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Monday, March 19, 2012

Celebrating Women: African women.. Does our voice matter?

During an event during Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 56th session hosted by the World YMCA titled "The sexual and reproductive rights of rural women". The focus of the event was to discuss how rural women in Africa are advocating for their reproductive rights and action steps towards attaining more for support from governments for our rights,and highlighting the importance of the voice of African women within this context.  The event had various women on the panel to discuss the reproductive rights issue as it pertained to rural women, who in my opinion are the most powerful yet marginalized women in African countries. Paradox n'est pas? but so true. As an avid attendee of the CSW for the past 4 years, the presence of African women is refreshing to see and is commendable. Prior to the past two years there were barely any events focusing on African women lead by African women. In the past years, I always found myself attending African women caucuses’ events which were always held in a basement at the UN with poor advertisement and lack of focus. Most of the events that were organized and in nicer spaces were held by western women, so to see this shift happening where we are gaining space on the international level to bring our voices to African women throughout the continent together is a great step.  It speaks to the constant work African women are doing to advocate for better spaces for us to connect with each other in "international" spaces. We still have a lot of work to do but I believe we are moving in the right direction. The highlight of the panel discussion was focused on how important it is for women to have a voice in any level of society that they find themselves.  The  message was delivered by one of the panelists Olabisi Fayemi.

Olabisi Fayemi long time women’s rights leader current first lady of Ekiti state in Nigeria and a member of the African Women's Leadership Network, began her speech by asking the audience "Are you in the right place?".The question pushed the audience to think about how does our voices matter as women, in no matter what spaces we find ourselves. Ms. Fayemi shared a story about a rape that happened in Ekiti state. The speaker discussed that her and the women on her society were able to bring justice against the perpetrator because she was in the right place to advocate for that woman's right. She later explained that in all of Nigeria Ekiti state was the only state that had instituted Nigeria's national gender policy. Fayemi urged the crowd to look at their government's spending "where the government puts money says a lot about their commitment to women's issues". The larger question then is how much government spending goes to women in other African countries? I hope to revisit this question as the Sierra Leone elections get closer.  She discussed with the women in the room to think beyond short term funding but more sustainable funding. Bisi left the crowd wondering about their agency as women when she asked "Do we have the passion to continuously keep coming to conferences like this to have our voices heard?". Her solution which struck out the most to me was "If we want a revolution we have to be prepared to fund out revolution". The first lady mentioned that we need more women funding agencies to fund the projects to protect our rights as women, and to advocate for our rights on the continent. 

Her final inspirational words were that in whatever place we find ourselves as women, we must galvanize and help to make change. This ongoing theme of the space we occupy as women is what pushes my work in bringing African women together and showcasing the work of African women throughout my life. It is what I derive my source of strength and energy from. This question makes it all worth it. For pictures from the event visit The Chocolate Photography Blog.

Keep Changing Africa!

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