to reaffirm their right to be leaders as part of the revolution. When I put in my candidacy, I wanted to give Egypt a civilized image, put the conservative people in the corner. It is important to push for the demands of the revolution.

What role did you play in the revolution?
Before the revolution, I was involved in monitoring the presidential/parliamentary election since 2005 through a movement dubbed, or We are Watching You-which resulted in the production of a film about our efforts. We fought for the independence of the judiciary, and worked to fight corruption and as part of the Egyptians Against Corruption provided awards to those fighting corruption since 2007. We were able to mobilize 800,000 signatures to freeze Mubarek’s assets which was presented at the UNCAC (UN Convention Against Corruption). In 2010 during the World Day Against Corruption, I staged a one-person demonstration in front of the Office of the General Prosecutor who was in charge of impacting the Convention. We also wrote the Shadow Report at the last conference of UNCAC. The officers were very angry with me, claiming that I was giving Egypt a bad image. I also prevented police from arresting youth, often putting my reputation as a media person to support the youth movement (6th April, and those for freedom and justice).

I have been out in the streets from day 1, since 2005 and continued to be in the streets during our revolution and to this day.

What was Cairo like during the Revolution?
Cairo during the revolution was a very special place, there was euphoria, almost a kind of paradise-all together, head to head, Muslims and Copts, men and women, youth and the elderly, the poor and the rich-all were working together for one goal, to dismantle the corrupted marriage between money and power. In the Mubarek era, there was no ownership over the country, no pride in being Egyptian, after the revolution, this all changed. You could even see Cairo clean, because the people felt ownership, they were no longer subject to the indignity imposed by the old regime.

The revolution gave us the true Egyptian spirit, and we will do our best to sustain this-we owe it to the martyrs, that is our promise to them.

Did you ever envision an Egypt without Mubarek?
Personally, I do what I have to do regardless of the outcome. Like the Egyptian peasant, we must cultivate the land, rain or no rain—in any circumstance we must do our work properly. Everyday, we win as Egyptians. But the Mubarek regime is still in power-through the army. The people made the revolution, not the army. The army didn’t shoot us, but at the same time, they did—they enabled the police to buy guns and bullets. SCAF, the Army Counsel, although not like Libya and Syria, tried to kill the fervor of the revolution by making the activists out as liars. If the army was with the revolution, how can they accuse people fighting for the revolution? Thugs who were handed over to the army were released back into the square.

The revolution still has a long way to go. We need to rebuild the country, build democracy and encourage youth to play the right politics.

Your campaign slogan is “My Agenda is Egypt”—what do you mean by that?
During the revolution, Mubarek accused us of having a foreign agenda, of being financed from the West, and claimed that 50 Euros was being spent per person per day to fund the revolution. My slogan is a response to this, my agenda, first and foremost is Egypt-there is no foreign agenda. My agenda is the revolution-“Dignity, freedom & social justice.”

Do you feel that your background in journalism and activism has helped further your campaign?
In a way it has, as a journalist myself, I know how to talk to media-which is very important. I also am able to talk to the people and understand their concerns. I have travelled all over Egypt to better understand the situation in different parts of the country. Social media is also very important—I am able to communicate, especially with the youth and hear their views on certain issues. In fact, I announced my bid for presidency on Twitter!

What lessons are there for the rest of Africa to learn from the revolutions of the North of the continent?
We need to give hope to the youth. We shouldn’t pay any attention to skepticism. Before the revolution, people said “Egypt is not Tunisia”, but we were able to prove them wrong. If it happened in Egypt, it can happen elsewhere. We need to connect with the rest of the African Continent—power comes from our unity and solidarity.

Anything else you would like to share with us?
I don’t want people to vote for me because I am a woman. I want people to vote for me because they believe in the cause that I champion.

©Nebila Abdulmelik, August 2011

She is a Souljah

She is a souljah

She is a souljah
But a souljah of truth
A souljah of peace
A souljah of justice

And she will be unreasonable
If doing so means
She rebels against the norms
The status quo
She refuses
Refuses to serve
For a worthless cause
Based on nothing but deception
Supposedly defending
Yet armed to dismantle
The very bricks of society

She stands
For the right of others
To breathe
To live
To survive

She fights
To keep alive the struggle
Against oppression
Against injustice
She fights for no war
She stands-
A souljah of peace

Though they may strip her
Of her camouflage costume
What they use in order
To indistinguish her from the rest
Though they may demote her in rank
The most important component-
Her conscience-
Remains intact
And that-they can never take.

She promises to take
The true souljah’s pledge:
She swears
Never to stand idle
While her eyes
See oppression
While her ears
Hear injustice
While her senses
Feel the chains
Of the so-called freedom
Inflicted on peoples
All over the world
Shoved down their throats
Detained, questioned, and tortured
For they fail to utter their gratitude

She fights
But her pen
Replaces the rifle
Her battlefield
Is the everyday world
In which we attempt to live
Attempt I say
For with such
Injustices raging
Massive oppression
Strife and unrest
Incessant warfare-
This is not life
Rather, it is life
Yet it is not living

Perhaps one day-
The love of power will be overcome
By the power of love-
And perhaps then-

Her job will be done.
And peace shall prevail.

Till then-
She stands strong,
A souljah of peace.

-Nebila Abdulmelik, 2007

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