Forget your everyday workshop. When over 30 courageous and trailblazing young women from different backgrounds get together in a safe space to share and reflect on women’s lived experiences of Sexual and Gender Based Violence, feminism is reaffirmed and the foundations of patriarchy are shaken! Seeking to improve the rights and amplify the actions of young African women in their fight against all forms of gender-based violence, Akina Mama wa Afrika with support from Comic Relief and in partnership with the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD) and the Sub-Sahara Advisory Panel (SSAP) held a vibrant five day training for 28 young women to deepen their knowledge and skills and cultivate a pulsating movement of young feminists. Right from the moment they walked in, one could feel the young women’s energies in the room, brought together by one ache: inequality.
AMwA drew on her over 30 years of feminist leadership development with her revered faculty of invincible feminists to enhance the leadership capacities of the young women who by the end of the training had adopted the name Fellows. From Sunday right through Friday, the Tuwezeshe fellows went through the vigorous process of challenging the beliefs they had held on for so long, questioning what society had socialized them to become and unlearning the negative concepts they held so dear. One can only imagine the liberation they felt when they realized that feminists are not angry women as portrayed by society, but actually have incredible amounts of fun. Equipped with skills and knowledge in understanding feminism, power and patriarchy, sexual and reproductive health rights, feminist leadership and movement building to mention but a few, the young women who spanned the ages of 18-35 are now more confident and assertive and have been facilitated not to take any more form of abuse. Because (In Audre Lorde’s voice) caring for ourselves is not self-indulgence, but self-preservation, self-care in the form of yoga, make-up sessions and movie nights was incorporated in the training.
In the world order, black African women always come last. If that does not make you angry, what will? – Solome Nakaweesi, AMwA faculty
The training was largely interactive to further facilitate the spirit of sisterhood and ensure that each of the participants took part meaningfully, a key component of feminist leadership. As they worked together in small groups, questioning their understanding of notions of women’s rights, a bond was knit between the sisters. As if that was not enough, the tools used during the training such as The Great Debate, The Power Walk not only drew the women closer but also enhanced their public speaking and confidence. Our highlight of the training is the fact each of the ladies had a ‘buddy’ who looked out for them, and to whom they were accountable to, in love. If this is not the beginning of a lifelong friendship, we do not know what is. It is in the same spirit of sisterhood that the ladies visited Remnant Generation, a teenage pregnancy crisis center in Kampala where they interacted with teenage mothers. Did we mention that one of the fellows is the vision bearer of the organization?
Unique to this African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI) training was the fact that AMwA created a space for inter-generational dialogue where feminists who have walked the journey before were present to interact with the fellows. In sharing their feminist leadership journeys, Dr. Hilda Tadria and Patricia Twasiima were able to inspire the young women on the new paths they were setting out on. The fearless Hope Chigudu also stepped in and had a heart-to-heart talk on transitioning and strategic planning, also vital areas of feminist leadership. Unknown to the participants, AMwA had more in stock for them with the coming of 2017’s Tuwezeshe fellows who shared their testimonies of the TuWezeshe Akina Dada Africa-UK Young Women’s Leadership and Empowerment Movement. Similar to the 2018 cohort, they sang praises of a sisterhood that was birthed during the previous training. A sisterhood that shares with one another, challenges one another, cries with one another and not forgetting having fun together.
At the end of the training, as the ladies matched out, the power of a legion could not go unnoticed. With their leadership skills enhanced and a peer network created to foster their learning, and paired with mentors to walk the leadership journey with them, it is doubtless that specific sexual and gender based violence issues are going to be history and the lives of women and girls in Africa are to be transformed. As with other alumnae of the African Women’s Leadership Institute, AMwA will walk with the fellows for a period of one year to further ground them in feminist principles. The mentorship programme will see the fellows guided on their social action projects by vibrant feminists in the Uganda Women’s Movement.
For a very long time, I wondered if I was a feminist or not and I was always scared. I am very excited because I'm learning, relearning and unlearning things that has stigmatized - Participant