AMwA was born in the UK 30 years ago over a cup of tea, in a sister’s kitchen. Born 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 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.
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 politicized 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.
Over the years it had become obvious that the work of the African Women’s leadership Institute would not be sustainable without funding and that is how Bisi together with other sisters begun to think of AWDF.
AMwA had always wanted to start up a fund. We used to get requests from women’s organisations all over Africa for funds thinking that we were in the UK like Oxfam or Action Aid we would access money. So after a while we thought why not. At the same time while we were thinking of starting the fund two other African sisters had also been thinking of the same thing. Jonna Foster who was the Regional Coordinator for WILDAF and Hilda Tadria, who is a Ugandan who was based at Addis Ababa and working for UN/ECA then.
Prior to the establishment of the AWLI between 1996 and 1997, AMwA operated mainly as a charity based organisation supporting african women living in the UK.
Around 1985 there were many African Women living in the UK as students, professionals, migrants, refugees etc. They felt it was important for them to come together to provide support for themselves in a hostile foreign land and environment. They also wanted to sustain the links that they had with the social and political movements that they had been involved with. Some of them had been part of the Liberation struggles and some were part of the women’s movement and they wanted to sustain those links they had left behind on the continent.
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.
In 2007, AMwA made the conscious decision to expand the constituency reached by its flagship African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) to include commercial sex workers and other sexual minorities such as LGBTI. Prior to this, most of the constituencies of the AWLI were young African women drawn from the non-governmental sector, government, multi-lateral agencies and sometimes, private sector.
The decision to expand our constituency to include those who are viewed by many in society as ‘other’, ‘controversial’, ‘immoral’, ‘bad women’…was not a light one on our part. It was based on our internal reflection of what our feminist values really mean if we say that we respect and stand for women’s choices irrespective of what they are, women’s bodily integrity, and we support women in all their diversity, irrespective of age, race, class, and sexual orientation, amongst others.