Category Archives: Women

African Novelist Chimamanda Adichie Shares Her Story

“At about the age of seven … I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather: how lovely it was that the sun had come out. This despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria; we didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.”

These are the words of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie as she presents at Ted Speaks about growing up and reading stories written by American and Britain authors who portrayed stories about life through their eyes – and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story,” says Adichie. However, Adichie also discovered African writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye that gave her hope and libration and realizing that there are young girls like herself with similar skin, hair and characteristics who also exist in literature

Adichie’s presentation highly demonstats the importance of story and how it be used to empower and to humanize. Check out Adichie’s prentation below.

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Live Podcast: African Women and Girl Storytellers in the Digital Age

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Live Podcast Today at 6:30 pm EST

In honor of Women’s Month please join me in listening to a live podcast regarding Afrian women and girl storytelliers in the digital age. Listen to female journalists, writers and storytellers from South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda who are living in the Diaspora talk about their work and how they are tackling depictions of African women in media in a LIVE podcast called “African Women and Girl Storytellers in the Digital Age.

For more information and to tune in please check out Spectra Speaks


Top 5 African Women Leaders

Some view Africa as a developing continent offering rich investment opportunities for the rest of the world, I see a Africa that is developing the next generation of world leaders. Today I want to focus on African women leaders. If I had to make a list of  my top-pick of leaders who I see as game-changers and trailblazers, these women would be on my list:

Joyce Banda, Malawi, President of Malawi

As fourth President and first female President, Joyce Banda is the definition of a true leader. I had the honor to interview President Banda for AllAfrica.com as she shared highlights of her life and what it means to be a leader. During our discussion she spoke about her experiences and her future plans for her country. As the first women President, Banda’s leadership style has been majorly influenced by her life experiences and hardships. When I think of inspirational African women letters that set great examples of what it means to have a fortitude attitude while uplifting and encouraging others without showing fear, I think of President Banda.

Biola Alabi, Nigeria, Managing Director, MNET Africa  

As Managing Director for multi-national cable and satellite content company, MNET Africa, Alabi is one of the most powerful women in African media. In 2012 the World Economic Forum named Alabi Young Global Leader, she has been at the forefront of the expansion of the AfricaMagic channels brand across the continent. Before becoming managing director Alabi served as director for international strategy at Sesame Street where her first project was working the Nigerian Sesame Street.

Isha Sesay, Sierra Leone, News Anchor & Journalist, CNN 

Sesay files reports for “African Voices” and “ Inside Africa“, CNN International’s award-winning, weekly program that covers political, economic, cultural and social trends in Africa. Sesay is also an anchor on CNN International and a contributor to CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and HLN’s nightly news show “Evening Express.”

Leila Lopes, Angola, 2012 Miss Universe

On September 12, 2011, Lopes was crowned Miss Universe, becoming the first Angolan woman to win the position, the fourth African to win the title (Miss South Africa took the title in 1978, Miss Namibia won in 1992, Miss Botswana won in 1999) and the second Black African woman to win following Mpule Kwelagobe from Botswana in 1999. As the reigning Miss Universe, Lopes used the platform for advocacy for HIV and AIDS patients worldwide.

Leymah Gbowee, Liberia, Peace and Women’s Rights Activist

The peace activist was one of three female recipients who were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize “for non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Gbowee helped organize and lead the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, an alliance of Christian and Muslim women, in public protest during Liberia’s tumultuous times. Now, through her organization Women Peace and Security Network Africa, Gbowee trains and empowers women in Africa to bring peace to their own countries. Gbowee is a recipient of multiple awards including the Blue Ribbon Peace Award from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School, Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights, the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, the Medal for Justice from New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Women’s eNews Leaders For the 21st Century Award. 

“If you educate a man you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman you educate a family (nation).” - Ghana


Looking Beyond Kony: Ugandan Women Rebuilding Their Lives

In Uganda thousands of women are rebuilding their lives after being held captive, used as sex slaves and solders by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. Although Invisible Childrens’ Kony2012 video showed the different sides of child solders and violence in Uganda, this video shows how the women of Uganda are slowly bring their communities together after years of conflict.

 Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.
~ Margaret Sanger ~

Watch World News Australia as they uncover the new lives of Ugandan women. 

 


A Move Towards Gender Equality in South Africa

Yep, there is finally some good news going on in Africa this week. South African President Jacob Zuma-led Cabinet approved the Women Empowerment and Gender Quality Draft Bill for publication in the Government Gazette for public comment Wednesday.

The draft Bill seeks to:

  • Provide the Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities with the necessary authority to monitor, review and oversee gender mainstreaming and integration of gender equality considerations into all programmes of government and other sectors;
  • Promote the protection and advancement of women as envisaged in section 9 (2) of the Constitution.

During the launch of Women’s Month, Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana explained how the bill will empower women.  “South Africa has some of the most progressive policies on the the empowerment of women and gender parity. This will set guidelines on how woman should be empowered,” she said.

Xingwana also points that the biggest challenge is in the implementation of these policies. The Bill is reported to be published on the Government Gazette this week and the public will have 30 days to submit their comments. I am curious to see how the Bill will play out over the next several months, and hope this Gender Equality Bill empowers other African nations to do the same.


To Mother Africa

Every year it’s the same routine; I make sure I send her flowers followed by a good phone call or Skype conversation, and then calling it a day. Yep, that is my Mother’s Day ritual to show my mom my appreciation, but is that enough? This year I want to do something different! Something that will not only show my mother I care, but also allow me to support other mothers and children of the African diaspora.

For most of you who don’t know me, I was born in Eritrea in the mid 1980′s. A place where it was difficult to raise a family without fearing if tomorrow was granted.A time were my father had to spend time in prison, while my strong mother had to raise six kids with me on the way. With the help of my grandma, my mother was able to work to provide an income while visiting my father in prison to make sure he was okay.

For my parents it was a hard time and they knew change fast change had to be made. My parents along with my siblings and I decided to leave their old family and friends to a place where they could give us an opportunity to grow up in a safer environment. Allowing us to get a proper education and grabbing life by the horns so we could become whatever we desired to be. Like most parents, mine wanted me to be better then them so I wouldn’t have to struggle that hard.

Growing up hearing these stories made me realize how different life could have been, and how blessed I am. I also feel it is my responsibility to give back and help out. This year I plan on donating and volunteering my time to unique orginzation’s surrounding their focus on Mother’s and their child’s. Here are my top three picks along with more information, enjoy!

* Mother 2 Mother – Who would have known that a single dose of medication to a mother during labor, and a dose to her infant shortly after birth – can cut transmission rates nearly in half? Mothers2mothers employs and trains mothers living with HIV to prevent new HIV infections among infants and keep their mothers alive. These “Mentor Mothers” work alongside doctors and nurses to bring critical information and support to pregnant women and new mothers with HIV. Read More…

* Mothers of Africa – “In Africa a woman’s risk of dying from treatable or preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth over the course of her lifetime is 1 in 22, compared to 1 in 7,300 in developed regions.” Mothers of Africa is a Medical Educational Charity that trains medical staff in Sub-Sahara Africa to care for mothers during pregnancy and childbirth. Read More…

*Child Soldiers International- CSI works to prevent the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, to secure their demobilization and to ensure their rehabilitation and reintegration.

“I would like you to give a message. Please do your best to tell the world what is happening to us, the children. So that other children don’t have to pass through this violence.”

‘The 15-year-old girl who ended an interview to Amnesty International with this plea was forcibly abducted at night from her home by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an armed opposition movement fighting the Ugandan Government.’

I hope this blog inspires you to help a mother or child in need. Marion Garretty put it best when she said “A Mother’s love is the fuel that enables a normal human being to do the impossible.”


Africa: Women Filmmakers Tell Their Stories

Drum roll please …. here it is! My friend Genet Lakew  and I worked on a project reflecting African women filmmakers on behalf of allAfrica. Blow is the story and you can also check it out  at allAfrica.com.

Documentary filmmaking holds a special place in the history of African women’s cinema. In 1972, Senegalese filmmaker Safi Faye became the first sub-Saharan African woman to make a commercially distributed feature film when she directed “Kaddu Beykat”. The film, a mixture of fiction and documentary, depicts the economic problems suffered by Senegalese village farmers because of agriculture policies that Faye says rely on an outdated, colonial system of groundnut monoculture. Faye would go on to direct several documentaries often focused on rural life in her native Senegal.

African women who have taken documentary filmmaking to new levels come from across the continent and handle a wide range of topics. The films show an Africa that is not often seen, according to Beti Ellerson, director of the Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema. Ellerson, who teaches courses in African studies, visual culture and women studies in the Washington, DC, area, is also the producer of a 2002 documentary, “Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema.”

Much has changed since Faye’s early Senegalese films. The emergence of the Internet, social media and crowd-funding platforms such as Kickstarter now offer a new generation of African women documentary filmmakers the tools to realize their visions. To learn of the challenges and opportunities facing African women filmmakers, AllAfrica’s Genet Lakew and Rahwa Meharena asked three women - Salem MekuriaRahel Zegeye and Sosena Solomon - to share their stories. They represent two generations of Ethiopian documentary filmmaking.

Salem Mekuria - The Challenge of Funding

When I left Ethiopia some 40 years ago to attend college in the United States, I had every intention of going back. But plans changed and I stayed to build a film career and family.

Despite my love for science, neither the science department nor the faculty at Haile Selassie I University, now Addis Ababa University, were ready to accept women in the field. It was a very difficult place to be. I was considered an anomaly, along with other female students. An exciting scholarship to study in the U.S. presented itself to me and I jumped at it.

Although I arrived at the height of the civil rights movement, I had no historical knowledge of the African American experience. But I find one of the motivations for me to make films is curiosity. Exploring African American subjects was my way of acknowledging the struggles of this community, which paved the way for opportunities for me in this country. I got a chance to work at a television station in California. From there, I moved to Boston in 1981 to work at WGBH television, a member station of the Public Broadcasting Service.

My first film was “Our Place in the Sun,” a 30-minute documentary that looked into the history of African Americans on Martha’s Vineyard Island off the coast of Massachusetts. Over time, I started shifting my focus to explore Ethiopian history, people and places because there are fewer people of African descent telling African stories. Films like “Sidet: Forced Exile,” “Deluge” or “Ye Wonz Maibel,” “IMAGinING Tobia,” “Ruptures: A Many Sided Story,” and “Square Stories” were all made in this spirit.

I am no exception to the perennial challenge independent filmmakers face: money. Efforts to raise funds are particularly harsh on Africans who make films on African subjects. I wish we could educate our people to want to be interested in investing in these films. If we do not succeed in doing that, then I have no idea where the future of funding is.

Before 1993, I did not plan to go into teaching but it’s very difficult to make a living as an independent filmmaker. My teaching position at Wellesley College gives me the flexibility to take a couple of months off every year, which I often use to travel to Ethiopia.

I’ve been lucky enough to earn various fellowships and grants to conduct research, fund my films, and provide exposure for my work. The Fulbright Scholar Award allowed me to spend a year in Ethiopia researching historical women leaders, which I’m hoping to make into a screenplay. I shot “IMAGinING Tobia” as a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Partly as a response to financial limitations, I began using triptych video installations, which use three different screens to show a film, designed to give the audience an interactive viewing experience. I also no longer use dialogue in my films, meaning the people in them don’t talk so I’m mostly presenting my stories in images.

Distribution is not any easier. Two of my films are at Women Make Films, a nonprofit organization that distributes independent films made by and about women. But I primarily self-distribute my films when people, schools and international organizations request them. Museums and galleries, and festivals are great ways to showcase and promote my work. Most recently, “Deluge” and “Square Stories” were shown at Film Africa 2011 in London.

At the present moment, I’m writing grant proposals in hopes of securing funding for a new project about a Nigerian human rights lawyer and women who are dealing with Sharia law in northern Nigeria. If I succeed in getting the money, it will be the first single channel documentary I will make in 14 years.

Rahel Zegeye - Fantasy Versus Reality

Ten years ago, my plan was to jet off to Beirut in search of domestic work without telling my family. My military veteran father was unemployed and our family had to pinch whatever pennies we had. Besides, there were limited opportunities to continue my education after high school, especially without high grades and test scores.

Unfortunately, they found out about my secret mission two days before I was to leave Addis Ababa. My father was especially upset because of the negative reports he heard about girls who went off to work in Arab countries.

Like thousands of African, Sri Lankan, Indian and Filipino women, I saw Beirut as a place to improve my economic outlook. But I was met with a reality much starker than my dreams. With this opportunity also came reports of verbal, physical and sexual abuse as well as withheld payments, excessive work hours, and confinement to the employer’s house.

I experienced some of this mistreatment during my early years [in Beirut]. Four days after my arrival, I was on the balcony of the home where I was assigned to work, brushing my hair. I saw an Ethiopian woman on the top floor who looked down and warned me to be careful. As she said, there came a day when I feared for my life in that house. The woman I was working for was very strict and made work difficult for me.

Fortunately, the agents who made my arrangements moved me to another house. My second employer seemed much nicer. I found myself in a better situation and tolerated the new challenges I faced. I kept working, telling myself that this house was better than the last. That’s mainly because I had no other choice. Life was hard but I could not do much to change it.

After six years of silent obedience, I could not take it anymore. There came a day when my employer refused me food and water for 13 days. I finally decided to leave and asked her to give me the money she owed me. She refused to pay me the two months worth salary she had withheld from me and kept all of my clothes.

I found myself on the move again. I was lucky enough to find a third employer who is kind and compassionate. I haven’t budged from his home since, working for a man of mixed Lebanese and Armenian descent. He’s good-natured and supportive of my ambitious goals of filmmaking. Now I’ve found a bit of freedom.

This new environment allowed me to begin documenting the stories of less fortunate Ethiopian domestic workers. Five years go I made a film, “Beirut,” which chronicles the lives of a group of women. It is a personal look into their social interactions and aspirations outside of work. I set out to show the reality of their lives, which sometimes include prostitution, drinking and smoking.

I used the money I saved from four years of working to fund the film. I paid two cameramen U.S.$200 each to film once a week on Sunday afternoons, my day off. The actors are all domestic workers themselves who portray the real stories of women I’ve encountered over the years. “Beirut” took a total of two years to make and had to be edited down from four hours to about an hour and a half.

My aim is to advise prospective domestic workers in Ethiopia to learn from my own experience and the experience of many women like me. There are many problems they could find themselves in after arriving. It is important for them to understand the potential dangers that come with the job. This is the spirit of the film.

I would not recommend for young girls to come to the Middle East to wash dishes and clean homes. It is dead end labor that leaves no room for personal advancement. In the 10 years that I’ve been here, my place in Lebanese society hasn’t changed much. I make a mere $250 a month. People still hurl insults at me as I walk down the street. I don’t enjoy the same rights and privileges as the natives or the freedom to pursue business opportunities. But this reality is not broadcast in the romanticized brochures young women in Ethiopia read, desperate to go abroad for work.

I’ve reached a roadblock in the distribution efforts for “Beirut” since the Ethiopian embassy [in Beirut] denied final approval of the film. But I’m working on drumming up support, such as from the wife of famed Ethiopian runner Haile Gebrselassie. I am determined to show the film in Ethiopia, where it really counts.

Sosena Solomon - Making Merkato

I panicked when my internship supervisor at WHUT television in Washington, DC, handed me a video camera to make a mini documentary about the city’s robust Ethiopian population, specifically the small business owners along U Street’s unofficial “Little Ethiopia” strip. How could I, a mere high school student at the time, bear the burden of accurately capturing the essence of this community? It seemed too great a task so I backed out of the project.

Now, two film degrees later, I know that storytelling through film is my path. My latest documentary, “Merkato,” was born out of an idea to possibly use it as my thesis film at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where I studied social documentary film. Before my first trip in December 2008 to visit my dad, I had never been to Ethiopia.

I fell in love with Merkato during that first trip home. Situated in Addis Ababa, it is the largest open-air market in Africa where thousands of merchants set up shop to sell all types of goods, from sugar and spices to clothing and electronics. I saw Merkato as a microcosm of the country’s society and culture, an exciting way to get a taste of many different things. I felt inspired to document the energy of the place before parts of it disappeared at the hands of big development projects that threaten the space.

On a personal level, I love that Merkato represents a piece of my own history. Although I was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and grew up in the U.S., I’ve always identified as Ethiopian. It’s where my parents are from and what I grew up knowing. Even if I was not physically there, the culture was never too far away from me.

From the very beginning, I knew that I did not want “Merkato” to have a political tone, one that criticizes the changes that are inevitably coming or urges viewers to “Save Merkato.” Instead, I sought to make portraits of the people who live and work in Merkato, to capture their personal journeys.

I set out to tell these stories with my DSLR camera and a small crew that consisted of my supportive mom, a driver, a bodyguard and a translator to facilitate the interviews. I was ready to get the reel going but was instantly met with a reality check. The people I talked to at Minalesh Tera, a section of the market that focuses on recycling plastics, initially gave me very surface responses and reactions. I had to prove myself to them. It was almost like Merkato will push you out just to see if you’re going to come back. I had to show up everyday for four months to get them to open up to me.

Of all the people I interviewed, the stories of four individuals and a set of brothers made it into the final film. I felt a genuine connection with Hawa, Ashenafi, Wurro, Gedion, Abde and Abdella. They are a diverse group who represent universal struggles and dreams.

Ashenafi is the young boy who spends his summers collecting plastic to recycle and resell. With that seemingly simple summer job, he is able to support himself and his family through his entrepreneurial spirit. Wurro is the 19-year-old who represents the hardcore rebel type, with big dreams to get out of Merkato. She’s a tough woman who constantly has to protect herself from the male-dominated section of the market. Abde and Abdella are the welding brothers who provide the comic relief in the story. Like many siblings, they have a sort of rivalry going on but still work together despite their differences. Hawa is my 92-year-old hero who posses a strong work ethic and determination. Finally, Gedion, or Mr. Merkato, is my bodyguard turned film character. I’m glad I had the chance to capture him in front of the camera at the last minute.

To address the expensive toll of filmmaking, I decided to pursue community fundraising for “Merkato” because I felt that this was everybody’s story. Using Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website, 224 backers pitched in to help me raise $14,710, about $2,000 above my posted goal. That was a great start but I’m still seeking official sponsorships, donations through PayPal, and hosting events to raise money and promote the accompanying photo book.

The greatest gift I can give to the people I spent months with is a screening of the film in Merkato. I look forward to the priceless moment when they see the piece they created and feel empowered by knowing that their story is important and others do care to see and hear it.


“Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering the Truth”

When it comes to watching documentaries, it is one hobby that allows me to educate myself, and get inspired to share a story that other’s may not know about. Thanks to the wonderful world of social media, I came across the next documentary from a friends Facebook wall. This is one story that needs more attention from the international community, including  individuals in America and world-wide.

“Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering The Truth explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. The film is a short version of a feature length production to be released in the near future. It locates the Congo crisis in a historical, social and political context. It unveils analysis and prescriptions by leading experts, practitioners, activists and intellectuals that are not normally available to the general public. The film is a call to conscience and action.”

After watching this powerful documentary, I wanted to know how I can help, so I went to the Crisis in the Congo Facebook page and started there. You can also check out the Crisis in the Congo Website to get more information and ways you can take action. Below is the full documentary, feel free to leave your comments, view, and opinions. Also share with a friend, knowledge is key!

 


Pray the Devil Back to Hell

When Geir Lundestad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute was asked the reason behind this year’s Nobel Peace Prize he stated it was a political decision. “We want to point to the role of women… Women suffer in wars and if we are to have peace, we have to have democracy with full rights for women and we also have to have women as peace builders. So this year, it was the year of the women,” he said.

Last night PBS aired “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” a 2008 documentary about Liberia’s women fighting during the civil war to bring peace to their country. Although there is still more work to be done, this is one example of how grassroots activism can transform the history of nations.

Here is the documentary link if you haven’t seen it, very powerful!
http://www-tc.pbs.org/video/media/swf/PBSPlayer.swf

Watch Pray the Devil Back To Hell on PBS. See more from Women War and Peace.


“Can’t Get Somalia Out Of My Skin”

Today I attended the Aspen Institute’s round-table discussion on the 7 Billion: Conversations that Matter with a talk entitled “Lessons from the Crisis in Somalia.” With Somalia being the 8th highest birth rate in the world, and the global population expecting to reach the seven billion mark this year, Mary Robinson, Walid Abderlkarim and Geoff Dablko discussed the lessons we can learn from the challenges of Somalia.

“Can’t get Somalia out of my skin,” is what former President of Ireland and chair of the Global Leaders Council, Mary Robinson said upon her return to the troubling famine in Somalia last summer. “Who would of declared in the 21st century famine in Africa would be a black-mark for all of us,” Robinson stated. With the largest refugee camp in Dabaab, Kenya— the horrifying conflict in Somalia has developed an average of 1,500 hungry and tired refugees to pour in daily. In Robinson’s opinion, it’s crucial to link the acute hunger in the Horn of Africa through education and reasonable health care. The sudden urgency of famine is one that needs to be addressed. The problem with Somalia according to Robinson is the lack of proper governance for over 19 years, and since then poverty, health, and women’s issues have been rising.

Walid Abdelkrim, Principal Officer and Team Leader for Somalia and Support to the African Union, United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, emphasized the significance of learning from the past in preventing future crises in Somalia. Abdelkrim believes the root cause of famine is not simply the absence of food, but the people, security, knowledge, and bad governance. “In order for Somalia to move forward, women need to be involved in the relief efforts and gain the responsibility; if this does not happen the cycle will continue,” he stated. “Agricultural reforms, good governance and strengthening of infrastructure and health systems are vital, but they will not stand if women are not given the chance to be central players in trade, pricing, accounting, education and health.”

Geoff Dabelko, Director, Environmental Change and Security Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center voiced his opinion about the need of the international community to be more effective and going beyond just recognizing and implementing strategies, but discussing environmental health and security issues. He stated that the high child and maternal mortality rates in conjunction with a high youth population would make facing this crisis more difficult. Dabelko’s solution to the crisis in Somalia is to start engaging in conversations to achieve peace-building implementation in Somalia. “Peace in Somalia will lead to democratic elections and governance which in turn will aid in the issues of mortality, food security, and health care” Dabelko stated.

The main message from today’s round-table discussion is to keep on enforcing the importance of the famine crisis and implement peace-building strategies; more importantly supporting women’s role in ending the crisis in Somalia.


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