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.

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.

Unapologetic Feminist

“The revolution and women’s liberation go together. We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution. Women hold up the other half of the sky.”

Thomas Sankara

I am an unapologetic feminist. And before you run for cover, let’s explore this issue a bit further. What is a feminist? Historically, this seems to be a rather scary, intimidating term that many shy away from. My male doctor just the other day told me that a feminist was a woman screaming at the top of her lungs, thinking she was better than everyone else. Feminists have been thought of as bra-burners and men bashers. An activist by the name of Lindsey told me she didn’t like the term “Feminist“. She said she’d rather refer to herself as a “humanist”. I’m wondering though, why being a feminist excludes you from being a humanist? In fact, wouldn’t it make you more of one? After all, women’s rights are human rights. Unless we’re not human.

For me, a feminist is one, male or female, young or old, who agitates for the right of girls and women to live dignified lives free of discrimination, violence, intimidation and one full of opportunities and choices.  One who agitates for women to give birth without having to give up their lives, or be able to take control of their own bodies, and make the choice not to give birth. A feminist is one who believes women and girls should have access to the same rights, privileges and responsibilities as their male counterparts.  Some argue this on the basis of the socio-economic argument; empowering women empowers the entire community. Living standards will improve, children will be healthier and more educated…but we can also argue that women deserve all the rights and privileges afforded to their male counterparts simply because they are women who hold up half the sky, as Sankara reminds us. We should value women as women, and girls as girls. Not necessarily because they are mothers, sisters, daughters and such. And although that is invaluable, if a woman is not a mother, is she not given consideration?

When men lift their hands to beat their wives or partners, let them also remember that this could be their mother, their daughter, their sister. Would they want their daughters to be beaten up senseless by their partners?

When I tell people, men especially that I work in the area of women’s rights, I’m immediately asked, “What of men’s rights?” We know that in much of the world, historically and presently, women have been at a disadvantage. They have been marginalized in terms of political participation, in issues of their sexual and reproductive health rights, in terms of economic and business opportunities and the list goes on. To quote another, “Men never died as a result of having children. Unless their children killed them.” The fight for women’s rights need not come at the expense of men’s rights, as many believe. In fact, the realization of women’s rights leads to the realization of human rights which is beneficial to men.

Lastly, we are not men bashers. At least not the majority of us. In fact we believe that we can’t win this battle alone. We believe that we must work with our male counterparts to achieve our goals of equity and justice.

Men, remember, just as you hold up half the sky, so do we.

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