The birth and growth of AMwA
AMwA was born in the UK 30 years ago over a cup of tea, in a sister’s kitchen. In a world where there is more preference for baby sons AMwA, though a girl, she was a wanted child. It was conceived after a careful analysis of and understanding of the situation of African women in UK- the loneliness, marginalization, lack of space for organizing for their own rights and visibility, and the need to give back to the women back home in Africa.
A group of women who believed that ‘our issues as African women are interconnected’ worked on a voluntary basis. Early activities included self-help programs, specifically helping African women transition into life in the United Kingdom.
For many of the women, AMwA became home, an oasis, a place for finding one’s soul. It was a home where they were not afraid to speak about themselves, craft their own agenda and analyze their own issues. AMwA became a space where the many voices of African women were woven into a composition of living, connected thinking and ideas.
First paid Director
In 1990, the organization welcomed its first paid Director and faced a major transition; the organization had to develop a focus and fund-raising initiatives to pay salaries. AMwA also began to reach out to African women in other parts of Europe, beyond the UK. These engagements promoted AMwA to come to the realization that its existence was clearly linked to what was happening on the continent. AMwA was party to the First African Women in the European Conference. The BBC sent a delegation to cover the proceedings. The women at the conference were featured for over a week on the BBC, this demonstrated how women were taking control of their own agenda (and how surprised the world was).
During the early days, conversations centred on establishing the identity and framework of the organization. It was deemed important for AMwA to state its position/values strongly and give others a chance to agree or resist. The conversations led to the branding of AMwA as a feminist organization. AMwA’s framework of analysis became feminist analysis. The organization was willing to travel with all the sisters while it politicised and created awareness about the importance of having a clear stance but was also ready to respect the views of those who did not believe in feminism. Indeed at this stage, some sisters who believed that feminism was “Un-African” dropped out of the organisation.
Embracing and mentoring young people
AMwA realised the importance of developing an eye for new leadership and building on what was already there. And so it was that in 1995, AMwA led a delegation of young women to the Women’s Conference in Beijing. At this time, AMwA conducted a study to understand the challenges of young African women. The results of the study reflected that women on the continent did not have opportunities to express their ideas and no spaces to horn their skills. This led to the concept of creating a Leadership Institute for young women. At the time, leadership institutes existed in other parts of the world but not Africa. AMwA’s Director pledged to take the leadership institute to Africa. Again, demonstrating how AMwA was taking charge of its own agenda.
Establishment of AMwA office in Africa: In 1996, a regional office was established in Kampala, Uganda and would eventually serve as the main office for all of Africa and Europe. In February of 1997, the first leadership institute was conducted by AMwA. Today the institute has trained over 5000 alumni through African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLIs). Initially, AMwA received feedback from donors claiming that the creation of a leadership institute was elitist and did not respond to the needs of women on the ground. It was clear that a funding organisation - An African Women’s fund- that supported and funded authentic ideas and programmes was needed- An implicit picture of an African women’s fund begun to emerge.
Birthing of AWDF
In 2001, two other women who had been thinking about an African Women’s Fund and had actually written a funding proposal, joined forces with AMwA and the African Women’s Development Fund was born. The fund has created transformation in the discourse on what is funded, by whom, where, when and how much.
Breaking silences on sexual rights
In 2005, AMwA organized the women’s rights play “The Vagina Monologues.” This received much controversy as an affront to public morality. The play was eventually banned by the government based on what was described as offensive language, vulgarity and the supposed promotion of homosexuality. Nevertheless, AMwA succeeded in breaking silences on issues of sex and sexuality. Later on it, AMwA broke new ground by being one of the first organisations to organize CBOs working with sex-workers and LGBTI to capacitate them in various ways. AMwA also created the space for them to document their stories. It made them visible. When what came to be known as the Bahati bill was introduced to parliament, AMwA took a stance by supporting resistance initiatives that grew into a Coalition.
African and Uganda Feminist Forums (AFF and UFF)
Prior to the establishment of ‘The African Feminist Forum’ in 2006, AMwA was part of the first consultations on the establishment of the Forum as well as a member of the working group.
AMwA hosted the AFF successfully and was responsible for organizing and supporting a series of Uganda Feminist Forums that it hosted for three years. Today Uganda is in the process of organizing its 7th Feminist Forum.
AMwA offices as the centre of feminists and women’s rights activists
For a long time, AMwA’s board room was regarded as a space for all women’s rights activists and feminist. Whoever wanted a working or reflective space used it.