Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA)

Feminist Leadership Development

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

Participants take part in the Power Walk exercise with FORWARD'S Naana Otoo-OyorteyNaana

As part of the continued celebrations to mark the 15th Anniversary of the Maputo Protocol, STEWARDWOMEN on behalf of the Coalition for the Ratification of the Maputo Protocol in South Sudan (CCORPS) organized a reflection and awareness creation session for stakeholders. STEWARDWOMEN is the lead agency of a national coalition (CCORPS) of over 50 Civil Society Organisations that are advocating for the ratification of the Maputo Protocol in South Sudan with the support of AmplifyChange - a multi-donor challenge fund that supports civil society to advocate for sexual and reproductive health and rights. The coalition was formed against the back drop of the long awaited approval of the protocol by the South Sudan Transitional National Legislative Assembly on 16th October 2017, albeit with reservations to Articles 6 and 14 with the President of the Republic of South Sudan, yet to assent to the document.

The meeting which was held from 16th – 17th August 2018 in Juba, South Sudan was attended by members of the coalition, government officials, Equality Now based in Kenya and Akina Mama wa Afrika based in Uganda, sister organizations under the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) which STEWARDWOMEN is also a member of. Over the last 15 years, SOAWR has spearheaded the campaign for the ratification, popularization, domestication and implementation of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. The meeting generated concrete proposals for accelerating the ratification, popularization and effective implementation of the Protocol with one of the key asks being that the South Sudan President ratifies the Protocol and deposits the instruments with the African Union. The meeting also aimed at strengthening the activities of the coalition and identification of key priority areas to enhance effective implementation.

Ms. Eunice Musiime, Executive Director, Akina Mama wa Afrika shares Uganda's journey to the ratification and implementation of the Maputo Protocol

While approving the protocol, South Sudan’s parliamentary committee for Gender, Child and Social Welfare and Religious Affairs, acknowledged that the Protocol was important in the fight against gender inequality in the war-torn country. Despite approving the protocol, the committee had some reservations such as on Article 6 which discourages polygamous marriages and Article 14 which guarantees the sexual and reproductive health rights of women. The convening was therefore a timely intervention that saw regional CSOs (Equality Now and Akina Mama wa Afrika) share Kenya and Uganda’s journey to ratification, popularization, and effective implementation of the Maputo Protocol in a bid to inform a collective advocacy strategy to accelerate the full realization of the Maputo Protocol in South Sudan. An additional outcome was increased knowledge by coalition members of the Maputo Protocol and how they relate to other key instruments on women’s rights such as The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and UN Resolution 1325 which South Sudan has already ratified.

Participants pose for a group photo in Juba, South Sudan

Are you familiar with the Ugandan 14-seater commuter taxi otherwise known as the kamunye? If yes, then you can almost relate to 16 women in Uganda dying everyday due to maternal health related complications. That is an entire kamunye of women with two extra passengers losing their lives with little or no accountability whatsoever from the health authorities, and those are just the reported cases. What is even scarier is that could be you, your mother, your sister and if you are male, your wife as several women across the country continue to die from preventable complications such as severe bleeding, high blood pressure, sepsis, obstructed labor, unsafe abortion, among others. Many others have survived pregnancy and childbirth, but with complications such as fistula rearing their heads and robbing the nation of its womankind.

Following the continued deaths of mothers at numerous health facilities across the country and the unexpected passing of Ms. Nuliat Nambazira in April, a women’s rights advocate with the East African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), a lady who heartily stood for women’s justice, civil society organizations resolved that enough was enough and rose up to advocate for critical intervention by the Ugandan government as far as reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health is concerned. Women’s rights organizations and individuals came out to demand for an urgent end to the needless preventable deaths of mothers and newborns during pregnancy, childbirth and the immediate period after birth.

Akina Mama wa Afrika provided leadership in the campaign to end maternal mortality in Uganda by guiding in the process of designing a 12 months advocacy strategy to hold the government, healthcare providers and practitioners accountable over their negligence of women’s health and not providing mothers with the necessary services to not only help them survive but also thrive during pregnancy and child birth. Among some of the activities were a press conference hosted at the National NGO Forum offices which was reinforced with a protest march to International Hospital Kampala, one of the hospitals cited in mishandling women’s maternal health. The press conference garnered over 40 passionate activists and a number of media outlets who provided coverage for the event sparking off public debate. In order to fashion further discussion on the issue of women’s sexual and reproductive health rights, AMwA also hosted a tweet chat using the hashtag #ItCouldBeYou in which a resourceful panel comprising of the Center for Health Human Rights and Development’s (CEHURD) Primah Kwagala, EASSI’s Manisurah Aheebwa and Dr. Ekwaro Obuku of the Uganda Medical Association was convened. Through the tweet chat, AMwA in collaboration with the Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG) was able raise the public’s consciousness that anyone to could be a victim of maternal death with the hashtag generating more than 6 million impressions on Twitter.

 

Members of Civil Society at the Press Conference to End Maternal Mortality in Uganda

Three months down the road, despite progress made by the government in ensuring that women deliver at health facilities under skilled care, there is urgent need to improve quality of care provided at the health facilities to enable women survive pregnancy and childbirth. As civil society, we re-echo our demand that the Ugandan government through the Ministry of Health and other relevant agencies improves supervision of private and public health facilities to ensure better adherence to quality of care standards. We cannot take justice for mothers and newborns for granted any longer. Without addressing the concerns of the nation’s women, pregnant women and newborns will continue to suffer preventable and treatable complications and death.

Like all life’s experiences, there were lessons for us too. Because of the shrinking civic and political space, coupled with unfavorable policies on sexual and reproductive health in Uganda, mobilizing women to join in protest was difficult as there was fear of retribution. Resource mobilization was also challenging as the activity was ad hoc. What then for feminist organizing? AMwA revisited the advocacy strategy with the collective in an effort to polish it and decide on the way forward for the other actions within the strategy. Going forward, there is need for capacity building in movement building in activism to advance fearless advocacy for women’s and girls’ rights.