Reflections on Youth-Led Anti-FGM Campaigning after the Pan-African Youth #ENDFGM Summit

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Five young African women leaders were chosen by FORWARD from within its network to represent the African diaspora at the First Pan-African Youth #EndFGM Summit organised by The Girl Gen. One of the delegates, Grace Labeodan, a TuWezeshe Fellow in our April 2018 cohort, gives an account of her time in Nairobi and of what she learned from the experience.

On the 25th and 26th April 2018, 170 young activists met in Nairobi to participate in the First Pan-African Youth #EndFGM Summit. I was honoured to be part of five women chosen by FORWARD UK to represent the youth of the UK’s African diaspora community and to discuss ideas, best practices and advocacy efforts towards ending FGM. I was both inspired and challenged to be in a room filled with FGM survivors, young people and key leaders within organisations that are working towards ending FGM within a generation.

Here are a few lessons that I learnt from my participation at the summit;

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  •  Seeking to transform society requires the involvement of all – and young people must be at the forefront of efforts to eliminate FGM within their communities. Young people making a difference now will cause a ripple effect and enhance the lives of those that come after them.
  • On the continent there is already momentum building; men and boys have joined the battle against FGM and are just as passionate about gender equality. Youth-led organisations working with local communities must be supported and given adequate resources to ensure that their work is sustainable.
  • Young people are a force to be reckoned with and African government leaders would do well to listen to their ideas, work in collaboration with them and build their capacity.
  • Advocacy must be a planned and organised process. Although policy change takes time, and can be a challenge in some contexts, it is not impossible and young people can still influence decision makers in their countries to make long term sustainable change.
  • Young Africans already possess the skills needed to influence those with formal power and have the commitment, passion and drive to challenge social norms,. What they need is adequate support to hold their governments accountable.
  • The African-led movement to end FGM is a global movement that is supported by Africans in the diaspora as well as the UK government. Together our voices, our efforts, and our engagement can bring about global change and an end to FGM.

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The Youth #EndFGM Summit was inspiring and it was great to hear from representatives from DFID, UNFPA, Equality Now, The Girl Generation and most importantly, youth activists actively campaigning to end FGM. I was equally impressed by the number of young people in attendance as there was ample opportunity to hear from a variety of people with different perspectives and experiences of FGM. They were willing to share ideas, resources and potential policy improvements that can be made to ensure that girls and women are protected from the practice of FGM. A key quote that stuck with me was from a lady named Bernedette Lologu: “A woman is born perfect and she should remain the way God created her”

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Beauty, for African and Diaspora Women, is Political

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In my hometown, Freetown, Sierra Leone, women would prize having “fresh” skin – skin that was smooth and clear, of an even tone and untouched by acne scars or old mosquito bites. Usually though, fresh skin also went hand in hand with having a fairer complexion.

This equation of beauty with light complexions is obviously not unique to Sierra Leone. It is pervasive across African borders and present among our diaspora communities around the world. It stems from a wider historical context where generations of Africans and afro-descendants have been relentlessly bludgeoned with notions of our inferiority. At every level, the markers of our African identities have been labelled as primitive, ugly and undesirable, especially with regards to beauty.

Against this backdrop, the mere physical act of protecting, decorating, admiring our physical appearance is indeed an act of defiance against the conventions that have simultaneously ignored and undermined our well-being. It is a figurative middle-finger to those that have exoticised us whilst denying our humanity. When articles appear like the one written in 2011 by a professor at the London School of Economics, claiming that black women were less attractive than other races”, it’s easier to brush it off like the kwasiasem it is when you are in a committed and loving relationship with your body. So what if that relationship involves buying yourself that beautiful plum lipstick and that big bottle of expensive moisturiser? If you are diligently expanding your mind and nourishing your soul, there is no reason why you should not also pamper your body.

The flourishing of the community of African and diasporan beauty bloggers on social media has served to democratise the beauty industry. Knowledge of skincare, makeup and hair maintenance is no longer in the sole possession of those who are able to pay for the expensive services of a professional. Personally, I used to feel self-conscious about my spots and acne scars, and to an extent, I still do. I have been able to consult my favourite YouTube vloggers to learn about building a skincare regimen with products containing vitamin C and salicylic acid to cater for my skin type. Contrast this to a situation that is unfortunately still prevalent, where girls apply bleaching creams to their skin in an effort to fade their scars.      

Our choices in purchasing beauty products have also played a starring role in our journey. Reclaiming traditional African products like shea butter and black soap has facilitated the economic and cultural rapprochement between Africans and the diaspora communities. Black communities in Western countries have been encouraged to continue to engage with other African industries and cultural goods; As many of these industries have long been the mainstay of women producers, the boom in the trade of products like shea butter has ensured a sustainable source of income for African women.

At the end of it all, one may well wonder “Is there a danger of reading too much into this?” The truth is, maybe there is. However, the mere existence of this debate is a triumphant display of collective strength. Where there was a heavy silence shielding the imposed conventions on standards of beauty that forever excluded African and Diaspora women, there is now a melody of contrasting opinions, creating space for all. “Sometimes, as poet and essayist, Momtaza Mehri, wrote, “looking good is just that. Looking good. Other times, it’s archival.”  

Words by Nki Nafisa

10 mins with Amina and Nancy

During a sit down interview with some of the remarkable women of the Children’s Dignity Forum (CDF) (TuWezeshe implementing partner in Tanzania), Lulu Lipumba, the new intern and interviewer got to learn some interesting things about a few of her co-workers. This candid but fun interview took many twists and turns as we spoke about their man crush Mondays, sexism in the workplace, admirable social justice warriors and the current state of Female Genital mutilation in Tanzania.

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Q- Lulu (Interviewer) A-Interviewee (Nancy and Amina )

The interview kicked off with our Girls empowerment officer, Amina Alliy

Q: Name a Tanzanian female social justice warrior you look up to and why?

A: Well, that would have to be with no doubt, Mama Hellen Kijo Bisimba, Oh my god I love that woman! She is amazing and she has spent a good portion of her life fighting for human and women’s rights. If it’s a warrior I feel that she is one of the most passionate warriors out there. Especially considering the time when not many were brave enough to speak out. She has done so much with regards to, sexual and gender-based violence, building up the confidence of girls and women in our society and bringing to light the amount of violence happening to girls and women in communities. She has inspired me to do more for my community, for me to take action and to be bold for change to happen. Over the years she has mostly been a women’s and children’s activist, I feel that if I ever grow up I want to be exactly like her, you know the saying I’m talking about (laughs) —She has just done so much for the Masaai communities, women in Shinyanga- you know you hear stories of the amazing work she has done and you just remain in awe. I really would like to be remembered in such a way.

Q: Fantastic, I need to look her up after this it’s been a while. So Amina totally random out of the blue question before we delve into deeper topics…do you like animals?

A: Yes, I do for the most part.

Q: (laughs) I like that answer “for the most part”… what would you say then is you favourite animal?

A: My favourite would have to be a cat, these furry friends are very majestic, and independent and confident in their own skin. I don’t know I’ve just connected with them, which is an improvement coz growing up, my mother never allowed us to have pets so I grew up very scared of being around animals!  But one day I saw this cute little kitten outside my house that was injured. My brother and I made a pact to care for him and later on adopted him and somehow forced our mother to agree to let us to keep him which wasn’t easy but yeah my life and love for cats begun there – We named him Camillo. He died 2 years back but ever since then cats for me are a great companion.

Q: Do you think the number of FGM cases have reduced in Tanzania?

A: So, the statistics have decreased and the Tanzania demographic survey of 2015/2016 shows there is a decrease of FGM from 15% to 10%–that’s a 5% decrease of FGM cases! And to be honest I can’t say it has been easy, the movement to 10% is because of the efforts of so many stakeholders being the civil society organizations and other development partners and more international organizations championing women’s rights. The government has tried to put in place several frameworks that protect women. An example is the police Gender & Children’s Desks that allows women and children to report cases of violence against women and children including FGM and child marriage. In terms of the legal framework, there is a law that prevents FGM occurring between the ages of 0-18. So yeah there is a decrease, however it is not enough. FGM is technically legal from 18 and onwards because the law is silent on FGM above the age of 18. The Sexual Offences Special Provisions Act- SOSPA of 1998 -prohibits FGM for children but is silent on cases above 18 years. So to me that’s not enough as it leaves a huge gap and allows young women to be targets after 18, because nothing will prosecute the culprits, so definitely more needs to be done to reach the goal of NO FGM. We need laws in place conveying that FGM is totally prohibited and completely banned. Whether it being towards a child or an older woman just like what our brothers and sisters in Kenya did.

Our second interviewee and the munchkin of the office, Nancy Minja continues…

Q: Hey Nancy, so I’ll start of by asking you how you think the workshops CDF conducts in different school regions in Dar-es salaam, engage the children to be young activists?

A: It’s all in the methods and approaches that we use to train them and the content we impart them with which helps them realize their rights and the responsibility they have in pursuing what they believe to be right. We emphasise the importance of giving back to the community as well. Topics such as self-confidence, advocacy, communication- these are topics that will help these young children to become activists of human rights. Oh yes I forgot to mention that we teach them about children’s rights and this inspires them to stand up for their rights as well. We train them, so they too can use the knowledge and train others and that is activism. So I believe children in these CDF clubs will grow up to be really awesome agents of change in the future.

Q: Yeah I love what you just said right now, ‘we train them, they train others and that is activism” well something like that! (laughs). For our international readers and partners who might like to know about life in Tz, tell me what do you like to do on the weekends?

A: Okay so to be honest I sleep a lot, because I get up early during the week so the weekend is the perfect time for me to recuperate. I like chilling at the beach, it’s refreshing and gives me time to think and reflect and plan. In the evening I love to go for drinks and dance, dancing is very refreshing for me and fun so yeah that’s a typical weekend for me.

Q: We should go dancing! Ooooohhh girl’s night out—office edition!

A: OMG! yesssss!!!!!

Q: Okay okay..um right! So you know how the Tanzanian society believes it to be taboo for a woman to move out before marriage? Do you think your parents would be okay with you moving out?

A: It is taboo in most African families that a girl or woman should move out before marriage. For me, I don’t think that’s reasonable because the times have changed and we have come to realize that women should have a life before marriage. It’s not about the husband’s family and it is also not all about the husband. So somehow, somewhere a woman should get her life together before having to move in with someone and start a family. In my opinion, a woman particularly in Tz, should find herself and then, she can have a family or build a home with someone. I think as Tanzanian parents most of them still have the idea that women are just meant to be wives and can’t have a career and a woman is defined by her husband and not by her own self. I think the time has changed and parents should understand that a woman has a career to pursue and a life to lead and she can do that on her own before she gets a partner. Using myself as an example, I am about to move out soon and my parents aren’t exactly excited (particularly my father) but they know they have to get used to the idea coz one, my workplace is very far and two, it’s time for me to make my own mistakes and for me to know how to deal with problems on my own because you will not be there every day. So that’s what I told him (my father) and he didn’t give a straight answer like go forth have your own life! He was more like he will think about it but, he has no choice. I insisted and he gave in!

A: Good for you girl!

 

(We all fall into a fit of giggles)

Q: So Amina, what’s a really inspiring book you’ve recently read?

A: Oh, inspiring book I’ve read…. Danielle Steele – Blue. It is an inspiring and captivating tale that portrays sexual and gender-based violence, hope and justice I literally couldn’t put it down once I started it. The story is about a boy who run away from home. His Mom passed away and he was living with his aunt. His aunt had a boyfriend who abused him. The boyfriend was sexually harassing the boy and so he run away from home and became homeless. Then fate leads him to meet this lady who lost her family.  She kept partaking in humanitarian causes to give her a sense and purpose in her life.  So one day she meets Blue, the boy, on a bridge where he was currently living. It was winter, he was cold and the boy didn’t have a place to stay so she took him in, they bonded and later on she adopted the boy. The story is really beautiful, although I feel like I haven’t done it justice so you should definitely read it.

Q: Yeah there were totally no spoilers there at all!

(Both of us laugh)

Q: I definitely will check it out.

Q: Tell me ladies, who is your Man crush Monday this week?

A: That would be is my boss, Mr. Koshuma Mtengeti.

Q: Ohhhh we’re sucking up now hey, trying to get promoted!

(Both women laugh, trying to regain seriousness)

A: No, he is actually super cool and a down to earth human being. He is hilarious as well and pushes us to out fullest potential, I like the fact that he has dedicated his life to championing for women and girls rights, by ensuring they get empowered enough to speak up against violence – he’s really a pleasure to work with.

Q: Fair enough, so what would you say inspired you to want to work in an NGO?

A: I have always dreamt of working in an organization focused on helping others. I spoke to people about their experience of working in other sectors in the job market and I was inspired by someone who was working with a grassroots NGO at the time. I think it’s honestly part of the journey of my career to do so.

Q: What superpower do you wish you had?

A: ohhhh reading people’s minds or seeing the future or….

Q: You can only pick one! Lol

A: oh! Fine, I guess seeing the future.. to be specific – time travel.

Q : Well, thank you both. I hope we’ve given our readers a tiny glimpse into our lives in and out of the office. That’s all folks ( all laugh) Thank you for your time.

Words by Lulu

Sisterhood, mentorship and transformation

When I left the TuWezeshe Leadership Training I was nicknamed ‘TuWezeshe’ because of the many ideas I suggested at the training, to my organisation Building Tomorrow. I was filled with enthusiasm from meeting young women that were, like myself, willing against all odds to fight for women’s rights unapologetically and to stop the high prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence. I am encouraged that the world consists of safe spaces such as the TuWezeshe Fellowship which I had the chance to occupy. Here is my story.

The moment that I entered the room at Garuga Beach Resort, I met women with different stories and from all walks of life – women that worked with sex workers, marginalized sexualities, young mothers and girls. These women were social workers, lawyers, IT specialists and journalists like myself. To me that is when transformation began. It became very clear that there was nothing else to be but an activist in the places I worked and lived. I was trained to provide mentorship and a social structure for the sisters (as indeed we are) and not judgement.

Prior to my joining the Fellowship, I had an idea to drive an initiative that addressed the needs of young mothers in schools and empowered them financially and socially. I had no clear idea however, how I was going to implement such an initiative. The guidance, resources and confidence given by the TuWezeshe Fellowship allowed me to target and collaborate with three school communities that were interested and had the capacity to build a force against SGBV and gender violations.

I started at Kibaale East. Even though the school had no electricity the teachers were very interested in computer lessons. Using my own laptop, a colleague and I were able to deliver these lessons on the condition that each teacher attended a session on how to promote inclusive learning environments and ensure that all students learnt in positive surroundings.

Kyehemba Primary School ICT Club

 

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Another ICT teachers club at New Eden Primary School

For the pupils, we started the Girls Sisterhood Club at New Eden Primary school. The club builds on themes such as gender fluidity and gender roles. It facilitates: discussions, debates, reading, watching movies, and farming. Each of these activities has a lesson learning outcome that empowers confidence and power in being a girl.

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Club members receive diaries to document their experiences

For the community, the Fellowship has enabled me to build the Embibo Gender Based Initiative, which is aimed at young mothers aged of 15-20; we empower them with employability and life skills such as CV writing, health talks, nutrition talks. We’ve even rolled out a bar soap making session through which we hope to intensify financial opportunities through the inclusion and provision of grants.

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Embibo young mothers during an employability workshop

Personally, I have been able to write a pro women’s blog, pebbletalk@wordpress.com that gives a friendly narrative to bottled-up feelings that African women may have and serves as training for my own journey toward novel writing. The events that we have attended as part of the Fellowship have broadened our network and exposed us to more complex theories of power which impact our capacity as activists and feminists. The old perception of mentorship is that the mentor has the authority and teaches while the mentee simply learns; a unilateral flow of information. However through the mentorship scheme offered by the Fellowship, I have found that mentorship is based on shared power, learning and mutual improvement; this has been instrumental in the viewing of myself as a leader. My mentor works at Land Net and is an endless fountain of knowledge. During our meetings and catch-ups, she has equipped me with a spirit that refuses to give up and work hard even where I may not have the necessary funds or resources.

The TuWezeshe Akina Dada Fellowship continues to be an incredibly insightful and wonderful movement to be a part of. It’s great to be working in something I’m, so passionate about. One of the questions we were asked at training was:

“What is leadership?”

My answer: “it is the ability to use hard work to influence and inspire positive change for the greater good of others around you”. That definition is my guiding light every day toward sisterhood, mentorship and transformation.

Words by Tendo

#MyBodyMyPower: Reclaiming Black women’s Bodies’ as spaces of power

The concept of bodily autonomy is one that we rarely consciously engage with. It’s the ability to act with sole self-determination to make decisions that affect you as an individual – psychologically, physically, financially or spiritually. How do you exercise the power within? What actions do you take to positively affirm your autonomy? What would you do if someone was invading your personal space? Or rather, what would you want to be able do? The last two questions are probably easier to answer because we tend to engage with our personal agency more when it’s under threat. There needs to be a shift toward nurturing this agency throughout our lifetimes, not only in moments of self defence. It’s difficult, however, to exercise a form of power that is constantly being denied; it’s a numbing experience Black women know all too well. Furthermore, lack of ownership of Black women’s bodies by Black women, is an added tax for which history has plenty of receipts.

HeLa cells, for instance, are the oldest most commonly used cell line in the field of biomedical research. They’ve been at the forefront of monumental breakthroughs in oncology, vaccines for polio and cosmetic testing. The initial cells were procured for their replicative ability. Up until 1951, scientists had struggled to observe and create conditions for human cells to be replicated indefinitely. They found these conditions in a biopsy of a cancerous tumour growing in the cervix of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman from Virginia. The cells were taken from her without consent or remuneration but today, HeLa cells are easily obtainable and widely distributed (if you’ve studied a biomedical or biochemistry related degree you’ve probably used them yourself). Similarly the vaginal speculum used in routine sexual health consultations is modelled on the crude instruments used by J. Marion Sims on female African-American slaves in the 19th century. In his own words,  “there was never a time that [he] could not, at any day, have had a subject [available for his research]”. It’s worth noting that while Sims is referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Gynaecology’ and is credited for providing much of the basis for present day knowledge on gynaecological fistulas only three names of all the women he experimented on are recorded in the history books; Lucy, Anarcha and Betsey.

Black women have not only been violated, they’ve been denied justice and recognition for the contributions they’ve painfully made. Harvey Weinstein choosing to deny Lupita Nyongo’s allegations amongst all the women who came forward leaves the bitter taste of misognyoir in one’s mouth. The whitewashing of #MeToo and failure to credit it as a movement created by a Black woman; a movement inclusive of all women, highlights a lack of support for our voices to be heard and recognised once again.

The #MeToo campaign started in the USA, but closer to home, data from NHS England shows that Black women are less likely to report acts of sexual violence. Of those who manage to file reports, only a small number pursue charges against perpetrators. We carry the double burden of race and gender and often exist in the cosy intersection of faith, sexual orientation or disability. Recognising our bodies of spaces of power like any political board or forum can help level the imbalances of power we experience in our various walks of life.

I intern at FORWARD – a diaspora, women-led organisation which is committed to ending violence against women and girls. For the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism, I had the opportunity to ask 16 Black women aged 18-30 across London how they exert their bodily autonomy as part of FORWARD’s #MyBodyMyPower campaign and why, given the recent allegations of sexual abuse, ownership of their bodies and space is important to them. The aim was to simply have Black women at the forefront of a discussion in which we are rarely given the mic.

My Body My Power

FORWARD X Marianne Olaleye

Imelda

As a makeup artist I try to encourage young girls that they don’t need to have layers of makeup. Society needs campaigns like this, especially for young Black women. You don’t need to be who society wants you to be, you need to be who you are.

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Jabs

My body & mind are my strength. I believe in solidarity, empathy & compassion. It’s how you show your power & empower others. Women of all backgrounds need to remember that bodily autonomy is not given to us & cannot be taken from us. It’s something we own.

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Marie

It’s important for us to reclaim our bodies because we don’t owe them to anyone else, they are ours. We don’t have to make excuses for the actions of other people. When we feel uncomfortable we feel uncomfortable we don’t have to be ashamed of it and we don’t have to justify those types of feelings.

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Fola

I’m starting to reclaim my space on the tube. People sit next to you and crush you, getting up in your face or close to your body. So I’ve made it a point to tell people when I think they are encroaching on my personal space. And I try to be understanding it’s the tube, but sometimes people feel like they can push their way through and because I’m kind of small, Black and a woman, they think I’m going to move out the way. Reclaiming my body and my space in this way is a small step I’m taking to exert my rights.

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Theresa

I think for a long time I was part of the problem because I was scared to speak out. I didn’t recognise things for what they were- harassment, abuse- I thought that was just the way things were and I accepted it. Now I feel like it’s important for everyone to take a stand against the small and the big stuff- from physical sexual abuse to catcalling. It’s important to reclaim your body by saying; ‘this is mine, you will not manipulate it, abuse it, or use it for your own pleasures’.

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Hafsah

It’s important that we don’t divide ourselves in terms of who wears what, or who looks like what, because the ideas we have amongst ourselves, the ones that segregate us, are a result of the common male influences and misogyny women experience. There is a lack of empathy in communities – in terms of religion, in how we look, in terms of our preferences. Empathy is something we need to lean on; without empathy we can’t succeed.

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Laura

Love yourself unconditionally and live fearlessly with all your mind, body and soul. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

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Zethu

I use performance art to explore and celebrate my Black heritage. It’s important to spread knowledge on what it’s like to be a Black woman now and historically. It’s an effective way to show the oppression of Black beauty and negativity in the media.

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Nki

I’ve dealt with sexual harassment and you struggle to deal with it- but being surrounded by sisterhood helps. Overcoming cultural silence is good for healing by breaking through silence and speaking out in our communities. Not being silenced by patriarchal structures is important. Embody sisterhood and empathy.

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Shae

I think it’s really important for women to reclaim the power that comes with being a woman. Every day we live in a society where we are faced with people telling us what to wear and what is beautiful, according to the eye of the media. It’s important for a woman to find her internal strength and do what she feels like doing. I’m a walking example. I’m 5 foot 11, I’m ‘thick’, I’m not a ‘stereotypical’ female that fits into a box and that’s how I’m reclaiming my power- by owning that.

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Sedji

As Black women there’s a responsibility to look after other people; families, communities, friends. Even though that can be beautiful, we should make ourselves a priority too! We have a choice and it’s exercising that choice in everything that we do that’s important. We are not beholden to anybody or anything. Take space, practice self-care!

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Flakes

‘My body my power’ means not being the world’s standard of beauty, and being my own. I myself am enough. I am the way that God intended and no one can take that away from me.

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Natalie

I think it’s about time that young girls stand up together and break the western stereotype of beauty. Beauty is not defined by our status, size or complexion, it is defined by who we are, how we decide to look and how we make that come across. Our size does not define us, and we are beautiful and powerful whatever shape, size or colour that we are.

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Justina

I think it’s important for young girls to know their bodies are powerful because our bodies are the first space of power that we ever encounter, and I think it’s about security and knowing that you have ownership over your space. No one has the right to touch you, or to impact you in ways you don’t want. As young women in the world that we live in, there are so many spaces where we are dis-empowered, and so to be strong and secure in your body is very important.

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Ukaylah

Taking ownership of your body is important. I take ownership of every curve, every shape, and define the beauty of my body within myself. There is no set definition for beauty when it comes to a woman’s body.

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Cherina

The whole idea of reclaiming your body and owning your body and sexuality is especially important for women, in particular young black girls. Our bodies have been brutalised so much throughout history by white supremacy so I think it’s important that we talk a lot about that with our daughters and sons. Not only is a Black body not up for consumption, it’s to be celebrated and to be praised.

cherina

As I reflect on 2017’s most prominent events, the storm of sexual-abuse accusations as well as the courage shown by a multitude of women and girls in sharing their stories continues to strike a chord with me. I am proud to be a woman in an age where we have some of the liberties that many have struggled for. Nonetheless I am reminded that as a Black woman, I am marginalised in certain spaces. I can raise my hand, politely, to make a contribution and be ignored. I can vocalise my thoughts and be deemed as confrontational. I can fight alongside my White and Asian comrades in the struggle against sexism but find myself alone when fighting against the actors that seek my personal oppression. I can push the agenda for all women tirelessly, but I won’t see the breakthrough until my White colleague puts it on her agenda. For all the originality that Time magazine put into 2017’s Person of the Year issue, ‘The Silence Breakers’, Tamara Burke the creator of #MeToo, is still not included on the front cover. So, I’ll continue nurturing my inner power, joining it to that of my fellow Black women through campaigns such as #MyBodyMyPower and using that to exist in a world where I can say I have do have power over my body and my choices.

Words by Angela 

#16DaysOfActivism: Spotlight on Mogadishu

On Saturday 14th October 2017,  East Africa witnessed the single most deadly terrorist attack after a truck bomb was detonated in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, killing more than 350 people. The response from world media was slow at best and completely lacking at worst. In doing research for this blog entry, I struggled to find basic information on the who, what, where and how around the attack (try for yourself, I’ll wait). In an age where social media profile pictures are changed within hours such attacks, it is shocking that these basic points are not even addressed in the first paragraph of news articles…why do African lives not matter?

 

Tumblr: creativenomad

The theme of this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence was ‘safeguarding women and girls before, during and after conflict’. We know that women and girls are disproportionately affected in times of conflict. In the aftermath of a civil war, in the midst of drought and now living with the impact of the attacks (plural – yes, 21 to be exact) that have taken place in Mogadishu in 2017 alone, one can only imagine how women and girls have been affected.

Angela, FORWARD’s Africa Diapsora Programme Intern, spoke to Hafsam, President of Brunel’s Somali Society and Shukri, Rahma and Osob, members of LSE Somali Society, Rahma, and Hafsa

 

Expressing a sense of frustration and compelled to take action, many Somali university societies across the UK continue to raise awareness and support efforts on the ground. I was curious to hear their views on the ongoing issues and on the role of social actors to inspire action or, in some cases, inaction.

Angela: The attack that took place on Saturday 14th October was not the first. What about this event made you eager to take action in your universities? How did you raise awareness about the issue?

Shukri: As we’re quite a small society, we tried to support other Somali Societies (Som Socs) for instance we attended the vigil held by Kings College Som Soc.  We also got in touch with LSE Islamic Society to help share the message about some organisations that we were supporting. Now that we have an official committee, we want to offer our own efforts. At the time we didn’t really have the manpower but it was great to go and support what other societies were doing and to join in prayers for Somalia. For me, the experience highlighted what the youth can actually do. I think a lot of us realize that it is our responsibility to help at home. No one else is going to do it so it has to be us pushing it forward.

Osob: The number of deaths had a lot to do with why there was such a huge response from the Somali community. Obviously there’s been a lot of conflict and terror attacks since the civil war but the numbers we’ve seen since the 14th October are just ridiculous; its been called the 9/11 of Somalia. It’s sad to say but I think that’s why people were interested. I think a lot of Som Socs wanted to get involved because there was no media coverage and most people were getting their information from twitter and that’s a problem.

Shukri: Think about it, so many people died and their names aren’t shared, their faces weren’t put in newspapers.

Angela: The Rohingya crisis continues to play out and was going on at the time of the Mogadishu attack, however Mogadishu did not receive a morsel of the coverage the Myanmar issue has. Does race have a role to play in the Mogadishu crisis?

Rahma: Race has a HUGE part to play – definitely a massive part to play! I think it’s such a big problem. Just look at the university scene, Islamic Societies (ISOCs) are usually dominated by Asian Muslims and even when people in the UK think of a Muslim, they think of an Asian Muslim. Even though these atrocities took place, we ourselves had to reach out to the Islamic societies – we shouldn’t have had to ask.

Shukri: I asked why [the Islamic societies] hadn’t responded immediately and I was met with a vague answer which at the time made me very upset. What I was trying to make them understand is that it was and is a dire issue! Eventually, they did share links to some of the organisations we were supporting.

Hafsa: More or less Somalis tend to do things ourselves. For me, it was really difficult getting a response from the ISOC, it was frustrating. I just think it is so much easier to do things by ourselves. I would urge Somalis to stick together, which we’re very good at anyway. In staying together we can break the barriers that we face as a community. I think the government and media have the capacity to do something, of course they do. I’ve seen so much on Syria but I don’t see much on Somalia. It’s been mainly us using twitter to spread the news.

Rahma: It just seems to me that the fairer skinned Muslim gets more attention than the darker skinned Muslim. We never hear about what happens in Nigeria with Boko Haram. I don’t know if I necessarily blame ISOCs themselves because I genuinely think they are not aware that they’re doing it. However, there is a massive blockage where some Asian Muslims are more empathetic to fairer skin Muslims and vice versa.

Osob: For me, I don’t think it’s ignorance, it’s active blindness. You’ve grown up in the UK, you have some notion of the racial tensions. When something’s happening to a black person, they are desensitized.

Angela: So we’ve mentioned race and religion but there’s a gender aspect to it too in my opinion. My question is: what role can women play in bringing these conflicts to light ?

Shukri: In terms of the Somali demographics, there are a lot more Somali women than men in higher education so it will definitely be women pushing it forward. However, Somali boys and men still have a part to play and Som Socs this year have been doing so much, they have grown so much.

There has been a lot of conflict and terror attacks since the civil war but the numbers we have seen from the 14th October are just ridiculous; its been called the 9/11 of Somalia.

Rahma: I feel that compared to other ethnicities, Somali girls are not that held back. If I was to say to my mum and dad I want to do this or that and I want to study abroad, they wouldn’t say no. I still feel, however, that the household expectations are there.

Osob: Definitely, Somali homes are very matriarchal. Women in the house are the ones that run things. So I feel like this idea of the matriarch in the family trickles down to Somali girls being expected to strive and not have any social barriers.  I think in this respect, we are able to be more active when it comes to raising awareness about such atrocities. This is is not to say that Somali boys aren’t active, it’s just that most of the notable action comes from high level institutions and there isn’t a massive representation of Somali boys there; it’s mainly girls.

Shukri: Because of the way we are raised in terms of the household, Somali girls are given a lot of responsibility at such a young age. It’s empowering, you’re still expected to go to school, do well in school, hold down a job and excel. We’ve been taught to do seven roles at once and we’re okay with it. It’s an expectation and I do think it’s a good expectation – I’m killing the game inside and I’m killing it outside. But I do think it’s sad because it means boys don’t have good role models. Somali girls have so many role models to aspire to.

Rahma: As with many other cultures, the older generation may have a particular view of the things that are more appropriate for women and girls to do. However, I’ve been always raised to believe that there’s nothing I cannot do.

Angela: What can the Somali Diaspora do to raise awareness especially women and girls?

Rahma: Try and increase female education back home because I feel most of the money goes toward drought. It’s not a long term investment.

Shukri: Once Somalia’s been stabilized in terms of long term goals. Its about female education and increasing access to education.

 

Tumblr: creativenomad

Osob: For now its pretty limited at the moment in terms of what Somali girls can do, Somalia is still very unstable, so I feel like there’s not a lot of space for Somali girls to be active and to help with society because, as Shukri said, it’s about basic necessities. In terms of diaspora, its about being aware of what’s going on at home and not being detached.

Shukri: I think we sometimes take for granted the opportunity to be educated here and to live here. We have access to organizations such as FORWARD where we can spread the word.

Hafsa: I think the youth in London have a great standing. We have opportunities to help those at home through our outreach and our networks. The collaborative efforts among Som Socs for example is a great place to start. I would say, don’t be afraid to do something for your people. Be brave and bold, you’ll always have the support of a handful of people.

Special thanks to:

Hafsa – BA Accounting & Finance, Brunel Somali Society President

Osob – BA History, LSE Somali Society Member

Rahma – BA History, LSE Somali Society Member

Shukri – BA International Relations & History, LSE Somali Society Member 

Words by @AngOBB

 

4 Simple Ways To Self-Care

Yes, it is the buzzword of the year; highly overused. Frequently affiliated with scented candles/yoga and the minimalist approach of bodily awareness and self-understanding (we’re calling this ‘neo-self-care’). Whatever you practice, self-care is important and to add to your list, here’s our four cents to remind you to self-preserve:

i. reclaim your day 

Our attention is in high demand. If we’re not careful we can give away too much of our time to the wrong people, expensive lunches and social media threads. Identify your most important tasks and strive to complete them. Reflect on one thing that could have gone better – implement it tomorrow. Keep notes to yourself on what you’re eating and drinking and don’t forget to be grateful for at least two things.

ii. eat that frog

If you haven’t heard the phrase before, it’s as unpleasant as it sounds; it’s about prioritising the most important things (alright this one isn’t exactly simple, but you can do it!). Procrastination is real, if you can beat this fiend, it means more productivity during the day, less stress in the evening, higher levels of melatonin at night which equals a more rewarding beauty sleep (this in itself is self-care so consider eating a frog a 2 for 1 deal).

iii. shade outside the lines

About early 2014, adult colouring books became a mainstream trend. They’re not that cray-[ola]! Colouring allows the brain to shift its focus from physical surroundings to a state of mindfulness and self-awareness whilst exploring new concepts, reconciling emotional conflicts and reducing anxiety. P.S: You can use any empty colouring book, or, colour in your doodles (the ones you do during meetings).

iv. protect your peace

Information Overload 2017…can I get an amen?! We are the recipients of unrelenting social spam. Whilst it’s great that we can be at the forefront of breaking news and a few keyboard entries from our loved ones, not all news or streams of communication are digestible and they shouldn’t be. It can be hard to filter and monitor the effects of the information we’re consuming so it’s necessary to step back sometimes. If you don’t like the tone of a series of tweets, mute the words. If there’s a topic of discussion you don’t wish to engage in, mute that group chat. Peace of mind = clarity = a solid game plan.

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Words by Angela

 

 

 

10 mins with Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE

naana2I work at FORWARD, the lead partner of the TuWezeshe Akina Dada project. We have a unique culture – it’s loud, it’s passionate and it’s hardworking. It’s a culture that’s led from the top. Our Executive Director Naana is one of the most remarkable and poised women I’ve ever met – and her desk is just 5 steps away from mine. Barely a day goes by when we don’t hear Naana singing the praises of a young activist she’s just met or inquiring on how we can forge impactful relationships with dedicated organisations like ours. That’s the thing with Naana and with FORWARD, we’re all about uplifting and amplifying the voices of young African women.

To say the last few months have been busy would be an understatement. We’ve travelled over 9000 miles (thank you Distance Calculator) and trained more than 50 girls on being innovators of change in the campaign against sexual and gender-based violence. With one more country left on the map, I managed to secure ten minutes with Naana before the TuWezeshe fellowship went to Tanzania.

A: Four trainings down, one more to go why do you think there is such a need for the TuWezeshe fellowship?

N: I think the Tuwezeshe fellowship really meets a huge need within African communities in the UK and on the continent. Young women don’t always have access to safe spaces that give them an opportunity to reflect on themselves and the issues that adversely impact their capacity to make a difference. TuWezeshe provides a space where they can think deeply about the power within whilst simultaneously being supported by a sisterhood of like-minded women with whom they walk the journey. The skill building, access to mentors and the resources gained from the fellowship; these are what I believe they need on the road to becoming leaders.

A: You mentioned the power within; one of the sessions you led during the London training, Save The Drowning Babies, examined the role of different actors in development interventions. What would your advice be to a young activist who sees a need in her community but also feels overwhelmed by the many factors to consider?

N: I think the whole issue around that exercise was for us to realise that often, we’re picking up the pieces without necessarily looking at the root cause of the problem. Having said that, it is also important to understand the consequences and the impact of ALL actions. It’s not that one way of operating way is wrong. You do need to help people who are affected by a system but you also should really understand the powers that contribute towards the problem and to deconstruct the context. That session was also to illustrate that advocacy requires you to work with other people; one person may have to stand up to recognise that we have a problem but you must work with allies and networks. To my young activist:  recognise that yes, you have a voice, but you need to strengthen that voice. Everything is possible with your determination and vision.

“I was really impressed by our conversations- the breadth of ideas, the innovation, the determination”

A: What has been the most memorable moment of the trainings ?

N: The most memorable part was getting our young women to deliver their pitches. For me, that epitomised everything that had been gained throughout the training. I was really impressed by our conversations during the speed mentoring sessions; the breadth of ideas, the innovation, the determination. The confident manner with which the fellows delivered their pitches on the day, was outstanding; really everyone was a star. This further emphasises the need to create spaces where we can refine these jewels and gems that are our young women. In the next five years, I am confident that we will see these women at the forefront of social change and development.

A: Tell me more about Tanzania, what are your expectations for the training there?

N: Tanzania will be very interesting and exciting. We’ve worked in Tanzania over the last 10 years and we’ve had elements of bringing young women from the communities to facilitate leadership training in different contexts. This training will focus on mobilising young women to lead their own projects. Having the training in both English and Swahili is going to very stimulating. For us as a Diaspora-led organisation, it is a model of good practice which we will review at the end of the year. I myself am very excited because the young women we have leading the project are very dynamic; they are motivated and very determined.

Connect with us on social media @TuWezesheDada @Naayosuwa

Words by Angela