My First Meeting with the (Grassroots) Leadership of Africa
I am so very thankful for World Pulse’s hard work in arranging for Jeannette Ruhebuza and I to be included in the Nobel Women’s Initiative sponsored experience, where we participated in the GIMAC conference (Gender Is My Agenda Conference), the Women in Media workshop, the Stopping Sexual Violence in Conflict in Africa conference, and the Opening of the 20th African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The GIMAC conference was a collaborative discussion about how women in Africa can become the agents for the change we want to see in Africa. For instance, after 52 years of independence in Congo we still have little impact upon the country’s direction. And our situation was not different from most other African nations. We talked about the undeniable influence of motherhood upon society, and had a powerful discussion about the identity of a woman, of women, about authenticity. In essence our focus was on how we as women can influence the Africa we hold in our hearts; how we can effect prosperity and peace as Dr. Dlamini-Zuma said in the open of the conference, in our nations and our continent.
Gender violence was the term most prevalently used at the conference to include all the various forms of violence against women and girls in our societies, which not only prevents our gender from a quality-of-life Right, but have stunted the maturity of the entire continent’s societies.
An agreement of note was that too often the limited financial means of a family prioritize away a girl’s equal right to education. A key recommendation was a continental focus on education for girls in all professional and vocational domains of society.
Another recognized issue of great import in countries suffering conflict wars was that women, who are the main agrarians in African society, are too often prevented from reaping the harvest of months of work on a small plantation they started to provide for their family, by rebel militias who wickedly take over their fields. It was therefore recommended that a climate of justice be instituted in our nations defending and empowering women in agriculture.
With reference to the countless NGOs working in our nations supposedly with the intention to impact the cancer of marginalization that has spread throughout the fabric of our societies, it was strongly voiced that gender violence is not a project. It’s a historically present moral outrage that insists a shift in approach. It’s time that the predominantly male operated organizations whose business is our business, re-evaluate how to successfully confront this nightmare for women, families, and their nations. It’s obvious that throwing untold billions at the problem isn’t going to solve it. It’s time to move away from the Mafioso systems controlling these projects and their billions of dollars, to a humanitarian system whose heart has the capacity to heal the past and strengthen the future.
It was not denied that money more often than not means power over a situation. And that’s why there is virtually no change of the violence against women in the mostly patriarchal governed African nations, especially the extreme violence against women in conflict nations. Our own governments publically validate that such actions are normal elements of war.
As it is, women’s groups, women-led NGOs, and Civil Societies are kept in poverty conditions so that their participation in mediation or negotiation settings on critical issues are most often funded by the governments and agencies they should want to be opposing. Resolution 1325 is employed, but diabolically. In other words, without financial autonomy, too often the few women involved in these discussions have their favor purchased with position and opportunity, with travel and all expense-paid trips to exotic forums.
On the other hand, funding women’s groups and women-led and run NGOs and Civil Societies could dramatically impact the problem, as in so doing, funds would be placed directly in the hands of those affected and most able to effect the positive change our nations are dying without, enabling, empowering, and mobilizing the very force willing, able, and determined to right them.
A personal Maman Shujaa highlight of the GIMAC conference was that I was given an opportunity to present our Petition for Peace in Congo and a seat at the table negotiating our future. We were met with wonderful support, some of it very tangible, including Dorothy Davis, Founder and President of The Diasporan Touch, saying she was willing to work to get to get our Petition directly in the hands of Michelle Obama.
I guess another personal highlight is the photo attached to this segment. You see me? I’m the one sitting on the wall taking a photo of Dr. Dlamini-Zuma and Bineta Diop among the delegates. How’d that happen?!? Did they only take one photo? Or was that just the best one. Ha!
The Women in Media Workshop was really well done. Rosebell and Zuzia started us off with the basics and by the end, had us able to develop our own personal strategies for using media to effect intended outcomes. What is media, how does it work, what are the structures, what is a great story, and the finishing touch, how to develop your key message. All of us came away feeling enlightened and empowered to ignite a serious campaign to end violence against women.
The first ever “Stopping Sexual Violence in Conflict in Africa,” was really a highlight of our time in Addis Ababa. We dove more deeply into the darkness of our plight and spoke honestly about issues that affect our ability to confront the evil behind the mind that wills to hold us hostage to the world they’ve created, demanding that we stay submissive to it. We spoke frankly about the fact that we live in the open with the known authors and perpetrators of extreme violence against our gender, who walk around immune to any consequence. We spoke of others who became vocal, and their lives were cut short, their glorious intention cut off, their names only spoken now in hushed tones.
We talked about the fact that just a few days before we had participated in the 21st GIMAC conference, and yet what impact has all our 21 years of fighting this fight delivered. Our hearts were aching at this fact, and as this was the first “Stopping Sexual Violence in Conflict in Africa,” we were being very real about where we’re at, and how things are and just what we can do to change this deplorable paradigm. Everyone wants their passion, their energy, their contribution to make a difference. There was a camaraderie developed as we acknowledged the fight has been long for all of us. But what is being accomplished? What momentum have we gained? What milestones have we reached? It was a powerful and empowering discussion because our conversation evolved from a very real base, allowing strategies to evolve from our collective foundation.
Another element that I believe contributed dramatically to the moment was the source of our sponsorship for the event. Jeannette and I were able to attend because of World Pulse’s relationship with the Nobel Women’s Initiative. And like us, all of the African women present were there as beneficiaries of women’s organizations, rather than government authorities. This was an unbiased, uninhibited group of grassroots women trailblazers. And the lone male attendee, Bafana Bafana from South Africa, represented his gender as mightily as any man could. We so appreciated this brother and his contribution.
But you want to know what recommendations came out of this historic event. What I can tell you is what is bubbling inside of me:
Our power will be found in our unity, not our camaraderie. And our unity will be found wrapped around our message. So it is paramount that we come together on this. We rallied around Gender Violence this week as our cause, but I think Gender Violence is more the affect of the cause. I think what’s stirring us all is an inner demand that everything that has been so wrong for way too long, be put right. It’s a call for Right Mindedness. It’s a move for Rightness. And it could become a movement if we agreed on “the cause”. This is a moment in history where women around the world are being moved inwardly. We need to give them context for this stirring so that every “Amen” shouted in release on Facebook or Twitter, can be put toward the demand. It’s bigger than gender violence; it’s violence to families, to communities, to indigenous people, to the earth, and ultimately, to our future.
That’s the recommendation that came out of this conference for me: It’s time to put it all Right.
The Opening of the AU Summit was the first time all week we’d just been observers. And as such it was terribly disappointing. We were lit up and ready to collaborate with our nation’s leaders toward the Africa we’d come to see together through the week. But they were not in a collaborative mood. My understanding is that every single leader present shunned our delegation.
But I tell you, the vision we had was prophetic! As I said, we were in the audience observing and the audience was seated in theater style with seats elevating several stories above the stage where our leaders were all arrayed. It was amazing to see ourselves looking so far down on all these men and women of “stature”. The auditorium had these big jumbotrons hanging high on the walls above the dignitaries. But as we took our eyes of their giant images and looked down at the small figures on the stage, something much more profound was speaking into our hearts. And we were hearing things clearly. This is OUR time my sisters. Though it seems it has been a long time coming, a new day is horizoning. And that which has already dawned within our hearts will soon be manifest all around us.