YOUNG AFRICAN FEMINISTS – OUR DAILY LIVED REALITIES

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#YAFDialogue members at the AWID Forum

Reclaiming the voices and defining the feminist movement across Africa according to daily lived realities of young African feminists has called for creative ways of mobilization, communication and advocacy. This has included addressing issues deemed unconventional, controversial yet at the core of how they affect young feminists are patriarchal manifestations.

The #YAFDialogues is an online platform founded by Young African Feminists from across the continent to address various issues for young African feminists. It has provided a platform for young African feminists to  mobilize & power a dynamic  movement of self- identifying young African feminist activists and in various professions. The #YAFDialogues team hosted a session at the AWID Forum to highlight the involvement of young African feminist’s organizations and individual activists with crucial SRHR issues including various harmful traditional practices, comprehensive sexuality education, access to safe abortion and the non-discriminatory enjoyment of sexual rights for all young women within (West, East, Southern, Central & North)Africa.

The session provided a much needed space for progressive dialogue, recreation to have difficult conversations around young African feminists current realities in relation to rights and social justice. This was critical due to the backdrop of dwindling civil society spaces across the continent. The session was diverse reflecting regional, language, age, disability, sexual orientation and topical diversity.

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Poster for #YAFDialogue session at AWID Forum

Below are highlights, experiences and sentiments of #YAFDialogues at the AWID Forum and the #YAFDialogues session.

  1. Kindly share what your general experience at AWID was and how you link this to your feminist journey 

It was my first time to attend AWID forum. The experience was awesome and the dynamism and energy of all the feminist advocates was very contagious and inspiring. Attending such forum is one of those greatest moments in my life, a lifetime experience not only in terms of traveling to a beautiful country, meet others feminists older and younger ones, enjoy good foods and drinks but meaningfully in my feminist journey to allow me to reflect on my own path and reflect on my peers experiences and paths as well. AWID forum was for me a safe place to revitalize and to re-energize my feminist activism in growing within a strong network of worldwide activists, sharing common struggles and challenging, celebrating success and progress in advancing women`s rights, equality and justice and importantly not leave sight of future barriers and potential strategies on how together we can move  things for a better impact – Lana Razafimanantsoa, Young Feminist from Madagascar & #YAFDialogues member 

  1. What are the exciting strategies and approaches you learnt from the forum and those that should be scaled up or widely replicated

I was impressed with the Nigerian Feminist Movement which works with grassroots movements – they work with women who are influential in their communities but might not identify as feminists. The use of positive culture practices. Intensive mentorship and grooming of young women feminists to join the political arena. There is an urgent need to invest in the intergenerational gap within the feminist movements in our countries and regions- and this investment needs to be deliberate, thoroughly thought through and budgeted for. Some sessions I attended touched on this but most did not really get to the nitty gritty of how we can move forward – Umba Zalira, Young Feminist Malawi & #YAFDialogues member

  1. Share your key take away from the #YAFDialogues session at the AWID Forum

The #YAFDialogues provided a space to initiate invigorating conversations on the Young African Feminist futures pathway. This was done in an inclusive manner and was most importantly fluid and inclusive to ensure that previous constituencies not represented are included. We were quick to ensure that we embody the young African feminist movement in entirety . The identity politics took centre stage as they should when we started to tease out the issues that Young African feminist grapple with and advocate for. We have a responsibility to ensure that we build solidarity and strengthen sisterhood towards enhancing the role of Young African Feminists contribution to the global feminist movement – Catherine Nyambura, Young Feminist, Kenya & #YAFDialogues member

  1. Our feminist journeys are about building collective shared vision. What does that look like for #YAFDialogues?

The interconnectedness of today’s world and alarming global trends are urging rights and justice movements to rethink our responses, move beyond our customary silos of issues, sectors, locations and identities, and create powerful new alliances with interlaced agendas. It means we have a shared responsibility to disrupt and transform current power structures to advance rights and justice. The AWID 2016 Forum is about moving beyond our silos of issues, sectors, locations and identities with the understanding that none of us are free, until all of us are free.  It will bring our deepest challenges, best thinking, highest hopes and most innovative strategies to collectively create new futures – Lana Razafimanantsoa, Young Feminist from Madagascar & #YAFDialogues member

Inclusivity is the first word that comes to mind. A collected shared vision for a regional network of young African feminists can only be possible if we include ALL women from all corners of Africa especially North Africa – Umba Zalira, Young Feminist Malawi & #YAFDialogues member

It is indeed the same path #YAFDialogues is one. This is the reason for ensuring that our online presence is very strong which we use to engage other young African feminist from Africa whether they are resident in Africa or in the diaspora to add their voices on the issues affecting women that are on the feminist agenda. This is to ensure that young African feminists are on the same page as other feminists in the globe in acquiring the shared vision – Mariatou Newlands, Young Feminist Gambia & #YAFDialogues member

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FROM GLOBAL STRATEGY TO LIVED REALITY: MAKING EVERY WOMAN, EVERY GIRL AND EVERY CHILD COUNT

We are a network of young African women determined to promote and advance African women’s agency, we identify with feminist principles and seek to ensure that issues pertaining to our ( women and girls ) lives are addressed while integrating feminist perspectives. Women’s Health is crucial to development especially being one of the 12 critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action and integral to the ICPD platform of Action. Our views stem from our firm belief in the need to address systemic inequalities and structural barriers that have continued to hinder women and girls access to quality health services and hence inhibit their overall contribution to society.

The updated Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s, and Adolescents’ Health, to be launched in September 2015, is a roadmap for ending all preventable deaths of women, children, and adolescents by 2030 and improving their overall health and well-being, and builds upon the 2010 -2015 Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health launched by the UN Secretary-General.

It is envisaged that the updated Global Strategy will be an important  mechanism that will support the achievement of women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health related Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by building leadership and accountability at national, regional and global levels. For a long time the unique needs of young people have been excluded and we therefore welcome the inclusion of adolescents in the updated Global Strategy in the continuum of care. This builds on existing evidence that maternal and child health cannot be improved in isolation as adolescent health has a greater bearing on the outcomes. It is by acknowledging and unpacking adolescent special needs that we are able to genuinely address their challenges. Based on our lived realities, we would like to further strengthen the Global Strategy from Women’s, Children’s and Adolescent’s Health to ensure that it reflects the voices, ambitions and aspirations of all through the following proposals:

  1. Women and girls are right-bearers

In cutting-edge research, the lack of achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) particularly MDG 4 and 5 has been largely  attributed to the lack of a rights perspective. In the updated Global Strategy, we recommend stronger language that reflects women and girls as right bearers and not merely objects of charity. This is reflected in a tendency to prioritize the palliative over preventive, particularly in the case of sexual violence and unwanted pregnancies. Women and girls health is undermined by control over our bodies (e.g from parents and partners), lack of freedom to move (e.g.to access health facilities) and access to resources (e.g. to pay for medical care).

We therefore recommend that the final Global Strategy to go beyond the current focus on women and girl’s reproductive health but also focus on their general health and well‐being. Guaranteeing women’s right to access the highest attainable standards of health is both a means and an end.

  1. Need for Special Emphasis on Girls and Young Women

While we welcome the emphasis on adolescents, we recommend special emphasis on girls recognizing the vulnerabilities we face with regard to health and especially in transition to adulthood. A lack of clarity around this presents problems in understanding the different needs or expectations, and the programme and policies designed to benefit them.

The largest generation of adolescents ever in history is now approaching their sexual and reproductive health life. Complications linked to pregnancy and childbirth are the second cause of death for 15-19-year-old girls globally. Closer home, adolescents (15–19 years) account for 25% of all unsafe abortions in Africa. According to WHO, every year, about 3 million girls aged 15 to 19 undergo unsafe abortions. Further, reflected in the continuum of care, babies born to adolescent mothers face a substantially higher risk of dying than those born to women aged 20 to 24. Unmet need for family planning, harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and child marriage are also key drivers of adolescent pregnancies.

The strategy should continually emphasize on women and girls lives in entirety creating linkages between their health, economic opportunity and access to education. Girls access to education, retention and transition within education systems continues to be hampered by social discriminatory practices such as early marriages of girls from poor households who are married off or initiated into housework compounding to various problems that affect their health and disempowerment. Addressing all issues pertaining girls access to education and economic opportunities will improve their health and wellbeing.

An additional unique challenge faced by adolescent girls out of school is the transferred burden of care especially in the case of poor households. This further risks their health and further perpetuates the cycle of ill-health and poverty.

Legislation plays a greater role in addressing some of these challenges. For example, advocating for laws that criminalize harmful practices to address FGM and child marriages as well advocating for access to legal and safe abortion since the prevalence of unsafe abortion remains highest in countries with most restrictive laws.

We, therefore, recommend that the Global Strategy must be accompanied by robust political engagement to improve the chances for systemic change.

To end FGM we need to stop playing with words!

On every 6 February I join millions in denouncing all forms of female genital mutilation and calling for its end, zero tolerance and redress for victims. But for our fight against FGM to succeed we need to reflect on the fact that it should not be seen as anything other than one of the worst expression of patriarchy, oppression, gender inequality and discrimination.

As a feminist and women’s rights advocate, I have been wondering for years if the legislations criminalizing FGM, community prevention programs and other interventions were not doomed as long as they did not address the fact that FGM is found in conservative and patriarchal societies and coexists with a plethora of other forms of submitting women and girls to the male power. I will not write in this blog about the well-known links between FGM, early marriage, maternal and infant mortality and other forms of SGBV.

I would like to focus on the fact that more and more I see FGM referred to as FGC, with C standing for cutting or even circumcision. There is also an increasing attempt to return the issue to the closet of the dark cultural secrets which have to be respected in the name of misplaced cultural sensitivity, political correctness and/or opportunism.

I have been asking for the past 5 years why FGM is referred to as FGC more and more. I got given some vague answers and it is only recently that I finally found a straight forward one. The Tostan Organization which works in African countries to achieve community led social changes, including to end FGM has chosen like a growing number of stakeholders (including UN Agencies like UNICEF) to talk about cutting instead of mutilation as this latter was seen as “judgmental” and “value-laden”. When I read this I thought that it is actually interesting how in the face of such a brutal practice there are still some well-meaning people to think in terms of political correctness. I think that in 2015 there is ample evidence from testimonies of survivors and experts that these practices are MUTILATIONS. The minute we start trying not to jugde the practice we open the door to its acceptability in other forms seen as less or not harmful like its growing medicalization seen as safer, equation to male circumcision or attempts to replace it with practices such as the proposed ceremonial pinprick or small nick on young girls that the American Academy of Pediatrics advocated for in 2010 “as a possible compromise to avoid greater harm”.

In the same vein, in July 2012, I read in total disbelief reports that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said that Liberia had no plans to abolish FGM. She justified her stand by saying that “to hastily abolish the practice could spark off a serious societal crisis”. She added that “this is not a thing that you can legislate. If you try to legislate or enforce it without much sensitisation, we might run into some tension in our society that we don’t need,” and went to the extent to say that “the long historical reasons cited by traditionalists were something to consider”. Those few words were taking the work of decades of activism, advocacy and community sensitization backwards, not only in Liberia but most likely in other African countries still waiting to adop anti-FGM legislation and making this issue a priority on its agenda.

I was amazed at that time that there was so little reaction from our feminist community to this statement. I think it might have come from the fact that as feminists we did not want to be seen as undermining the very first elected female African president even though on that particular occasion she was so deeply mistaken. Or maybe the tremendous shock was too great for immediate coordinated action from us.

So on this 6 february 2015, I would like for all of us to continue calling this practice what it is, namely FGM and to find ways to tell Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and all those hiding behind, societal cohesion, low prevalence figures and cultural heritage to show true leadership by taking a stand and all decisive actions needed to endFGM in the Africa we want. We owe it to the 30 millions of girls who are at risks of being mutilated in the next 10 years.

Diakhoumba Gassama, Kaour, Senegal, 5 February 2015

Diakhoumba Gassama is a proud panafrican feminist from Senegal. As a women’s rights lawyer she has spent the last 10 years working at the continental, global and national levels on issues related to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, inclusive governance, social justice and political leadership