On Sunday 12 May, many countries across the world including in Africa, celebrated Mother’s Day – a noble and worthy tribute to women. But at the same time, days like these should also serve as reminders to terrible evils that befall mothers and women in Africa. Gender-based violence is one such. In Gabon, First lady – Sylvia Bongo Ondimba – a mother herself, is taking a lead denouncing the scourge. She recently lead a major march in Libreville to raise awareness against GBV in her country. In this poignant OpEd, she shares her views.
By Sylvia Bongo Ondimba, First Lady of Gabon
Violence against women and girls is a global scourge that is finally attracting the attention of the international community. However, responses are often inadequate or incomplete.
In Gabon, the issue affects us more than we think. According to a 2016 national survey on gender-based violence commissioned by UNFPA, the rate of physical violence against women is 58.5%. This violence occurs mainly in a domestic context, where 71% of cases are due to excessive alcohol consumption by male partners.
It is difficult to measure the damage wrought on survivors and it is all the more devastating because it often remains hidden. Breaking the taboo, forsaking silence, means exposing oneself to the risk of being rejected, humiliated by society, stigmatised or discriminated against by legal systems, social services or health providers.
The impact on survivors goes deeper than the initial physical and emotional pain. At a psychological level, survivors can find their personal development compromised by the inability to build a positive self-image or sustain relationships. Beyond the individual, gender-based violence insidiously impacts communities and societies by eroding trust and fracturing families.
Encouragingly, Gabonese legislation has made significant progress in recent years by adopting laws on domestic violence, human trafficking and sexual harassment in the workplace. Our country has also ratified most international treaties in this area, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
However, there are legal gaps in women’s rights, as well as persistent discrimination in the legal framework, particularly in the Labour Code, the Criminal Code and the Civil Code, which is largely silent on gender-based violence and marital rape.
Sometimes, when laws do exist, they are not fully enforced. Their implementation is hampered by the resistance of certain customary practices that discriminate against women and girls in the home or society, thus hindering their development.
It is high time to raise awareness of these issues and put an end to abuse that undermines our society. I was touched by the heartfelt cry of thousands of women in every province of the country calling for change. In their name, the Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation for the Family organised a peaceful, civic march on 17 April, the day of the Gabonese Woman, to say that a society that violates fundamental human rights and humiliates and mistreats a majority of its members is self-destructing and in decline.
Accompanied by civil society actors, political decision-makers, representatives of associations and religious communities, I decided to march to protest all forms of violence against women and girls.
Let’s be clear. This is not a feminist movement. This is not a gender war, but an expression of civic awareness on the part of men and women, adults and young people, who want to challenge legislators. Their credo: gender-based violence no longer has a place in our country.
It is important that women’s rights are enshrined in law and their enforcement guaranteed. It is equally important that survivors of violence and their families receive appropriate support and services.
Civil society activists have understood this, as have associations that already active on the ground and working tirelessly in our communities. The Sylvia Bongo Ondimba Foundation for the Family team met with them, listened to them to understand their concerns and together with them, defined ways to strengthen their activities.
In order to encourage these important actors in the fight against gender-based violence, my Foundation has created the “Agathe Okumba d’Okwatseghe” prize, in honour of a great lady, a pioneer and champion for women’s rights in our country. The winners, local advocates on gender-based violence, will be able to benefit from financial support to enable them to act more, better, and faster.
Our mothers, sisters and daughters are counting on us. We will not fail them.
GRADUATES FROM AKILAH INSTITUTE IN KIGALI – RWANDA (Credit Akilah Institute Blog)
Three projects based in Africa, one in Rwanda and two from Kenya, are among 15 finalists selected for the 2019 WISE 2019 Awards . reports reGina Jane Jere.
The World Innovation Summit for Education Awards, have been held since 2009 and each year they recognise and promote six successful innovative projects that are addressing global educational challenges. This year, Kenya’s Stawisha Leadership Institute by Dignitas, Moringa School and Rwandan based Akilah institute, made the final cut from 482 submissions, and they will be hoping to be among the six top winners who will announced in July 2019, and celebrated later in the year, at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha, Qatar between the 19-21 November.
The World Innovation Summit for Education was established by Qatar Foundation in 2009 under the leadership of its Chairperson, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser. This year’s Global WISE Summit will be held under the theme “UnLearn, ReLearn: What it means to be Human”.
The 2019 WISE 2019 Awards Projects
The projects, selected by a pre-Jury of international experts, tackle a number of pressing educational issues including: early childhood education; girls’ education; coding and digital skills; innovative higher educational models; providing education to marginalized population; education in emergencies; career counselling; stimulating critical thinking and creativity and children personal safety.
“Each of the 2019 WISE Awards finalists has built an effective, tested solution to a global educational challenge. Whether ensuring access to fundamental early childhood education or preparing children for the 21st Century workplace, each project is already transforming children’s lives, and provides an inspirational model for others to adopt. This is vital to our mission at WISE, which centres around celebrating and enabling innovation in education,” explains Stavros Yiannouka, CEO of WISE.
In addition to publicity and networking opportunities, each winning project, initiative will receive $20,000 (US).
Moringa School is a workforce development platform that offer full-time 5 month course, aligned with the current market demand for computer science graduates. Through its fundamental and advanced programming classes that results in a 89% job placement rate, Moringa builds the current and future workforce of Africa.
Audrey Chang, Co-Founder and CEO of Moringa School, said: “I feel honored that Moringa is nominated as a WISE 2019 Awards finalist and hope this is an opportunity to highlight our work and how we are shifting the skills and education landscape across Africa with our market-aligned and quality-first approach.
I am so proud of the work we do at Moringa School, from the impact we have on the technology sector and employment ecosystem in Africa by skilling high-potential youth into paying jobs.”
Courtsey of Stawisha Leadership Institute by Dignitas
For Deborah Kimathi, Executive Director of Dignitas Project, making it to the final selection is a n honour: “We are delighted to see our Stawisha Leadership institute nominated for a WISE Award! As a result of Stawisha, we have seen partner schools become vibrant places where all children can gain the skills and strength of character they need to thrive and succeed.”
The Stawisha Leadership Institute offers innovative training and coaching in order to empower educators in marginalized communities to transform students’ opportunities. Through a focus on instructional leadership, classroom culture and learner’s engagement, the program transforms teachers and school leaders’ mindsets, techniques and pedagogy, positively impacting the students’ performance at school. To date, Dignitas has empowered 613 school leaders and benefitted 23,000 students.
Lens of opportunity and sustainability
Founded and Headquartered in the Rwandan capital Kigali, the Akila Institute Akilah Institute is a women’s college, which has built a reputation for delivering high-quality, market-relevant education for women in Rwanda. Its focus is on preparing its students to solve challenges “through a lens of opportunity and sustainability.”
Since its founding in 2010, the institute, has seen over 900 students pursuing diplomas in Hospitality and Tourism Management, Information Systems, and Business and Entrepreneurship and over 500 graduates earning, on average, 12 times the national median income; 90% of graduates launch their careers within six months of graduation.
“When we opened our doors to the first class of Akilah Institute students, we had only 50 students and two classrooms, but our goal was clear: to educate women and equip them with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to build fulfilling careers. Since then we have been single-minded in our focus on our mission of educating future leaders on how to solve the world’s most pressing problems through a lens of opportunity and sustainability,” says Elizabeth Dearborn Hughes, Akilah Institute CEO and Co-Founder.
And at least 80% of young women attending Akila, are the first in their family to attain higher education, and more than 50% come from rural areas.
For more on WISE and to see the full list of the finalists click here
Following its successful launch in London last year, the second Africa Blue Economy Forum – ABEF2019 – will take place in Tunis on 25 -26 June, its organisers have announced. This year, the event will also have a strong focus on African women in this crucial economic development sector.
The nascent, yet reputable organised by Leila Ben Hassen, provides a unique platform for ocean stakeholders to share insights on how to achieve SDG 14 and to present new investment opportunities in both traditional and emerging ocean industries, while facilitating public-private partnerships and networking.
“This year’s Forum is designed as an action-oriented platform aiming to create partnerships, facilitate investments and ultimately create jobs for Africa’s youth while engaging more women in the Blue Economy value chain,” says Ms Ben Hassen Leila who is also founder and CEO of Blue Jay Communication.
A Tunisian national herself, Ms Ben Hassen also explains: “We have chosen Tunis as a city to host ABEF 2019 because of its location and history, acting as an important centre for maritime trade and an economic powerhouse at the crossroads between Europe and Africa…Tunisia was for long at the heart of a territory known as ‘Ifriqiya’ in Arabic, and the ‘Province of Africa’ in Roman times, giving the continent its present-day name.”
Women must be at the heart
In an OpEd published here last November, Mahawa Kaba-Wheeler, Director – Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission, weighed in on the importance of the sector, writing that the blue economy has rightly described as the ‘New Frontier of the African Renaissance’. Its potential for the continent on which almost two thirds of its states have a coastline, whose trade is 90 percent sea-borne, is enormous…runs into the many trillions of dollars and promises to combine enormous economic growth with environmental conservation, if stewarded properly.
She stated: “Women must be at the heart of this inclusivity. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is at the heart of all African Union (AU) policies and actions and the blue economy is fertile ground to further women’s role in this transformative field.”
At its 31st Ordinary Summit in Nouakchott, she explained, the AU adopted its first Continental Strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (2017-2027) to accelerate translate Agenda 2063 into reality for the millions of women and girls across the continent.
“The first pillar of this strategy is aimed at achieving economic autonomy for women through maximising outcomes and opportunities for them. The blue economy is one such target,” she wrote.
In Tunisia, ABEF will bring together more than 150 delegates from across the globe, including ocean experts and innovators, African political leaders and policy makers, international entrepreneurs and investors, as well as NGOs and multilaterals, to discuss the great potential of the blue economy to drive sustainable growth in Africa.
At the inaugural ABEF, speakers and delegates agreed on the need for innovative financing to start developing Africa’s blue economy on a wider scale, involving not only governments but also the private sector.
Building on these recommendations, ABEF2019 will have a strong focus on business and investment. Discussions will explore the opportunities and innovations in emerging and frontier sectors of the blue economy and how they can help accelerate Africa’s transformation.
Africa’s maritime industry is estimated at around US$1 trillion per year and the asset value of ocean economy ecosystems around US$24 trillion.
The Blue Economy has a unique potential to create jobs, sustain livelihoods for local communities and offer low-cost impactful climate change adaptation solutions on the continent.
“I believe that today we cannot speak about growth if it is not sustainable and taking into consideration the social and environmental impact,” Ms Ben Hassen stresses further.
Registration to attend is open here
Ghanian-British actress Adjoa Andoh who has challenged stereotypes all her working life, has created theatre history by co-directing and acting in the first major play in which all cast and crew are women of colour. In this exclusive interview, she tells Belinda Otas, why her production of Shakespeare’s Richard ll is told with an all women of colour ensemble at a time when the UK faces up to the reality of Brexit and people are grappling with questions about identity and nationhood.
Shakespeare’s Richard 11, co-directed by Adjoa Andoh Lynette Linton and starring Andoh in the title role, opened at the Globe theatre to rave reviews by critics: ‘Andoh brings an extraordinary expressive range to Richard. She is, by turns, imperious, skittish, calculating, impulsive’ writes The Guardian’s Michael Billington. ‘She is a gloriously formidable actor: strong vocally, physically, emotionally, intellectually’ wrote Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times.
Adjoa Andoh, a Ghanian-British actress is probably the most versatile actress working in UK stage, film and television at the moment. She has played leading roles at some of the most iconic theatres in the country – such as Royal Shakespeare Company, the National Theatre, the Royal Court Theatre and the Almeida as well as in many other stage productions.
She has also appeared in scores of television productions, including long-running series such as Doctor Who, Casualty and EastEnders.
She made her Hollywood debut as Mandela’s Chief of Staff, Brenda Mazibuko in Clint Eastwood’s 2009 production of Invictus and also appeared in several other films.
She also has a huge range of voice performances, including the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency set in Botswana and scores of audio books, including Maya Angelou’s I know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half a Yellow Sun.
What a time to be, given all the global upheavals – from Donald Trump in the White House to Brexit – and here you are, a woman of British-Ghanaian heritage co-directing and acting in Richard II. Why pick William Shakespeare’s play?
I feel there’s something about this play relevant to this moment. In the UK, we are talking Brexit, we are talking the Windrush scandal and we are talking Grenfell (The London tower block that caught fire in 2017, and over 70 lives were lost.) Globally, we have Yemen, Venezuela and Donald Trump.
What all of this feels like is a huge moment of fracturing in the world and our public discourse. We also have #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo – you name it.
There’s a line in the play where Bolingbroke (a character in the play) is being treasonous and the character I play, Richard II says, “The cloak of night being plucked from off their backs.”
It’s as if you thought you were getting away with it and then bam (claps her hands) off it comes and your sin is exposed in the daylight. That’s the language of the play.
What’s brilliant about Shakespeare is that in any play of his, there’s always something which reflects what is happening in the contemporary world and is completely on point at any moment. That’s why I love him so much.
I have just been made an associate at the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) and for me, Shakespeare is the great humanitarian playwright ever.
I also just finished doing a movie about Nelson Mandela in South Africa. When Mandela and fellow political detainees were on Robben Island, they had the complete works of Shakespeare smuggled in under the cover of a Hindu prayer book.
They did so because the plays encouraged them, gave them courage and made them reflect on their situations. They used to pass the volume round and they would read it and underline their favourite bits.
I think Shakespeare was a person who wrote from the heartbeat, and had a great love of humanity. I think those people in that dire situation on Robben Island understood that love and that wisdom, and they found it of great comfort and a great encouragement. That’s how I feel about Shakespeare, endlessly comforting.
This particular production comes with a twist too. The ensemble and company of both creative and production teams are all women of colour. What has that journey entailed for you
I went to Michelle Terry, who runs the Globe Theatre in London – which is a replica of the original theatre where most of Shakespeare’s plays were performed – about a different project that didn’t work out but she asked me if I would be interested in directing Richard II.
It was not a play that I knew particularly well, so I said I would go and read it, which I did. I came back and I was very excited about it.
This is a great play about England. Shakespeare describes it as ‘This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,’ and ‘This precious stone set in a silver sea’ he also tells the story of the first king in this country to be deposed in office.
Richard II wasn’t beheaded, he wasn’t killed in battle and he didn’t die of known natural causes. He was removed by the Commons. I said to Michelle that I was very interested in doing the play because it would come at a time when it feels that the whole of England is in a tumult of conversation about what this nation is. What’s the identity of this nation? Who has the right to call themselves part of this nation and who doesn’t have a right; who owns the flag and who built this nation? Who contributed to its wealth and prosperity?
Photo by Igrid Pollard
I just thought – Empire! This country would not have existed industrially, architecturally, in commerce or trade to anything like the degree it has and flourished as it did; it would not have fuelled the industrial revolution or science or any of the other areas where Britain has been marvellous, without the bodies, wealth and prosperity and natural resources that came from the countries it conquered, colonised and made part of the Empire.
Our ancestors talk about England as the ‘Mother Country’ but then they are not allowed to have ownership of that country! So I decided that the children of that Empire – women, children, people of colour who are at the bottom of the heap of Empire – will tell the story of England as contributors to the wealth and prosperity of this nation.
I felt this is an important moment to be saying this, especially at a time when people stop you on the streets and tell you to ‘go back to where you came from’ – combined with the Windrush scandal.
I decided the entire cast and crew would all be women of colour. Michelle asked who was going to play Richard. I said ‘me’. She asked me if I was mad, wanting to direct and play Richard. I said yes. I would ask one of my best friends, a director, Lynette Linton, who I think is fabulous, to co-direct with me, so I don’t go completely bonkers.
Lynette recently directed this fabulous show, Sweat – by Lynn Nottage, the Pulitzer Prize winning African American playwright – at the Donmar Warehouse. It is transferring to the West End, and she is the new artistic director of The Bush Theatre.
I also wanted to acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before us. We have actors straight out of drama school – a young actor called Nicole Cherry – right through to Dona Croll who has been acting for 40 years in this country because I wanted to say this is the breath of who we are.
Every person involved in making this work is a woman of colour: fight director, voice coach, composer, designer and musicians, stage management, even our publicist, Juanne, everybody is a woman of colour. Why? Because I wanted to say we are gifted to do this work and we are pretty good at it and I wanted that to be the basis on which the show happens.
You have Ghanaian and British heritage, and have brought that dual lens of perspective to this work. What is the burden of the responsibility that comes with that, especially when we put it in the context of theatre still being a white male dominated world?
I’m blessed, I’m blessed with it. It’s interesting because I have been in this business since 1983, so that’s quite a long time. There have been slow shifts but it’s still White male dominated and power does not give up power. You have to take it, you have to demand it and you have to make the space.
I wanted to ring-fence a space so that all these women of colour can come into it. And we have women of Empire, from West Africa, East Africa and the Caribbean through to South East Asia. It’s a broad range of artists.
I wanted to create a space where instead of feeling that you are always either the only person of colour in the or the only woman, you can come into a space where everybody is a woman of colour.
You don’t have to represent anybody in here. You just come and you do your work with that God-given talent that you were blessed with. So just come and breathe out for once.
Equally, our ancestors have been a really important part of all the cultures, and all those cultures have ancestor worship in them, as does the British traditional culture.
Go to Buckingham Palace, there will be portraits of Lord Blah of Blah, Blah, and Lady Ding, Ding of Dududa. So in our production, we have portraits of our grandmothers and our great-aunts and all the women of colour that came before us. It’s a message saying: because they did, we can and we do and others will.
This production is for all human beings and we are making a particular effort to say: if you have felt that it was not for the likes of you because you are not smart, posh or educated enough or any of that nonsense, that has nothing to do with your ability to engage in the story or empathise or be enraged by it.
I have a real bugbear about people thinking that Shakespeare is something exclusive – and he is not. He is a man and an artist who wrote on a heartbeat because he was interested in human beings.
I want to tell my audience that I’m much more interested in you than I’m in the season ticket holders of a theatre. I want those new audiences to come and get what they can as well. We are trying to make the offer in all ways – how we tell the story, how we showcase the work of artists and how we invite a new audience in to see this work.
You have played strong female characters, for example in Assata Taught Me by Kalungi Ssebandeke, and Leave Taking by Winsome Pinnock at The Bush Theatre. However, here you are taking on the role of a man. What do you envision in your interpretation of that role and why does taking on this character matter to you?
Over the last year, I have played the roles of men in three of Shakespeare’s plays. I played Casca, who is the first of the conspirators that killed Caesar in Julius Caesar; then I went to The Royal Shakespeare Company and played Ulysses (Odysseus) in Troilus and Cressida – a huge part and now I’m playing Richard II. For all of them, I didn’t even think about whether it’s a man or a woman I was portraying.
I just thought about the person. One of the things I think reduces who we are as human beings are the value judgements that are placed on what I call this ‘fleshy overcoat’, which is your genitalia and melanin. Not interested, don’t care.
Who are you as a human being? What do you need? What are you frightened by? What do you desire? What are your ambitions? What are your fears? What are you gifted with? That’s what I’m interested in. And I say that really selfishly because that’s how I would like somebody to view me.
Like me, don’t like me, value me or don’t value me for what you learn of my character, not because you see breasts and a brown face. I have said to everybody: just come and play the person. Think about what they need whatever the narrative is, This way you open up the story to everybody to watch it and that’s what I’m interested in.
That’s how I would like to live my life. I’m bored of having to say ‘I’m a Black woman, can you do this for me?’ or ‘I’m a Black woman and you won’t let me do that.’ I just would like to be an artist, do my work and campaign for a world of love, equality and decency through the things I’m gifted with, which are arty things.
Have you encountered any resistance?
Everybody is resistant to new ideas. There has never been an all women of colour ensemble doing Shakespeare on a major UK stage before. Some people were excited by it and some people were outraged.
We have had hostile stuff on Twitter and we have had a huge amount of really exciting and thrilled responses as well. At the end of the day, we have to do a good show, and then people can either love the show or not but that’s their business.
And if they want to hate the show because of who is in it, then that’s also their baggage and I can’t do anything about that. But we can make the offer, and the offer is if you think you hate the idea of this or love the idea of it, you are welcome and everybody is welcome.
You and Lynette are in decision-making roles in bringing this to fruition. Here you are, two women who have dual heritage, disrupting the status quo. What does that feel like and how fulfilling or how interesting is it to be a disruptor at this time?
I don’t call it disruption. I call it living my life. If the status quo doesn’t include me, what am I supposed to do? Crawl under a duvet and die? It’s not even as noble as being a disruptor.
It’s saying I want to work. I want to be a whole human being and if the status quo is not allowing me to do that, then the status quo needs moving because I’m not going to crawl under a duvet and die because I have a mortgage to pay.
I have three children and a husband and a dog. I must eat food and I must live and this is the way I earn my living and I want to have the scope to live and love my life as richly as I possibly can, and also say come on, let’s all do this.
I would also say what if you are a young White man and you have grown up where the only industry available to you is working in a car plant? Well, maybe you are made to work in a car plant and maybe you are not. Maybe you are supposed to be a baker or tailor or a flower arranger. This is a conversation for all of us.
This is about saying we need to be in a world where we are free to be who we are. We know that world doesn’t exist now but it doesn’t mean in our own little corner we can’t try to make it happen. Make that offer and suggestion to other people that maybe this is a different way of thinking about the world.
When I go home at night, I feel extremely happy at the moment. I feel extremely stressed and extremely exhausted but I made that choice. I had rather be stressed and exhausted by a happy choice I have made than one that’s being forced upon me and I don’t have any agency over.
To be in a room with all these wonderful women, to weep in this room because there is not a woman who is not here because at some point somebody from this country went somewhere overseas, colonised, raped, killed and pillaged some of our ancestors. And we all carry that trauma.
That isn’t even me being woolly. That is now a scientific proven fact – we carry the trauma in our DNA. So to be in a room with a bunch of women, who have somehow managed to scrabble through the world, through the generations and get to be artists, I want to celebrate that. I want to cry and laugh together with these women, and talk about aging parents and children, and periods and menopause and all that.
The richness of that heritage is really important to me and I feel really blessed and thrilled by them and their level of excellence as artists and their generous hearts as we all come together and we go: ‘come on let’s do the wor’.
What does Richard 11 teach us about our humanity?
That nobody is born bad. I see a child who lost his father when he was three, and lost his grandfather when he was 10, and then was expected to be king. Where were his safe places? Who was guiding him? Who was raising him? Where did he go when he was scared?
What happens when you grow up in an insecure environment is that you have to force yourself forward to feel safe. You force yourself into a place where you are quite extreme about things – this is good and this is bad – because you are trying to do the job of a parent on yourself when you haven’t grown up yet.
My question would be – this child should not have been king. He is not fit to be king because he is not made for it. His cousin Bolingbroke however, is fit to be king. Which takes me back to the whole question of identity because I’m brown and because I’m female, am I fit to be lesser than somebody else?
Again we come back to this idea of what society forces you to be – like he is born into a hereditary dynasty, so therefore he must be the king. It’s about what you are built for as a human being and what your soul is built for.
What I love about this play and about Shakespeare is that he takes someone, who at the beginning of the play, you might think is reprehensible but by the end of the play when he has lost everything that the world values; status, wealth and power, you find a valuable human being who understands his value is in himself not in his stuff.
What are the conversations that you at least hope people will have as a result of this production?
That’s what is so exciting. It is unpredictable. But I hope that people will see the story afresh. I hope it might make them reflect on nationhood and who we are as a nation. I hope it might make them marvel at the breath and range of talent that there is among artists in this country.
I hope that some of the truths, which I think and believe in, are in the play: truths about the frailty of humanity, generosity, love, fear. And also about what is the value of power, and civil disruption that is happening in the discourse of this country at the moment.
I hope it may reflect on all of those things. But what I think a good play does is that you come to it with your own baggage, and then you resonate with who knows what during the production. And I hope you leave enriched in some way that will help lighten the burden of your life in some way.
Richard II runs at The Globe Theatre, London until 21 April 2019 is co-directed by Adjoa Andoh and Lynette Linton both pictured below. Photo by Ingrid Pollard
New York, London, Paris, Miland and those others in between – its F/W Fashion Week season this month. Here are some of the top looks that absolutely take our breath away – including those from last haute couture and SS seasons. Look out for more looks updates.
As part of the Women Empowering Africa (WEA) initiative, at the Africa 2018 Forum which took place in Sharm el Sheikh (Egyp) last December, invited 57 African women designers showcased bespoke designs and products to an international audience which included business and financial sectors as well as lovers of African fashion and design. We look back to the amazing two-day showcase.
She Designs shines a spotlight on the potential of the design and creative industries in Africa and reaffirms the immense opportunity and ability of African women in contributing to the the continent’s economy and growth .
“A lot of people want to open up business and trade, and I enjoyed speaking to other designers on how we can grow the platform for Africa,” Vanessa Agyemang – Founder of Copper Dust, (a design company which merges African and English aesthetics), said about the She Designs exhibition.
The designers represented more than 30 African countries ranging from Egypt to South Africa, Mali to Rwanda. The selection and quality of products was outstanding and varied from cosmetics, bags, clothing, lights, jewels, shoes and home decor all made in Africa by Africans.
The exhibition celebrated African women designers and creative entrepreneurs, and to showcase the immense potential of African brands. The exhibition was a platform for designers to meet and connect with business leaders, investors and potential buyers who are on the forefront of shaping Africa’s business policy and agenda.
Get one step ahead with our foolproof guide to sensational hair and beauty throughout this year as picked by Claire Muffett-Reece
The Trend: BROWS
Brows are bigger than ever for 2019 – in terms of style and definitely not size. So, how do you keep them looking sophisticated – and not slug-like? We asked international make-up artist and WOW Beauty creator Denise Rabor for her essential advice:
“Perfectly defined brows help to frame your entire face and bring out your eyes, with or without additional make-up. When enhancing your brows it’s often best to work with the shape that you were born with, as opposed to trying to change them completely, to ensure they look natural and not ‘drawn-on’ in style’. Start by using a brow brush to direct your brows up, which will allow you to see more of their original shape, as well as showing whether they are sparse or uneven.
“Next, powder the brow area with translucent face powder to remove any excess oils. Using short, dash-like upward strokes to mimic your natural hairs, softly fill in any sparse areas with your product of choice. It’s important to use a colour that best matches your brows and fill in lightly, building more if needed. Depending on your hair shade you may even want to opt for an ash tone or dark brown, as jet-black is often too harsh. Resist the urge to overly fill in the inside corners of the brows or make the end points too harsh, then brush through again to blend out the colour and soften harsh lines.”
Barry M Brow Kit Shape & Define
Bobbi Brown 16 Hour Wear Perfectly Defined Long-Wear Brown Pencil
Clinique Just Browsing Brush-On Styling Mousse
THE TREND: NATURAL HAIR
The trend for big and beautiful, natural hair shows no sign of abating – yup, we’re doing a little happy dance, too! There’s never been a better look to see 2019 in with style, so long as you realise that natural certainly doesn’t mean little or no maintenance. “Natural hair is more popular than ever,” says award-winning stylist Jamie Stevens (jamiestevenshair.com). “We’ve even been working with a wider colour palette in the salon, which looks equally as fantastic on natural hair. Always remember to work with your natural texture, and don’t overstyle or use excessive heat – you need your hair to look its very best! Speak to your stylist about cutting in shapes on natural afros, too –taking it shorter on the side or underneath, for example. Your colour should work with your cut as well, making sure it accentuates the shape of the curls. I love a hint of purple, green, blue, orange or red, working with a more muted palette, to gives your natural locks a subtle but unexpected colour pop.”
Palmer’s Coconut Oil Formula Coconut Oil Leave-In Conditioner
New Nordic Hair Volume Gummies
Joico Curl Defining Contouring Foam-Wax
THE TREND: GLOWING SKIN
Applying make-up so you look like you haven’t applied make-up can be somewhat of a challenge, especially when you consider the continuing trend for dewy, youthful and glowing skin. “A gorgeous glow begins with good skincare,” continues Denise. “It’s important to ensure your skin is properly cleansed, exfoliated and moisturised, adding a vitamin C serum to your skincare regime to give it an extra boost. If your skin type is combination or oily, you still need to ensure that it’s properly hydrated – it’s this hydration that gives your complexion a radiant glow, plus it allows your foundation to work much better.
“For the ultimate glow make sure that your foundation has the right undertone for your skin: yellow (warm) and red (cool) are the main undertones in black skins. The wrong undertone can make your foundation look ashy, so seek advice from a professional if you’re unsure what looks right for you. Remember that less is often more, starting with a good primer to help your make-up last longer, but also smoothing out any minor imperfections. Make sure you apply your foundation by starting at the centre of your face and working outwards, using a minimal amount so it enhances your skin – and doesn’t mask it.”
Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
Smashbox Photo Finish Primer
Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Complexion Brush
THE TREND: PASTEL HAIR
We love a bit of colour here at NAW HQ, and none more so than the delightful hair hues we’ve been spying all over the S/S19 catwalks. But whether you choose to go pretty in pink or luscious with lilac, there are still a few hair rules to follow… “I’m happy to see pastels on the catwalks, and this is a look that can be stunning on afro hair if you do things right,” continues Jamie. “For a start never attempt to achieve pastel tones on your hair at home – the correction that may be required in-salon, should an at-home error occur, will be costlier in the long run. Bright colours against black skin tones are absolutely stunning, but to work well the hair needs to be pre-lightened – and this is 100% a salon job. Done incorrectly, the hair can become damaged and even break off! However, once pre-lightened you’ll have a base to continually colour on to, and pastels will fade out allowing you to chop and change between shades. Most pastel tones should work well, depending on the base underneath and the level of lightness – again this is something a professional stylist knows all about.”
Redken Color Extend Magnetics Conditioner
Colour: Vibe Semi Permanent Hair Colour in Dusty Pink
Lime Crime Unicorn Hair in Bunny
THE TREND: BRIGHT LIPS
Pucker up that pout: this season’s lip shades are certainly set to stand out from the crowd! “Bold lip colours have made their presence felt on the catwalk over the last few seasons, but it’s no longer just about red lips,” says Denise. “You can now go for pretty much any colour… orange, pink or purple – you name it, you can wear it! Start by prepping your lips by exfoliating and hydrating them with lip balm – do this regularly and your lips should soon be in great condition. Next, to make your lip colour last, prime your lips with lip primer or foundation, before applying your shade either directly from the tube or using a brush. Blot with a tissue and apply another coat, then to avoid the ‘lipstick on your teeth’ scenario, put your pointing finger into your mouth, close your lips around it and pull it out.
“If you are going for matte lips, make sure that your skin has a glow to it, to prevent your make-up looking flat and one dimensional. Equally, if you’re going for shiny lips, then a more matte face will add the perfect contrast.”
Fenty Beauty Snow Daze Frosted Metal Lipstick Three Piece Set
MAC Lipstick in Morange
Neek Lipstick in Kiss Me Kiss Me
THE TREND: TOP OF THE CROPS
It’s always summer somewhere in the world, with the hot weather the perfect excuse to eradicate damaged locks and go for the chop! The spring/summer catwalks were packed with models showcasing an array of sexy yet stylish pixie crops, meaning there’s never been a better time to jump on the bandwagon and sport your very own must-have hair ’do… “Crops are the ideal style to show off your stunning cheekbones and features,” says Jamie. “Your stylist is best placed to let you know what will suit, but never fear – we can generally tweak any style to suit most individuals! Your face shape dictates this primarily: oval faces suit crops brilliantly, while any other face shape will need a cut that maintains softness to make a crop work. Shorter haircuts will always be a trend, because they’re striking, easy to wear and low maintenance – which means your look will never go out of style! Plan a visit to your hairdresser every eight to 12 weeks to keep it looking fresh, and keep it versatile with length on the top and play with product to vary the looks.”
Clockwise: Vera Songwe – Executive Secretary, UNECA; Amina J Mohammed – United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Phumuzile Mlambo Ngucka – UN Women Executive Director; Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila – Prime Minister of Namibia; Sahle-Work Zewde – President of Ethiopia.
Africa may have made significant strides on women’s participation in decision-making surpassing Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East, but the continental achievements hide national and subregional variations, facts and figures by UNECA’s African Centre for Gender (ACG) reveal.
As of October 2018, out of a total of 11,037 African parliamentarians, 2,591 were women, which represents a 23% average share of women in parliament in the entire continent. And of the 1,348 Ministers on the continent, 302 are women. As such women’s representation in African cabinets remain on average at 22% , the ACG’s fact sheets – Women in Decision-Making Spheres in Africa, released in November 2018 pointedly reveal.
While this is a commendable progress, it barely represents the halfway point to attaining gender parity in African parliaments. Yet ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making is one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goals. In addition to its intrinsic value, women’s participation is essential to the formulation of effective policies, which respond to the differential needs of men and women.
Therefore, the fact sheet provides a comparative perspective on where African countries stand in women’s representation in both national parliaments and government postions.
Out of 35 countries with more than 33% female representation in national parliaments across the world, there are 9 African countries, including Rwanda (61%), Namibia (46%), South Africa (42%), Mozambique (40%), Ethiopia (39%), Tanzania (37%), Burundi (36%) and Uganda (34%).
There is substantial variation across Africa as shown in Figure 2 below. While Southern Africa is close to attaining the 33% representation threshold, West Africa on average lag substantially behind other subregions. Out of 15 countries in West Africa, only 5 countries have over 15% female representation in parliament. Senegal leads the way with 42% female representation in parliament ranking 4th in Africa.
In Southern Africa, Namibia and South Africa are within reach of gender parity in parliament with 46% and 43% female representation, respectively. Mozambique is also close at 40%.
In Eastern Africa, Rwanda leads the way with 61% female representation in parliament ranking it 1st among all African countries and across the world. Ethiopia, Tanzania, Burundi and Uganda follow suit with over 33% female representation in parliament.
In North Africa, Tunisia and Sudan are close to reaching 33% threshold while Egypt records the subregional minimum at 15% female representation. Central Africa has slightly higher average women’s share relative to West Africa due to Cameroon where female representation in parliament reaches a subregional maximum of 31%.
Since the adoption of Beijing Platform for Action, Africa has made steady progress on women’s participation in Parliaments. Figures shows that the average share of women in parliaments in Africa almost tripled over 22 years. However, progress slowed down since early 2010s. In many African countries, the share of women in parliament must more than double its current level to reach the 50% gender parity target as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goal 5, Target 5.5, Indicator 5.5.1.
Parity in the Cabinets
Recent increase in the proportion of women in Cabinets in some African countries, notably the achievement of gender parity in the Cabinets of Ethiopia, Rwanda and Seychelles, offers a unique opportunity for African women to demonstrate how gender parity can improve quality of governance and accelerate development and inspire the rest of the continent and the world.
The Agenda 2030 with its specific target to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making acknowledges the instrumental role of women’s participation in politics. The Fact Sheet therefore provides a comparative perspective on where African countries stand in women’s representation in the executive branch of governments.
As of October 2018, there are 302 women ministers in Africa out of a total of 1,348 ministers. Consequently, women’s representation in African cabinets remain on average at 22% which is below halfway to attaining gender parity.
When broken down into five subregions, Southern Africa at 28% and Eastern Africa at 27% are doing much better than West Africa (18%) and North Africa (17%).
However, there is still a long way to gender parity in cabinets even in the top performing subregions. For instance, Mauritius and Lesotho are lagging behind the average of Southern Africa with 9% and 14% female representation in their cabinets, respectively. In Eastern Africa, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti and Somalia have less than 15% female representation in cabinets.
In North Africa, Mauritania leads the way with 30% female representation in cabinet while in Morocco only one female minister is present in the cabinet of 19 ministers. In West Africa, Mali leads the way with over 33% female representation followed by Senegal with 26% female representation.
Globally, recent developments have increased the number of African countries attaining over 33% female representation in their cabinets. There are currently 7 African countries in the list of countries with over 33% representation across the world. Consequently, Africa leads the developing world surpassing Latin America and the Caribbean.
***Addition Data Source: Statistical Archives of Interparliamentary Union, October 2018.
At only the age of 30, in April last year, Bogolo Joy Kenewendo became one of Africa’s few young and female government ministers. From a part of the world not used to female leadership at such a tender age, the news of her appointment as Botswana’s minister of investment, trade and industry in one of Africa’s most looked-up-to countries for its political and economic stability, garnered unprecedented headlines and commentary. How is she fairing? Ngozi Chukura caught up with the rising and able star to find out.
When Botswana gained independence in 1966, it was one of the poorest and least developed countries in the southern African region. However, the semi-arid country was also home to some of the most impressive kimberlite deposits in the world.
As Botswana took advantage of its diamond wealth under sound political leadership, it developed rapidly, and gained a reputation as the ‘shining light’ of democracy in southern Africa. Botswana’s economy remains heavily dependent on its mineral wealth, but it is a situation that is becoming increasingly precarious for the landlocked country. Hence economic diversification is imperative.
In order to achieve this, the country must create an environment that develops further its established sustainability by stimulating growth in other economic development sectors.
This is the onus that as minister of investment, trade and industry, Bogolo Kenewendo carries, while her detractors concentrate on her age and beautiful looks. It is a perception that she rightly does not take warmly to, as she tells New African Woman:
“I’ve often been asked, ‘what are the disadvantages of being a young woman leader?’. Why should I give a disadvantage of being me? It is ridiculous. Nobody has asked what the disadvantages of being an old male are. And this is asked as if to imply I do not belong in this space and I strongly beg to differ,” she says pointedly, adding: “We tend to sell ourselves short as women in general. I think we have to change the narrative around young and women leaders; we need to start driving it more actively.”
Kenewendo is a woman with big ambitions for her ministry and the country’s economy. And she is definitely able.
Her appointment followed an already illustrious career as an economist. After reading for a Bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Botswana, she studied economics to Master’s level at the University of Sussex. She then developed her career to become a specialist in international trade and economics and before her current post had already served at a high level internationally including as a trade economist in the Ministry of Trade and Industry in Ghana. She has also chaired the Botswana government’s Private Public Dialogue (PPD) structure, a high level consultative council aimed at addressing the challenges of the private sector in the country.
Kenewendo entered the world of parliamentary politics when she was appointed a specially elected member of parliament (SEMP) under the administration of former president, Ian Khama, in 2016. She immediately made waves because of her youth – and because she is a woman. In Botswana, women hold only five out of 63 seats in parliament. When the current president of the country, Mokgweetsi Masisi took over from Khama in March, Kenewendo was appointed minister of investment, trade and industry.
“So far it has been an amazing experience. It’s an honour to serve Botswana in this capacity, particularly in such an important ministry,” she says.
In the recent past, the MITI has been seen as an ‘international’ ministry – particularly because of Botswana’s desire to attract foreign direct investment. Without moving away from this strategy, Kenewendo thinks it is important for the ministry to challenge and change this perception amongst the people of Botswana.
“As a leader, it is important to encourage buy-in, in alignment with ministry and government objectives,” she explains.
Under her ministership, she says the MITI has also embarked upon a number of outreach programmes; company registration has historically been centralised in the capital, Gaborone, and some larger towns. In partnering with entities such as the Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency and the Local Entrepreneurship Agency, the ministry is committed to empowering rural economies. The ministry wants to heighten their local presence and ensure that more people have greater access to their services.
The ministry has also embarked upon a three-pronged ‘apex model’ of economic development so that the country can leverage its resources and work more closely with small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs ‘on the ground’.
The apexes are SMEs, investment promotion and export development. These efforts are geared towards ensuring that the prevailing environment offers opportunities for local and foreign investors to set up sustainable and competitive business enterprises which are export ready, culminating in economic growth and employment creation.
Since the beginning of her tenure at the MITI, there have been considerable efforts to ease the doing business environment, including passing eight doing business reform bills. Delegations on investor aftercare programmes have been set up and the policy environment around a number of goods has changed, including import regulations and restrictions.
There is a perception that Botswana-made products aren’t good enough and that Batswana tend not to buy local. Consequently, retailers tend not to stock local products, a mindset that the MITI under Kenewendo is looking to change. Although this has been met with some resistance, Kenewendo insists: “We need to use our purchasing power to support the local economy. We remain resolute in our decision and we are aware of the welfare generated. In the short-term, there is some discomfort that may be felt by consumers, but in the long-term, it will generate more employment, more disposable income and more production capacity locally.”
These decisions are not being made in a vacuum; Kenewendo remains committed to regional integration and building regional value chains:
“It is a balancing act of protecting our national interest and championing regional integration. A strong local economy is a building block towards creating an integrated continent. Our national interests need to remain key to that international agenda.”
The minister also seeks to strengthen the culture of supporting each other. “When I talk to my team I ask them to stop ‘thinking big’ in terms of implementation but instead, go back to basics, and think of who we are as a people,” she says. “It may sound counterintuitive but if you look at it in terms of a puzzle, we can transform our economy one piece at a time, until we end up with a better picture – but our dreams and visions remain big and scary!”
In a 2015 interview with the Phenomenal African Women blog, when asked to comment on the challenges African women face, Kenewendo said: “There is low representation of women in leadership and decision-making positions across the spectrum, which sometimes delays and limits many girls’ ability to dream. Furthermore, access to the women who are doing amazing things is quite limited… and that’s why we started Molaya Kgosi Trust. We wanted to create a space for young women to get mentored, to network and receive guidance. A space that hopefully will aid our next batch of women leaders beyond their dreams.” Kenewendo co-founded the women mentorship Trust with a focus on soft skills development to help empower women.
When asked what fuels her in all that she does and champions, Kenewendo cites humility: “It is fuel to success. When you remain humble, those who can help you open doors, break glass ceilings and break barricades. Humility gives you a big ‘shadow’ and earns you respect, [and] I really believe in the power of remaining optimistic even when it seems the deck is stacked against you. I surround myself with a thick layer of an impermeable bubble of positivity and optimism.”
While it remains a fact we can’t remove, that Kenewendo is one of Africa’s youngest female members of parliament and cabinet ministers, it is imperative to highlight that women of any age, as long as they have the ability, must be involved in Africa’s decision-making process – both political and economic, if we are to begin to address some of the glaring inequalities on our continent, if the continent is to make a real impact on gender equality, financial inclusion and economic prosperity for all. Appointments to positions of power of women like Kenewendo are welcome beacons of hope.
How many remember the #MeToo moment of 14 May 2011? I bet not many. But let me help you recollect. On this day, Nafissatou Diallo’s routine was no different from her daily chores as demanded by her employers. The hardworking Senegalese immigrant was working as usual as a housekeeper at the swanky upscale Sofitel Hotel in the upmarket New York area of Manhattan. The young, single mother had left her native country to pursue the so-called “American dream”. And better her life. But that was before she encountered the nightmare that this day turned out to be. This report By Judy Amunga Ndibo
On this day, she was cleaning one of the rooms whose guest was among the most prominent people in the world. What happened next was horrifying. While she went about doing her job, the elderly, “honourable” guest emerged from one of the rooms and stood in front of her stark naked, taunting her, flashing his nakedness and demanding sexual favours of her. The man was no other than Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the then boss of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Nafissatou fled the room shattered and terrified.
What followed was an act of great courage: this simple, African immigrant from Senegal decided to report the actions of this high-profile man to the police, and soon the story became of one the biggest news stories of the time. Nafissatou endured strong denials from the powerful Frenchman, who accused her of seducing him instead, and that she did so to extract money from him.
Nafissatou did not give up even when her claims of sexual assault were dismissed, and continued to pursue the issue with dignity and mettle, until an undisclosed six-figure civil suit settlement was made.
Strauss-Kahn, who was even tipped to be the next French president, would later fall from grace fast and hard, being sacked as IMF boss as more accusations of predatory sexual behaviour were revealed by other women, including allegations of being involved in the running of a prostitution ring in France.
I chose to start this piece with the story of Nafissatou because of her uncommon courage and her relentless quest for justice despite her ordinary status. It aptly captures the power relationship in most sexual abuse cases. The aggressor is often times a man of power and means.
Nafissatou’s courage back then, and even now, is inspirational. The key lesson she teaches us is that every woman deserves respect regardless of their race, gender, status and physical attributes. It also teaches us to fiercely protect our right to say NO and to report any violation no matter how powerful the perpetrator may be.
Nafissatou, unknown to her, was among the precursors to a growing movement of women who are rising up to speak out against sexual abuse. Seven years since this incident, reports of sexual abuse at the hands of powerful men have rapidly gained prominence – albeit more so in the western world, Hollywood in particular.
The disgraced Hollywood director, Harvey Weinstein, is a case in point – accused by numerous women, including our very own Lupita Nyong’o – of being a relentless sexual predator. Weinstein used his power over the years to prey on young, innocent upcoming actresses with promises that he would open doors for them through his blockbuster movies and connections.
Money, power and sex
What then is sexual abuse? According to the Psychology today online magazine, despite its name, sexual abuse is more about power than it is about sex. Although the touch may be sexual, the words seductive or intimidating, and the violation physical, when someone rapes, assaults, or harasses, the motivation stems from the perpetrator’s need for dominance and control.
The same magazine goes further and adds that although the vast majority of #MeToo stories describe occurrences within the family, with a classmate, a man on the street, in a bar or at a party – where men assert power bestowed on them by mere virtue of them being men – the events that propelled the recent outcry involve powerful, prominent men who use their positions and the perks of their power to seduce, coerce, manipulate, and attack.
These men have what their victims, who are in less powerful positions, want and need: a job, good grades, a promotion, a recommendation, an audition, a role in a movie, a place close to the centre of power. They confuse and control by dangling enticements with one hand and wielding threats, implied or explicit, with the other. Weinstein’s actions led to the heightening of the #MeToo movement.
But Weinstein stands in a long line of powerful men who display arrogance and blatant disrespect for women’s rights and dignity. Who can forget President Donald Trump’s brag about kissing women without their consent, grabbing at their genitals? “When you’re a star, they let you do it,” he bragged in the now infamous 2016 ‘locker room talk’ tape – a month before his election as the leader of the so-called ‘free world’.
A culture of silence
Though Hollywood female celebrities have given the #MeToo movement unprecedented impetus, it must be noted that the cries of sexually abused women go beyond Hollywood and permeate every sector of modern society – everywhere in the world. And in Africa it’s deep-rooted in secrecy and taboo.
A new study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, for instance, shows that acts of sexism, abuse and violence against women are widespread in parliaments across Europe. The findings reveal that 85 per cent of women MPs have suffered from psychological violence in parliament. The report further adds that women MPs under 40 are more likely to be harassed; female parliamentary staff endure more sexual violence than female MPs; and that the majority of parliaments don’t have mechanisms to enable women to speak out.
Women victims who have chosen to share their experiences say that such abuse changed their lives, blighted their confidence and shattered their innocence. It led them down a destructive road of deep depression and shame. This has negatively affected how such women consequently live, love and relate even with their children.
The recent testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford against the Supreme Court Justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, painted a powerful picture of a victim’s wounds. This accomplished woman’s testimony as given to the USA Senate showed a woman deeply scarred. Memories of an event that had happened decades ago were still raw and painful. Sadly, whenever such women come up, they are often condemned to endure a public trial premised upon their looks, personalities and character. No one believes them. This is perhaps the key reason why most victims continue to perpetrate a culture of silence choosing to privately nurse their scars. Kavanaugh is now a Supreme Court Judge.
It is no small matter when a woman’s right to shine is replaced by paralysing shame. Healthy, confident women are the strong fabric upon which any society is built and sustained.
What makes the #MeToo movement so powerful is that it has given victims a voice and the courage to speak out. It is finally providing a powerful avenue and a safe space for victims to share, seek support and find real healing. Powerful male perpetrators are now shifting uneasily in their seats, being forced to confront their actions for the first time.
Perhaps the most telling sign that ‘Time Is Up’ (another Hollywood narrative that has gained currency) has been the recent incarceration of the once loved and admired black entertainment icon, Bill Cosby. Cosby had allegedly enjoyed decades of sexual predatory behaviour lacing the drinks of women he invited to his home then sexually violating them. No one ever thought that the celebrated 81-year-old would face jail time, yet he is. Andrea Constand’s case against him for sexually assaulting her after lacing her drink back in 2004 has been his undoing.
Is it time to celebrate yet, NAW wonders? Are the shackles really broken amongst our Sisters of colour in Africa and the diaspora? The #MeToo movement has been a powerful vehicle and a call to action in the USA but such movements or campaigns remain largely absent in Africa.
Stories from Africa continue to show powerful African men abusing young women sexually in exchange for favours that are never delivered, then kicking them to the kerb, even killed. (See page XXX) Stories also abound in slums and rural areas in Africa where a culture of rampant abuse continues unabated.
A girl hitting puberty in such parts of Africa is viewed as an invitation from male teachers, neighbours, relatives, elders and other men in authority. She is violated many a time, learning to live with a deep sense of shame and a devalued sense of self-worth. She is taught early on that men are just like that and a woman must learn to endure.
African traditional patriarchal cultures further compound the problem. Perhaps the most poignant example of this is the presence of cultures that see girls as young as 12 years of age married off to elderly men as a means to support their families.
#WeToo – speaking for the voiceless
Who will speak for these faceless, voiceless, powerless, abused girls?
Oprah Winfrey’s impassioned words at the 2018 Golden Globes struck a deep chord, reminding us that sexual abuse at the hands of powerful perpetrators is still alive and well. She eloquently shared in her acceptance speech for the Cecil B DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award as follows: “They’re the women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia and engineering and medicine and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.” The #MeToo movement has shown us all the power of raised collective voices from women cutting across race, gender, age and status in society. Sisters who boldly condemn the sexual violation of women are causing ripples in the socio-legal environment and beginning to shift the power balance.
Is it time for a similar collective movement in Africa? How, you may ask? It all begins with paying attention and speaking truth to power. Speak to girls and women in your sphere of influence reminding them that they are beautiful, worthy, powerful and have the right to speak up against sexual abuse, refuse to be victims and report such abuse.
Difficult conversations begin with shared time and acceptance devoid of judgement. Begin by sharing lessons from the story of brave Nafissatou Diallo.
If you have been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of a powerful male perpetrator, break the culture of silence, shatter the shame and share your story. Your voice will protect the next victim by exposing the perpetrator. Herein lies true power.
Don’t forget to speak to the boys, too. They become the male perpetrators if left un-mentored.