Power of the Streets is a podcast about how we speak truth to power. In a series of intimate interviews, host Audrey Kawire Wabwire brings us the achievements and stories of the young people driving Africa’s human rights movement.
- EPISODE 1
Power Of The Lens
Visual storyteller Kiki Mordi produced an award-winning documentary about sex for grades in Nigerian and Ghanaian universities. As part of a feminist collective there, Kiki continues to speak out against the violence women and queer people face.
• Watch the documentary ‘Sex for Grades’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=we-F0Gi0Lqs
• Check out Kiki’s latest project Document Women here: https://documentwomen.com
• Follow Kiki here: https://twitter.com/kikimordi?s=20
Audrey Kawire Wabwire: This is Power of the Streets, and this is the first episode of a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power.
I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire and I’m based in Nairobi, Kenya. In our first season, I’m honored to hear from some of the people driving Africa’s #MeToo movement.
Everyone we speak to in the series has a second, a minute, or an hour, when they realize that they need to make a change. The moment when they decide to step up… and rise.
Kiki Mordi: What is going on right now in our continent is a huge awakening. And I think in that sense it's okay to compare that with the #MeToo movement in the West, because it also thrives on that huge awakening but in so many ways it's also different.
Audrey: Kiki Mordi is a prolific filmmaker, writer and activist from Nigeria. She has always been a storyteller, and the media gave her a platform to use her voice. Kiki spoke to us from her home in Lagos, Nigeria.
Kiki: So we may not be looking at movie stars outing another movie star. Maybe we're looking at young women coming out, to out their professor as a sexual abuser. Maybe we're looking at outing a system, not even a person! The system has been complicit in sexual assault and sexual abuse. But I would say that in Africa, the movement, I don't know what to call it yet I don't know if it's the #MeToo movement but whatever that movement is, it's moving. And it's up to us to be on the right or wrong side of history.
Audrey: In 2012, Kiki was pursuing a biochemistry degree from the University of Benin when one of her lecturers demanded sex from her and harassed her until she dropped out. She then devoted her journalism to speak out against harassment. Kiki produced an investigative documentary film called ‘Sex For Grades’. The film exposed the practice by some university lecturers in Nigeria and Ghana, where they demand sex from students or threaten retaliation in their academic grades if the students choose not to comply.
Kiki: When did I decide to start speaking up against the violence that women face? I think it was long before sex for grades happened. I had a job on radio, which was literally what saved my life. At the time where I got the job on radio, I was struggling with school. I was struggling with a personal experience of sexual harassment from my own lecturer, my course advisor. And I was dealing with that for about two semesters. I was just really confused about what to do with my life at that point and any opportunity that pops up I'd just go there out of boredom, I mean what's the worst that could happen right? And I found myself on radio and radio really gave me that voice and that part to speak authoritatively unlike the power that I had in school. In school I had no powers, my lecturer had all the power, but on radio it was my show and I was running the show. So I think that empowered me to start speaking up against the violence that women like me faced in school. It was really a moment, it was a local radio station and it wasn't BBC. But we had a very small movement and it was viral for the very small space that it was in, because for the first time students felt empowered enough to call into a radio station and talk about the things that they go through in school. It wasn't just women, young boys and young men and young women calling in to talk about the things that they face in school, but the predominant story there was sexual harassment. It was very predominant and this was as far back as I think 2009 or 2010, this is about 10 years ago, right? I always took that as my personal agenda! So I grew, that first radio job grew into a second radio job, it grew into a more prominent position as head of programming. And I always carried that agenda with me.
Audrey: Her experience with sexual harassment as a university student fueled her throughout the production stages of the documentary, but it also weighed heavily on her mental state.
Kiki: I found myself in a women radio station, this was a station that was dedicated to women's stories. And then I felt at home and that was the point where I met someone who worked in BBC Africa. They needed resources, they were thinking about doing the story. The last investigation they did, they got feedback from the population and the feedback was mostly ‘please investigate universities next.’ That was the predominant feedback that they had. That's to show you how huge this problem is. We know that the problem is huge, but what we don't still expect, what we see when we find out, when we go under cover, when we start researching. Of course, I was happy to help. At this point I'd been on radio for over six years and had built a network of people who understood me to be a voice for women. I had all of these networks of women who had safe spaces for other women, that experienced violence at home or in school or different places. They found me to be an asset. We worked together and the more we looked, the deeper we went, the more we found that this problem wasn't just the Nigerian problem. We found at least prima facie evidence in different countries. We weren't able to chase all of the stories, we ended up going to Ghana and two other universities in Nigeria. It was a no brainer, when it happened, when the situation presented itself. I wasn't thinking about it, I was just doing! I was just acting well, you need this? You need the university students to speak to you? Okay, I'll get you this. Slowly and surely, so many times when we didn't know that this project would become a reality, we would cry to sleep. Especially me, I shed tears because I put my whole life into this project, nothing else mattered. My family couldn't reach me for long periods, my friends could reach me for long periods because I was so focused. It was personal for me, it was me 10 years ago, all of a sudden being faced with a lecturer and not having any power whatsoever. There being this sliver of l hope that maybe we could expose them and then people would see them exactly for who they are. That was it for me.
Audrey: When you're saying that so many people thought that this is a huge problem. One of my best friends and I were talking the other day and we were reflecting on high school and how some teachers would demand things from us. We didn't even know it was wrong at that time, we were 15, 14? We didn't even know that was wrong. It was just uncomfortable. It's unbelievable that that can happen where it's supposed to be a safe space, but here's someone preying on you. It's horrible! Now that you produced this documentary and some lecturers were held to account, suspended and the Nigeria Senate began to speak about the sexual harassment bill. I wanted to hear from you, what happens when women and queer people speak up against their abusers in such a public way?
Kiki: It's not the reception that we received with sex for grades is quite the opposite. In fact, it's like the women or the queer people are on the trial. In a place like Nigeria where same-sex marriage is illegal, it’s on paper. It's like boldening the people who have this hatred against the LGBT community, they're emboldened and they're in the system. They are the police as well, they are lawyers and they're judges. So, what happens when they come out to speak up against violence, is that they are blamed for their violence. So someone would say, well, if you were not gay, you wouldn't have gotten beaten up. Or if you're a woman who was, if you don't have a sharp mouth, [speaks in pidgin] you wouldn't have gotten beaten up. It's actually really close to home.
Audrey: Kiki, what's a sharp mouth? I listened to pidgin but you need to explain.
Kiki: Okay. I got into my Nigerianness. It's like, when you talk back, you have a smart mouth. We expect women to be subservient, to not be their own adult. We're talking about an adult woman here. If a man talks back at you, no one would see it as anything, we would see it as a person who's defending himself. But if a woman does that, she's rude, because we've managed to infantilize women and see them as children. You shouldn't have strong opinions, we shouldn't talk back at men. And so, when they do that and they get beaten, it's like society says, oh you deserve it, or you dress a certain way. Whatever happens would always find a way to blame the woman or blame the queer person for speaking up against abuse. And it's quite unfortunate.
Audrey: Let's come back to you a bit. You're speaking openly about these issues, which the society maybe does not want people to talk about. And you talk about it online on the media, almost every single day of your work. So, I wonder what your close friends and your family respond to this activism that you've chosen to pursue.
Audrey: *laughs* Why are you laughing?
Kiki: I don’t know. In all my biographies, I've never really put activist there, maybe I'll stop running away from it in 2021. But I've always been this person to them. They know, you're not going to tell them about me they will tell you about me.
So all of the things that you see online, they've had to fight for the past 12 years and they've accepted it. The ones who couldn't accept it gave me their distance. I have people that don't talk to me, they cut me off because I'm always talking that gay stuff or that you've come with your equality things. That gay stuff or that equality thing that she's always saying, and I'm like, okay, fine. Become distant family members I'm good with that. So, the ones that are close, well, some of them don't even agree, but they can't cut me off.
They are like, we support you regardless. One of my aunts doesn't believe in gay ohhh but, I guess she starting to see points in that we shouldn't be violent to them. I mean, that's a step. In the future she would come to accept it. So, I don't know what they think about it, to be honest. I just know that they're used to me. They're not surprised when another, twitter dragging like they call it happens. They are like okay, “I guess in three months we expect another one.” They are even tired of responding to people. People would send my mom's screenshots. Did you see your daughter? They're like, “yeah I saw it was what is the problem. Are you asking me for an explanation for what my daughter did? Cause you're not getting it.” I think that I've found that my sister is now an activist. I didn't know when that happened. I don't know when that switch happened. Cause I, I noticed that I saw someone on Twitter fighting people. I'm like, this is my sister.
Audrey: The name looked familiar.
Kiki: I know that name! So yeah, my battle is their battle unfortunately, that's how this is who we've become. Their battle is my battle. And it's vice versa.
Audrey: That's super interesting. Even with the sex for grades, I know that your mom and your sister were really instrumental in you deciding to take on this cause. Could you tell me about why these women were so useful, in your journey in that way?
Kiki: I've been surrounded by strong women. I didn't think that there was any other option besides being this person. As a matter of fact, I was the shy one. I was the one who didn't quite have a voice. They used to think that they would have to come defend me. You won't believe this is a conversation we had as a child because battery or domestic violence is so popular that we were anticipating it. They were like, if your husband beats you we'll come and beat him back. Because they just felt like I didn't have a voice and they just felt like it was imminent in the future my husband would probably beat me. It was a very strong support system, my grandmother can physically go and fight you if you touch me. That's my grandmother, my grandmother killed snakes. I just really saw all these powerful *laughs* women around me. And she's so old, you know, she has the cutlass in her hand and she’s chopping off heads of snakes that come. They are crazy and that's the kind of person my mom is. My mom is so bold, she says, tell me, because she says that's what her mother told her. If anything is wrong or if anyone does anything to you, tell me, she's not going to judge you first. She's just going to defend you first. That's her first line of action, defense. My elder sister, she binded it in her and then, I had no other option. I had to somehow find a way to come out of my shell.
Even when I was facing sexual harassment in university, I was scared of telling my mom, I didn't want to disappoint her. Or when it got to a point where, there was nothing else I could do. I tried everything I reported, I did this and nothing was happening and I'd given up already. She was the one I called and she told me, you know, what, come home. She was far away from me. She's an immigrant, she's in the US. She had to leave to find better economic opportunities so she could send us to school. She needed all her girls to be educated. I was so sad because I knew that if she was in the country, she would march to that school and have whatever lecturer, that is there by the balls and she would not apologize for it. But she sounded so sad and she was like, you know what? Just come home. You can’t die because of school, you’ll start again, right. It was important. I later found out in life that my mom faced sexual harassment in university. She dealt with it the way she knows how to deal with it by being the aggressive person. She understood, I didn't think she would but she actually did. Later on, I found out that my older sister actually faced something like that. Unlike me, my older sister reported immediately to my mom and my mom dealt with it. She really did understand, and she was just really sad that she wasn't physically present to defend me. I had to do this for them and we couldn't repeat that cycle again. I have a younger sister. I would literally run mad if I hear that this is happening to my youngest sister as well.
Audrey: Coming from that strong, very clear-minded line of women. You're now working with 15 other women and you formed a really prominent feminist collective called the feminist coalition. It gained a lot of recognition as a movement. You take on women's rights, queer rights and other human rights causes. It's so energizing and exciting to hear about your work. I think that, this coalition, it speaks a lot about the role of women in movement building, pushing conversations. Tell us about this coalition and where you are right now. How's that going?
Kiki: The feminist coalition really, just when I thought that the most significant events in my life happened in 2019, then 2020 came, and the feminist coalition happened. At least I didn't see that one coming. The women in that group, all of us have some sort of relationship. We have worked with each other once or twice because we're like-minded women, but in different spaces. We have women in tech, women in the medical field, women in media, women in advertising, women in Bitcoin even. Damilola, who's the co-founder Dami and Odu. They are the two women who came together to form this coalition. When they reached out to me, because we've done some work before in the past. And they reached out to me that were trying to form like Kiki, you know we've talked about this before in one of our sessions and you know that we need to do these things.
We need to have our backs and we need to have a strong network that can form, sort of defense or protection for the women that are not as strong. We can recognize our strengths and pull those strengths together to form one formidable force, right? That formidable force will be useful to one woman who doesn't have that help or protection that she needs. I was immediately interested, of course. We came together and I found out they were even more amazing women in the group. I love every single member. It was so exciting when we came together. We were planning long-term, we're taking our time. We had a couple of pillars that we were interested in, education, leadership, financial freedom basically, because you can't do a lot of things without money. You can't do a lot of things without being informed. We were facing these pillars and building slowly and then End SARS happened and Odu immediately reached out.
She said, “You know how these movements go, women need to be there to protect our collective interest.” The woman needs to be there, so that when it's time for the decision making, we need to make sure that women's problems are not swept under the carpet. Because it's a majorly male issue that police brutality issues that we were facing in Nigeria.
Audrey: So Kiki, could you talk about the End SARS movement for someone who missed what this was?
Kiki: Okay so, SARS is a police unit that really went rogue in Nigeria and they were perpetrating violence against ordinary citizens, especially young people and over time they sort of faced their target towards young men in tech. Of course we also had issues against women. We had an issue where a police unit that just went on the streets and bundled up about 30 women in Abuja , they accused them of being prostitutes with no proof whatsoever and they raped these women in custody.
Audrey: Yeah that's… heavy sigh… There's a member of your collective who's leading the Arewa #MeToo movement. I wanted you to talk about this movement and how, you know, different parts of a country as diverse and a large country like Nigeria, that there's a whole #MeToo movement that's just for a particular area. Could you speak more about this and what it's impact has been?
Kiki: I mean, Fakhrriyyah, she's such an inspiring person. If you see her in real life, you cannot believe the strength she has. The people she has shaking in their boots, are literally physically maybe five times her size.
Audrey: Fakhrriyyah Hashim, the woman who sparked the Arewa #MeToo movement, is a 28 year old Nigerian activist and writer. Fakhrriyyah is also a peace, security and development fellow at the African Leadership center.
Kiki: She inspires me so much. Northern Nigeria is a different reality from what we face in the rest of Nigeria. If you even break it down further, we have six geo-political zones. If you zone these problems to these places, you would see how the problems are the same, but they are also different. In Northern Nigeria, you hear that, this man beat the child and then you find out that the child is his wife. You don't even know, okay so what are we hearing? Are we hearing a case of domestic violence or rape because you shouldn't be with an under aged woman, it's confusing. They're very vocal and they're very heated about the people who speak up against the things that they consider normal. They're very vocal about the people who speak up for women's rights. As much as I've observed online, I can't really speak on behalf of her but as much as I have observed online, she gets threats to her family home, in fact. She speaks to the specific issues that they face. Some of the issues would include, body policing about dressing. Some of the most prominent issues, child marriage, various types of violence against women, even in religious spaces. As diverse as Nigeria is you need to break down the movement into pieces and then, model it after this area so that it suits these women. We also have another area in Nigeria where their own issue is money wives, where women are seen as currency. If you have four daughters, you're a rich man, because you can always use your daughter to pay off debts.
Audrey: The Arewa #MeToo Movement is a true representation of how the #MeToo conversation is contextually different in various parts of the world, but it still heeds to one call of action. While the #MeToo movement is often seen as a Western movement, women in Africa have started their own conversations to address social issues in their unique context from Shut It All Down in Namibia, Am I Next in South Africa, Rape National Emergency in Liberia, Child Trafficking in Ivory Coast and Ghana. The list just goes on.
I know that you're a super busy person, Kiki, and you're carrying this load, you're starting this new project in 2021. Could you tell us how you take care of yourself? I know you're a cat mom like me.
Audrey: Is that part of self-care or how does self-care look like for you?
Kiki: Everyday it changes, self-care changes for me everyday. I have to adapt to my new reality. Right now, I don't even know what self-care is. Because I'm looking at my hair like okay, you need to do this hair. At the end of the year, last year I managed to take a trip. On that trip, usually I just like to do trips and work together, like one day working one day relaxing, but that trip was different. I unplugged entirely. I was still on social media, I will see your message, I would not respond to it. I would just be posting my jpegs, my cute holiday pictures and things. You cannot threaten my peace right now. It helped me a lot to launch this energy, this fresh energy that I'm using to work this year, but self-care wise, I'm really just figuring it out.
I like to do things like swim. I like to go to the beach just to just clear my head. I haven't done that since like Christmas last year. I haven't done that in over a month, which is unlike me. I've just really immersed myself in work. But yeah, self-care sometimes includes unplugging, just seeing a movie hanging out with my cat. My cats are even mad at me. I don't hang out with them as much, but I know that it will get better, that's what self-care looks like for me right now.
Audrey: Before we ended the conversation, I had to ask Kiki about her recent achievement, the MTV EMA 2020 Generation Award, that seeks to elevate young activists who are transforming the globe.
Kiki: I mean, that was, that was quite a shocker for me. To be honest, I mean, we released sex for grades in 2019 and the bulk of the awards that I've been receiving, including another one in December, usually revolved around my journalistic work. So it was refreshing to see something else that was not sex for grades. It just shows that people are watching. It came at a really difficult time. We were in the middle of protest in Nigeria and MTV really put it upon themselves, to support us on the work that we do in, the work that I do, which includes my work with Feminist Coalition, my work with document women. I was really humbled by that because the award was for five women across the world. For this part of the world, I was the woman for this part of the world. And it was really such a humbling thing.
Audrey: But before you go, could you tell me where to find you online to follow your work and your project with the feminist collective?
Kiki: All right, so my personal handle is at Kiki Mordi everywhere. You can find me on any platform at K I K I M O R D I. My two babies, these are my babies right now because they're my priority the whole of this year. Feminist Coalition and Document Women. Feminist co is at feminist underscore co on Twitter, it’s feminist.co on Instagram as well. Document Women is Document Women everywhere, literally like document and women. What we want to do is any way we have, any means that we find, we find a medium where we can use that to document women would use it as long as it's a way to document history. We want to make sure that the future generation, know, of all the women that influenced leadership, influenced politics, influenced everything that they now know as society.
Audrey: You have been listening to Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Kiki and the Feminist Coalition.
In this season of Power of the Streets, we’re going to hear stories from Uganda, South Africa, Malawi, Gambia, Burundi, and more — personal stories from people who are rising up and leading the #MeToo movement.
To learn more about Human Rights Watch please visit HRW.org. And to find out more about what to expect in this season, follow us on Twitter @HRW and on Instagram @humanrightswatch.
Join the conversation using the hashtag #PoweroftheStreets, and share your thoughts with Kiki or any of our other guests, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
Our producer is Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
The main theme song, Au Revoir is produced by Young OG Beats.
Till next time, thank you for listening
- EPISODE 2
Offline and Online
As a young girl, when Lusungu Kalanga saw inequalities in her community, she didn’t have a language for it. Today, she creates safe spaces for girls in Malawi. We talk about how online activism rallied offline organizing in Malawi’s #metoo movement.
• Listen to Lusungu’s podcast Feministing While Malawian here: https://anchor.fm/feministingwhilemalawian
• Follow Lusungu: https://twitter.com/lusukalanga
Audrey: This is Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire, and I’m based in Nairobi, Kenya.
In the previous episode we spoke to Nigerian film maker Kiki Mordi, who produced an award-winning documentary about sex for grades in Nigeria and Ghana’s universities.
In this episode we take the conversation to Malawi.
Everyone we speak to in the series has a second, a minute, or an hour, when they realize that they need to make a change. The moment when they decide to step up… and Rise.
Lusungu: Honestly, I don't even remember not being this way and I can't imagine so I don't know. I just know growing up, I had a lot of questions and to a certain extent, my parents allowed me to ask those questions. There was always that issue of, Oh, you're being rude or also manage how you talk to your elders, etc. But there were just some things I didn't understand. Why is my brother being let to play and I have to stay and wash the dishes and stuff like that.
Audrey: That’s Lusungu Kalanga, a Malawian feminist, activist and gender and development practitioner.
So I'm going to go through some of your accomplishments and some of the things you are taking up. You're a fellow in the very prestigious Mandela Washington Program. You’re also in the Moremi Initiative Program, which we'll talk about too. And your activism has really been centered around girls’ access to education. And you're also podcasting producing the show Feministing while Malawian. Clearly, you care so much about women's rights. So let's just go back all the way to the beginning to the moment when you began your activism. Why did you decide to stand up for women's rights and girls' education?
Lusungu: My dad happened to be in the development field, I think back in the day he used to work for one of these big INGOs, WorldVision. Sometimes he would take me to the field and l was very interested wondering, is this really working? Why is this happening like that? So, I would ask a lot of questions and l was very conscious from a young age to see that l’m not getting the same as this girl in this village or l’m not getting the same as this person who is working for us, for example as househelp. So it started like that, but I didn't have a name for it. I didn't know there was a thing called activism. I didn't know there was a thing called feminism. I just knew that, I used to say this very cliche words that, right now, I’m like never, never. I used to say, l want to be the voice for the voiceless. You know how that has now changed and it’s like why do you want to be a voice for the voiceless? They don't have a voice? Did they tell you they don’t have a voice? Just pass on the mic, just create the platform. If they don’t have access to a space you have? Make sure they have that access. I think that’s how it developed, but l can’t pinpoint exactly when I felt I was going to stand up for this!
I guess one of the fellowships that you have mentioned, the Moremi Fellowship, that we're going to talk about later. That is the one that really opened my mind to go like “What? There’s a name to my frustrations. There's a name to this Lord. There's a name to this anger that I feel.”
Audrey: You went and got your answers from the Moremi Program. It's a program that identifies and invites young African women to participate in a year long development program. Could you tell me what your experience was and how this changed your outlook on some of the issues you're talking about?
Lusungu: Just before Moremi, when I went through university, I happened to do sociology and it was very theoretical. This issue about feminism, women's rights, very theoretical. Some of it was practical some of it was not. So when I saw this opportunity for a fellowship, I applied, I was like, this looks like a good space. So when I got there, it was the mixture of Pan-Africanism and feminism, Black feminism. It just challenged, everything for me, even the little things, Audrey, like relaxing my hair *laughs with Audrey*. I was just like “Wow, these are my people, this is my tribe, this is what I've been looking for.” These answers about structure and inequality.
Audrey: Who did you meet there?
Lusungu: There were other young, Black African women from 24 other countries, so one from each country. The program had curated some very strong Black women like Leymah Gbowee the Liberian activist. Just her walking and listening to what she was saying. I was like, “Oh my god. I now understand my passion. I understand how I should channel it.”
What does my identity as a Black woman mean? What are the things that are unique to my existence and how can I own those truths, right? And then the Pan-Africanism in it. Oh God, it was just a mixture of, it was an awakening for me. I came back home, I went bald, I cut my hair and I was on fire. *laughs* Of course I've moved from that very extreme spectrum.
Audrey: You've come back with fire from the Moremi Fellowship *both laugh*. I don't know if that's the time you came back and started your mentorship program, Growing Ambitions? Was that?
Audrey: Aha! That's an organization you founded, you want to create safe spaces for girls, mentorship and that's pretty much the information I'm getting from the website. But why do you think at that time that it was necessary to carve out these safe spaces for girls in Malawi? And tell me about the unsafe spaces that existed, that drove you to say, no, I have to do this?
Lusungu: The reason why I actually qualified for the Moremi Fellowship was because I had already started on the work on the foundation, although it had no structure, for teenage girls, especially the ones that got pregnant when they were teenagers. Mostly unwanted but sometimes wanted because of peer pressure. I got interested in that, at that time I was working for an orphanage program. We had these girls in that program and the message was that once we support them with school fees and groceries, etc, they will want to go to school, right? We were sponsoring these girls and their rates of pregnancies were not going down.
I decided to start conversations to hear what it is really about, that’s when l started unveiling how most of them didn’t even have a choice even just having pleasurable sex. Even the way their parents treated them, even the role models around them. They didn’t see anyone going beyond maybe primary school or they didn’t see education as a key to poverty like we saw it. We were very prescriptive in that, that we did not offer them that space to express themselves and explain to us how they felt. I can say confidently right now that organizations like Growing Ambitions have mushrooms all over Malawi, which is, which can only be a good thing. But when we're starting out, we didn't have that many. The conversations that were very popular then were about experimental sex, not enough comprehensive sexual reproductive health, nothing to do with feminism, of course not feminism as the name, but feminist conversations as the adjective. Right now if you talk to the girls, they are very fired up. Now they're learning from each other. They are assertive. They're confident. Right now we have about 50 girls in our program.
Audrey: That is so, so impressive. I was just thinking, when people talk about the teen pregnancies, the girl is usually described as not well-mannered and we shame her and there is no support for them from the community, or even their families. Yet, as you say, many times when the girl is pregnant, it's from rape from a family member, a neighbor or someone close to them. Even when it's consensual, there's no comprehensive sexual education. You're thinking about a lot of this in your work. Tell me about how these two relate.
Lusungu: Exactly. It's how the patriarchy works, right? Because when you hear about teenage pregnancies, you hear about rape, you rarely see a picture of the perpetrator unless we make noise about it, where's the perpetrator? Why are you putting the picture of a girl who's pregnant? Who made this girl pregnant? Even when we're talking about child marriages, where are the men that are marrying these girls? If we say it's 50%, where are they? Where are they? I just feel like it's the way the patriarchy works, right? That our bodies are very much like objects in that they are very much policed. If a girl gets pregnant, she faces backlash, she's called loose etc. And yet a man all the time is taught to experiment, have fun. Who are they going to experiment on? They're going out and doing all these experiments on girls who do not give informed consent.
‘Cause I always questioned this thing about consent to say, okay, sometimes we just say, oh, it was consensual so it's fine. But was it informed? Did this girl know that she has option A, B and C? If she did not know, then it's not informed consent and it should not be tolerated. So I just feel like we, as a society have a lot to do in terms of placing the responsibility and blame right where it lies. And it is on people who make girls pregnant. It is on the men who rape, it is not on the girls or the women.
Audrey: That's absolutely correct. There's also the fact that children need information. They need to know about informed consent. They need to know how their body works and what's right for them and what's not right for them. That's something I think about a lot, but let's come back to your upbringing. You were telling me how you were exposed to different inequalities, when you’d go with your Dad to the field when he was working. How much influence has your family had on your activism and how do they respond to it? Maybe they support it. How do they do that?
Lusungu: Actually, one of the most interesting things my dad told me was “Lusu I am so I'm so glad I raised you the way I raised you. You're strong, you're independent, but sometimes I regret. I feel like you are too independent and this feminst stuff” *laughs*. I was like, I didn't realize there was supposed to be a degree of independence. So to mention, my family is supportive to the extent that they can be because I come from a very religious family. My mom is a pastor and not just a pastor, a prophetess. And my dad, as far as I remember, he's always been an elder in church and my sister is a pastor's wife. So, to just find that balance *laughs*, for example, when I go on the streets,demonstrating, my dad would be like, “please, okay, you can go, but please stand in the back.” “Oh please don't use our surname.” I am like hello I will say I am Lusungu Kalanga *laughs*.
When they give these instructions and then they see me, for example, if they see me on TV or they see me somewhere they'll say, “Oh Lusu, this is dangerous” but I can see some sort of pride in their eyes. They're like, “Oh, we are proud of you.” But at the same time, for example, if I'm talking about legalizing abortions, they're like, “okay, we are Christians.” But I'm like, it's about human rights come on now! When I'm talking about LGBTQI+ rights, they're supportive to the extent that they can be.
Audrey: Let’s talk about the protests again. I was listening to your podcast Feministing while Malawian, and you were talking about the protest, which is called take it to the streets. It was a protest against violence against women. In this season we are talking about the #MeToo movement on the continent, and one thing that has become more common is women's uprising by protests online and also offline that's, going to the street. Even before we go deeper into that, l wanted to discuss street harassment, which l know you’ve been talking about a lot, how it limits women’s freedom. You’re walking home, you’re walking out enjoying the day then you hear “Hey baby! Hey sweetie” and other disgusting things. Followed by a whistle and it’s so annoying and even scary. If you don’t respond or you maybe respond, you never know what can really trigger violence at that moment and you’re just afraid. What’s your experience of this?
Lusungu: I don’t even know where to start. Every time I'm on the streets, for example, if I’m taking a walk for exercise or I’m running l have to brace myself. You always breathe in when, you go out and breathe out when you come home. There’s never been a time where there’s no street harassment. l usually tell this story of when l put my friend and l in danger. We were walking as an exercise, then there was this car that slowed down with two very drunk men and of course a woman was driving. This man takes his upper body out and he starts speaking all this nonsense, commenting on our bodies, questioning why we are exercising, etc. I'm left-handed and I'm also a bit short-tempered when such things happen.
Audrey: A bit?
Lusungu: But, on this day I picked up a rock, it happened within maybe 10 seconds. I picked up a rock and I threw it.
Lusungu: Of course, I missed, but I hit the car. So they stopped and then they came out and actually threatened to physically harm us. So we're lucky that the were other people around that way, hearing this, that didn't feel the need to comment when we're being harassed. But at least they tried to protect us when these guys were like, “Why did you do that?” And so I was like, you know what you did, you are harassing us and you made me angry. Then I realized and started feeling very guilty because I had put myself and my friend in danger. But then at the same time, I was like, I am the one who is carrying this burden of feeling guilty, but they are the ones who harassed me and then on top of that threatened to cause physical harm to us. So it's like, Oh my gosh, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to street harassment. You don't respond, you can be in danger, you respond, you can be in danger.
Audrey: I follow many conversations where African women are speaking out against, all kinds of harassment, street harassment, sexual violence things like that. I'm seeing that the internet is becoming an outlet where many women are feeling like this is a safe space for us to talk about what we're going through, especially where judicial processes are not accessible or when they're even abusive to survivors. So online activism, which was once seen as so elitist for people who have money, maybe they're becoming important organizing spaces for protests, but I'd like to hear your opinion on the two, the street protests, like the one you took part in and the impact of the online space on this march.
Lusungu: Actually, the take it to the streets protests generated from online protests, right. The #TakeItToTheStreets. Of course, for example, in Malawi, this particular one was triggered by a young lady from the other city, Blantyre. She was stripped of her clothing and sexually harassed because she was apparently wearing a miniskirt. There ar always all these cases of rape, children, young women, old women, it is everyone. I remember it was the president of a young feminist network, a really, really young 22 year old fierce feminist that I also look up to. She said, “Should we take it to the streets?” From there we started saying, let's take it to the streets.
The organizing for the offline protest started right there online. We took it from Twitter, we took it to WhatsApp. On WhatsApp, more structured. These are the materials, so and so has said they can provide these etc. Then the physical meetings happened. On the day of the protest, in terms of visibility and reaching other African feminists even, northern feminist joining in retweeting helped us to amplify the voice of what was happening like we always do. For example, when #MeToo happens in different countries, in such a Women's March happening in different countries. So I feel both spaces serve their purpose and both spaces are really important.
Audrey: You were handling so many things last year and the pandemic is just putting this extra layer of stress and pain. How are you taking care of yourself? I know you have said this year you're not carrying the world on your shoulders, so how are you doing that? How are you actively saying that, this is how I'm caring for me.
Lusungu: In my kind of work, and especially now that I've moved more into, really working on issues of norm change in terms of violence against women and girls and also supporting survivors. The vicarious trauma is always there. Because, you are experiencing whatever they're experiencing. I think one of my self-care processes is to read. I like to detach and disappear. I'll be honest, Audrey, I really find non fiction hard to read.*laughs* It makes me, but I read it because if you're a feminist, you have to continuously learn, you have to continuously read, but I enjoy fiction. I like disappearing in different words. I must say a lot of African writers are really doing the work in terms of writing and a lot of women writers, it's so nice.
This year I'm going to therapy. I've always wanted to go back to therapy because I feel it's very beneficial. I talk a lot to myself. I feel like therapy is gonna also help me this year. I also do a lot of gardening, l took it for my mom. I am a plant mum. I've killed a couple, but the ones that are alive are surviving and then outside l also have a flower garden that I like to just disappear in.
Audrey: That is so, so beautiful. Yes to therapy and RIP to Lusungu’s few plants that have died, we hope the rest will grow. *both laugh* Just to wind up, do you have a message for other women who are driving the #MeToo movement in Africa?
Lusungu: Firstly, to say, take care of yourself. Let's take care of each other. Self-care is an act of resistance. I like articles and some of the guidelines that one of my favorite African feminists has produced, Jessica Horn, self-care and not just self-care, but also collective care. Cause we're in this together, don't carry the load on your own. It's okay to switch off and say I need to prioritize myself because I find that a lot of activists don't do that because we are driven by, “we understand the urgency.” We cannot pour into the world when we are empty. So it's always important to always keep taking a step back and prioritize our self-care and also collective care. Honestly, Black women have been carrying the world for such a long time. I feel like that should be prioritized.
Audrey: I'd like you to tell people who are listening about your podcast and about your amazing work and where they can find you online.
Lusungu: You can find our podcast Feministing while Malawian on Twitter, it's @FeministingWM. For the work of Growing Ambitions, you can find us on Twitter as well,it's @growingambition. My personal handle on Twitter is @LusuKalanga. I'm not on Facebook, l’m very much a Twitter person. Feel free to connect with me there.
Audrey: You’ve been listening to Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Lusungu and her work at Growing Ambitions and her podcast, Feministing while Malawian.
In the next episode we take the conversation to Uganda.
To learn more about Human Rights Watch visit HRW.org. Follow us on Twitter @HRW and on Instagram @humanrightswatch for updates about the show.
Join the conversation using the hashtag Power of the Streets and share your thoughts with Lusungu or any of our other guests, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
Our producer is Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
The main theme song, Au Revoir is produced by Young OG Beats.
Till next time, thank you for listening.
- EPISODE 3
Little Big Voice
Ugandan writer Rosebell Kagumire edits an African feminist blog. She discusses the importance of curating these voices and how allies with large platforms influence the current movement. This discussion looks at the media’s role in trivializing sexual violence and the growth of support for survivors.
Audrey Kawire Wabwire: This is Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire, and I’m based in Nairobi, Kenya.
So far in the season, we’ve been to Nigeria and Malawi to hear from some of the people driving Africa’s #MeToo movement. We have so many other countries to get to, but in this episode, we’re taking the conversation to Uganda.
Everyone we speak to in the series has a second, a minute, or an hour, when they realize that they need to make a change. The moment when they decide to step up… and Rise.
Rosebell Kagumire: The world shocking me in, in ways that, you know, I spent most of my university days running around as a journalist, I was working for Daily Monitor, one of them, you know, leading independent daily’s in the country. So it really, really opened my eyes at a very young age because you know, you're coming from secondary school you don't know much about the world or even your country.
Audrey: That's Rosebell Kagumire, she's the curator and editor of the prominent blog, African Feminism, which works with over 27 African feminists. The blog is just one of the ways she uses to organize and stand up for women's rights.
Rosebell: Those were I think, early stages of awakening or of, I would say at least to be concerned beyond my own, you know, beyond my own being, you know, I could tell you, like before I was aware of, of course human inequalities, I was aware of patriarchy, even if I didn't know the word, at least that from the early age, you know, about that. But to be really quite aware of other people's inequalities beyond, even if you're a woman, even if your a girl like you are not affected the same as other factors that affect other people, it was when I started, you know, being a journalist at a very young age.
Audrey: So let's go back a bit to the beginning. You know, tell me about the moment when you began your activism.
Rosebell: It's not a moment. I think it's a journey, so there's different moments, but overall I would call it a journey to arrive where you are at. Um, my background, you know, I'm a journalist by training my first job for 10 years. I worked in Uganda newsrooms. So definitely I, so, and I started working as a journalist, rather you know at a very young age. Uh, you know at university, I hadn't even graduated.
Audrey: Hmm, how old were you?
Rosebell: 18, 19. But working there, like by the age of 20, I was covering covering riots in Kampala. I was covering, you know, I was covering political parties. Then I was, you know, learning on the job, learning many things that I, probably, my education would not have given me. So it really opened my eyes at a very young age to what was coming, what was going on in the country, but also opened my eyes in terms of like, privilege to understand, you know, even if I didn't know, like the right words, maybe right now, like looking at feminist language, but I was quite aware at a young age about, uh, the inequalities that inepted my country.
Audrey: That's really interesting. And you're speaking about some really heavy stuff, but let's go back to what you're saying, um, about, you know, how you are beginning your, your realization of, you know, how, you know, different people are living in your country and you're reporting about this and learning at the same time. Do you think that it was this just seeing these things that, you know, drove you to where you are today? Or is it something else?
Rosebell: I remember a very pertinent issue, I was an intern in, in one of the newsroom in the newsroom, you know, a Daily Monitor newsroom. And I didn't know anybody. Oh, well I had an uncle who worked in the same newsroom, but he's quite senior. So you, you spend your days of, of course, sort of figuring out things with your colleagues and making your own connections. And, so one of the editors, senior editors came to me and said, Oh, you know, because as at school I'd send in stories. And sometimes I have to come the next day, there was no internet, much connections at the time. So he was like, ‘Oh, you know, I need your phone number and your email, uh, in case when you send stories, I have some questions.’ This was a sub editor, you know, I'm like, ‘Oh, all right.’
I give them to him. Like we were in the same flow of the newsroom. And I think within like 30 minutes, I was seated on a certain spot. In my end, the phone, uh, my phone rang, no, no like the intercom rang, then I pick it like, ‘who is it?’ And somebody doesn't talk, you know, I'm like, that's strange. Okay. Anyways, it's an office phone. So I, I go, I had my first phone, my uncle had bought me a Siemens, small phone.
Audrey: Yes I remember.
Rosebell: My uncle had given it to me because I could not afford anything like a phone at that point. Um, so my phone rings, then someone is like, ‘Oh, do you know who this is?’ So my feeling is that at the time, very few people had a phone. So I thought it was one of my friends. Maybe they were on holidays and maybe they are, they are teasing me. I'm like, uh, you know, I'm going to hang up if you don't tell me who you are. So he told me he was the editor, I had just given my phone number to. We're in the same newsroom he's calling me. Can you imagine? And I was mad. I just hung up.
I think a few more minutes, a few minutes later, I go into my inbox. You know, I find in my email, I found an email from him. It's like, ‘Oh, you're so beautiful.’ Can you imagine?
Audrey: Just 5min later?
Rosebell: He had sent, I think the email before, so I went into my inbox and read, I was so mad. My blood was boiling.
Audrey: Oh my can you imagine that, that’s awful.
Rosebell: And I was like, what do I do to this situation? So anyways, I am that strong-willed, I just immediately responded to him and told him, I'm not here for a beauty show. You should see in that email, when I read his letter, I was like, Oh my God, I'm so, so daring. I can't even imagine 18 years old. I'm telling this man, who's probably like 45 or 40. I'm like, I'm not here for a beauty show and I don't care your opinion of my looks.
Audrey: Yeah. Go you!
Rosebell: Things like that. I'm like, I give you my number for professional purposes. I don't think that. And I told him to act his age, it was such a take down.
Yeah. It was a proper take down. You know, I sent it, I was mad. Then I walk around, I think in the evening when I ask, when I was sent out for an assignment, I go and ask a friend of mine who was a photographer, very nice person, guy. I asked him, what exactly does this guy do? What is his power? So after I sent the email *laughing* I start thinking about what is going to happen.
He was like, Oh, uh, he does, this is what he lays actually determines which stories go on, which page and stuff. I'm like I'm finished. He's like what happened? I'm like something happened. I, I just took him on. So I don't know if I'm going to publish anything.
And he's like, okay, just, just keep a distance and see how he reacts, but make sure you just know he has powers like to lay pages and stories. You know he can throw out your stories stuff. So I start panicking. Then I start, I called my uncle. He was not in the newsroom.
Audrey: Uncle I have messed up.
Rosebell: Like I would not have. I'm a very independent person even if you are my relative in the same space and the chances of me coming to you with anything are zero. But that was a very urgent matter. Like I asked I, his phone was off actually, as I said, I had sent him and I didn't know, like he didn't tell me he was not around. So I learned later from the editor, that my uncle had gone to cover some, some out of, out of town news. You know, he was there for a few days. I started panicking. I sent him an email describing the whole situation, you know I am so young, I even forward him my response and the email.
Okay. Uh, so, so anyways, uh, he he's he's replies and tells me calm down, there's no nothing's going to happen to you.
Rosebell: And I'm coming back in a few days. We, I’ll see how to handle this, you know? Um, so I dunno. Um, I think when he comes back, he kind of has a conversation with his senior colleagues about this. I don't even know how that email ended up in another newspaper. So somehow there was, yeah, there was something happened around this time, but he told me was, I think he's colleague. Like he shared he’s like, we need to address this kind of thing. I walked into the newsroom after this was published, they called a meeting and they talked about sexual harassment about interns. There was like some women who were senior journalists, editors. They said, we need a meeting, but I wasn't even in there in the office.
So I came from my school. I used to come like later because I had to attend school. When I reached the reception. Everybody was looking at me funny it was like, what's going on. First I had not been the one who sent that. Like I, you know, like, no. So that was for me, the earliest. Anyway, they called me and asked me and, and told him, like, you cannot, you know, this is it, but I could stand up for myself against somebody with that much power, at the age of 18. So I think that you, you can’t really be an activist and stand up for people if you can't stand up for yourself, it starts with the self, you know, you can't otherwise, I don't know, like you can't hold it longer. Like you can't go on working longer if you have not done the inside job of standing up for yourself.
Audrey: Yes, yes. That, that is so important. I, a hundred percent agree. And, you know, talking about the movement, the #MeToo movement in Africa, um, this conversation was quickly followed by, you know, uh, discussion about marginalized workers in the humanitarian industry. That's the subsequent Aid Too movement, um, which exposed sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and just a general toxic working environment that women in particular are subjected to in the global aid sector. And this sector is white, male-dominated. You wrote a very personal reflection based on your experience in this. Tell us about it.
Rosebell: Yeah. You know, like how I’ve been talking about like, um, building consciousness around gender and my place in the world. Uh, not, uh, an individual story, but a story that is rooted in history and the systems that are around us. Um, I think that it was because of my studies around gender and that led me to understand that, to understand racial politics and racism and how it manifests right. And so I went, uh, I was invited to go, um, take part in a campaign and the campaign was on migrant rights and I was very passionate about at the time there was really a crisis happening, uh, along across the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Aden. Um, people were many African young people were on the move to Europe, to the Middle East in millions, you know? Um, so I thought it was a very important platform to really advocate.
And then that was at the time 2015, the rise of populism in Europe, you know, anti-immigration, anti-blackness all come and go together. I thought, you know, this is a very good campaign but then slowly the politics inside politics and organization were not sustainable. There were not enough black people in the organization. Um, it was totally like, it was probably 80 something percent white, and I'd never been in a place like that in my whole world. You know? Um, I don't think I was prepared for it, you know, uh, in, and also when you go to meeting and most people were heads were white male middle-aged men who, you know, see themselves as experts on our countries and our lives. And as a very conscious African, it was a struggle. It was a struggle to bring myself to these, uh, to these rooms. You know.
Audrey: Did you feel like the expectation was just, you know, keep quiet, just be grateful you're here?
Rosebell: Of course. And once I was there, there was one, uh, Kenyan guy who was one of the heads of departments. And this guy who actually hired me, a white, called the only black man in management to kind of show me off like, you know, I have hired a black person that was the first red flag. And it was like, why are you excited to hire me as a black person? Like showing me off? Like, yeah. So it was really in small doses, but to be honest the system had no means of accountability, if you were, you were facing workplace harassment, which I went through. Bullying at work by that supervisor and I wasn't alone. There was another Kenyan guy. There was a South Sudanese, uh, woman, uh, in the same department who, who joined later on, who also left around the same time as me and went through horrible, horrible episodes of violence from this person.
And there was nowhere to report, like even when the one of us reported and nobody responded to them, you know, but also, uh, I came to a place as a consultant. So you don't have many rights. You understand, in this space, you're a black woman, you're a consultant you're living in Europe. Um, you're far away from home, you know, uh, so many vulnerabilities that I had never experienced in my life. And you don't have security of job because your consultant. This same person, um, abusing you is the person to actually sign off If you were to get, you know, an extension, uh, a next contract. So it was quite, uh, I spent, I think half of the year in that place crying with my friends.
Audrey: Ohhh, I’m so sorry.
RosebellI: t was terrible. That’s how violent it is and you don't, it's so insidious because someone asks you, so what was that one thing? The person, it's not one thing, someone yelling at you, people when systems are white systems set up, um, as what we call the white industrial complex right now, to, it's like, you are the good white people trying to save these black people. And then when you're a black person in that system, it's a whole different experience. Yeah. But there was top level sexist, racist abuse, um, that actually the very system has no mechanism of even addressing.
Audrey: Yeah, I agree. Um, I'm remembering one of, a campaign you are involved in a push for Stella Nyanzi, uh, you came out publicly and really supported Stella during her court case on, uh, cyber harassment and offensive communication. That time she’d published a poem in 2019 condemning the president, president Museveni. Um, and in an article you wrote about one of her court appearances, you mentioned a moment where the magistrate suggested that she should take a seat. Um, it, it might be, she was standing and, you know, Stella, she decided no I'm going to keep standing. So she says, I'm going to keep standing. I'll stand for all women. Yeah. Could you talk about why the statement from Stella really resonated with you and put it in context of, you know, the movement and where, where were women that time in Uganda?
Rosebell: I covered a lot of court sessions for that case. And, um, in, in that moment, remember the magistrate was a woman who was presiding over this case. And of course she was often shocked out of her system because this is, this is, you know, these are poems that you have to put up in the courtroom and have to be read loudly
Audrey: When you show the evidence yeah.
Rosebell: Yes this is the evidence you're dealing with at your hand. So often the court sessions were long. So I think it had taken like five hours and Stella standing as an accused in the doc in, and then at some point the magistrate sort of having mercy on Stella says, um, I think Stella should have a seat. It's fine. You can have a seat. And Stella was about to take a seat and the magistrate adds, especially, you know, she's a woman. I was like, I'm sure she knew that this is not something you tell Stella. It is against all her politics to, because you have mercy on her because she's a woman. Does that mean if you, if there was another person in that dock it challenges on so many levels. So another human being you're supposed to treat them, you know how. But also, um, like quietly saying like she's weak because she was a woman. And Stella said, I'm not, thank you let's continue. And that was a very, very powerful moment saying I'm going to stand up for myself and for the women that you think are weak. And if that's, you know, it's like, of course she was not actually in a very good health, but she actually resisted with all her life.
Audrey: Stella’s resistance as you're covering it as we are witnessing it. It's, you know, as you're saying, it's multi-faceted and it's, uh, trying to challenge people to think about power in these structures very differently in ways that maybe they usually resist or are afraid of thinking about them. What do you think it's doing for young women, young queer activists right now?
SRosebell: I think it's very important to have a visible ally in a country where a few years ago you had a law that was calling for a death penalty for LGBTQ Ugandans. So having somebody consistent and afraid putting these issues in any movement that is against oppression, has to look at all types of oppression. You know? So she brings that good voice of checking different people, whether it's the men in the movement. She challenges them because, uh, we are not oppressed the same as a woman and a man. You know, we are not oppressed the same. When the, when the country systems break down, we don't suffer the same way. When you come from a country where 14 people, 14 women die everyday due to pregnancy complications. For a life of a woman in our country, it means at some point you will almost die.
And that's not something a man in our country will ever have to contend with. So I think that she brings that analysis to them, to, to her challenge, to the, to the status quo and say, yes, we have to be open. And also, you know, bringing other people that are marginalized, like queer Ugandans, you know, like they are Ugandans, they have the same rights as you, while a typical mainstream opposition person would not support LGBTI rights in our country.
Audrey: Yeah. Uh, Rosebell, we, um, you know, you're doing a lot of work. You're really busy. I am so glad you had the time to even come and chat. I saw that during the pandemic, you're chilling in the village, I was really following your Instagram and you're making this really beautiful baskets. So I just, wanted to hear about, about your self care and how you take care of yourself, amidst all, you know, facing these stories and these issues every day, which can be super draining.
Rosebell: When the, when the pandemic hit in Uganda, we reported our first case. Um, I was, uh, I was born in the village. I love, I love being out in the countryside and being with my parents, my, my relatives. I, for me, that is where my roots are. Even when people say, are you from Kampala? I'm like, no, I live in Kampala, but I'm not from there. I'm from somewhere else. You know, that's where my roots are. That's where people I know have seen me young and, you know, uh, know a lot about me. So I knew that I didn't want to, this to be a situation where I'm in an apartment in a city and stuck. So I was able to stay with my mom and my aunties. And then in one of the conversations we were like, what do we do?
You know, we are idle, we need to do something. My mom knows how to weave baskets very well. And my aunties are like, let's, let's continue. Let's do this. You know? Um, so then we started. I had not actually attempted to weave a basket since I was probably like nine years old because we used to do those things in schoolwork handwork in school in, in, in my area. So, actually we started uh basket. Weaving a basket is like so addictive, you know, once you wake up and you touch it, like you can’t stop people just say, oh, lunchtime. And if you want, like, to finish the basket, like you can actually say, I don't want lunch. I need to finish this. So it's very therapeutic work is, makes you focus. Like it's like, the world is not existing.
Audrey: It’s like a meditation kind of.
Rosebell: Yeah and also like, the weaving is good socially. So my aunties would come and we'll sit and do together and share stories. And so in that, you know, able to connect with people differently in a way I would not have connected with them if we didn't go back. And we made so many baskets by the time I was coming back to Kampala, after six months, we had many baskets. So I started selling for them. Yeah. Then until actually until like Christmas time, they also made so many baskets and I put them on my Instagram and send, send people to deliver them. And they did, they did really, um, it helped them a lot because, you know, everybody’s work was on hold, you know, in a lot of older women, of course, even if in the rural area, like you depend on your farm, they don't have problems with food, but money was nowhere to be seen. You know?
Audrey: Um, you've talked about lots of interesting things you're doing. Where can someone see your work? Where can they find you on social media online, anywhere?
Rosebell: Well, you can find me on Twitter at Rosebell K. And if you're tired of arguments, you can find me on Instagram. You know, where I like to retreat to, uh, Instagram, just, you know, easy life. I love fashion. I love other things.
Audrey: Yes. Um, by the way I should have started with Rosebell’s fashion is amazing, but continue.
Rosebell: Yeah, but you know, often, like we started with how people want to put you in a box. So often when I meet people there, I think they expect like a very big woman with a very big presence. And I disappoint many often. But, but also like when you're a woman in this space and you articulating these issues, people tend to think you have no life. Yes. Or they think that this is the only life you live. So we're always shocked to see my other side, like, you know, we are very multifaceted people. I mean, many things in one day, you step out you go and enjoy life however you can find it.
Audrey: You have been listening to Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Rosebell and her work at African Feminism.
In the next episode, we take the conversation to Gambia.
To learn more about Human Rights Watch visit HRW.org. Follow us on Twitter @HRW and onInstagram @Humanrightswatch for updates about the show.
Join the conversation using the hashtag Power of the Streets and share your thoughts with Rosebell or any of our other guests, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
Our producer is Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
The main theme song, Au Revoir is produced by Young OG Beats.
Till next time, thank you for listening.
- EPISODE 4
Truth To Power
It’s not easy standing up to the most powerful man in the country, but that is what Toufah Jallow did when she accused Gambia’s former president Yahya Jammeh of raping her. Toufah talks about her journey, from healing to activism.
Check out Toufah’s foundation here:https://web.facebook.com/iamtoufahmovement/?_rdc=1&_rdr
Watch HRW’s reporting on Toufah here:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0P0mQJyzosc
Audrey: This is Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power. My name is Audrey Kawire Wabwire, and I’m based in Nairobi, Kenya.
In our first season, we’ve been hearing from some of the people driving Africa’s #MeToo movement. If you haven’t listened to the first three episodes of this series, please make sure you listen to all of them!
In this episode I’m speaking to someone who spoke Truth to Power by standing up to a man who had been the most powerful person in her country.
Toufah: You don't have to speak up because someone else has spoken up. You don't have to speak up because someone else is telling you to speak up. You speak up when you feel like it's what is going to heal your soul.
Audrey: That’s Toufah Jallow. An activist, writer and former Gambian beauty pageant winner.
She took her fight to the doorstep of Yahya Jammeh, who was one of Africa’s most ruthless dictators. He ruled Gambia for 22 years, until 2017. When Toufah was 18 years old, Jammeh raped her.
Toufah: You speak up because you're ready to speak up, you think it's time to speak up. You speak up because you want to help other people speak up. It has to be at your own timeline, at your own pace. It could be five months later, it could be two days later, it could be 35 years later.
Audrey: Toufah spoke to me from Canada where she fled soon after the assault. Her story was covered by the international media and it was the centerpiece of a Human Rights Watch report.
Yahya Jammeh’s rule in Gambia was marked by widespread abuses, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detention.
Toufah took me back to the moment when she decided to go public.
Toufah: You know, I was just trying to look up to find one person who had come out or has a story or has sought the pathway to justice against their perpetrator. And going on, I'm sitting at this computer, I'm wearing my pajamas, and this is like 9:00 AM in the morning. I'm just scrolling through and I'm searching. I went to the search box on Google and I typed ‘Rape Gambia Fighting’. All that came up was UN statistics and World Health Organization statistics. I typed again ‘Gambian victim,’ all the words that you think you can put in to get to some type of article. I did that and nothing was coming up. Again, it was just statistics and numbers. One out of five, 10 out of this. And I said to myself, "Does that mean this doesn't happen in Gambia?"
That's impossible. Right? It happens. It happens, like everywhere else, but everything is hidden behind a number. And how can people talk about this? How can people find a pathway to healing when what happened to them is almost nonexistent in their lives and imagining a younger person than me with less opportunities who's not in Canada trying to figure out what is the blueprint to fighting for yourself and speaking up and realizing that there's nothing on that. That shifted my perspective, I think, more than anything.
Audrey: How did you find courage to finally speak to your mom especially? What did you tell yourself to give yourself courage to actually sit down and tell her what happened?
Toufah: I have not to this day think I have sat with my mom and spent 20 minutes talking about what happened or how it happened. Directly. Like just to her. No. I am still unable to do that. That’s why this whole thing is a process.
The first thing I did, because I was seeing a therapist at the time, the conversation went from how to find myself and heal, to how do we prepare for coming out? How do we prepare to talk about this from this cultural and social standing? How do we build up your resistance and your ability to take it all? Are you ready for that? Then, it went on. This was again another year of me trying to be ready for that moment, but I knew that I wasn't going to keep quiet as that process started.
Audrey: You have been public about your story for some time now. And I wonder, you've mentioned some of the things but I want to know more about what the hardest thing about coming forward has been?
Toufah: I think for me, there's so much. It's just enormous and that's why I'm in a place where I do deeply understand and sympathize with every woman who would rather not talk about it in as much as I'm advocating for speaking up. I think one of my biggest fears and one of the things that really did get to me was the realization that you get to lose yourself in the midst of this, right? Who you actually are and the things you like, the person you are kind of gets stripped away and you just become a victim of this thing and a story of this thing. That's all that it is.
And I think it's been a feeling of mourning for me. Knowing who I am, all that it is that I can offer is somehow lost and takes a backseat as if somehow, I cannot co-exist as all of these things. That has been hard for me personally to realize that I did not see that part coming.
Audrey: Yahya Jammeh was voted out of office and he eventually left Gambia. A Truth Commission was set up to hear from his victims, including those he raped.
Toufah: It’s been a very deliberate effort from me when I testified at the Truth Commission, because I know everybody listens to that in the country from rural Gambia to the open cities and deliberately always and as hard as that was, ‘cause my mom and my dad were sitting in the crowd during my testimony, is that to deliberately mention body parts like vagina and penis and breast. It was a shocking moment because we don't do that. And I deliberately did that because I did not want to not paint the picture of what violence looks like.
And sexual violence to be specific. I did not want to blur the lines I wanted them to see and probably to be able to visualize for the first time what talking about that honestly sounds like.
And it's been interesting to kind of hear even from other organizations that work within the region who say, after my coming out, when they go into villages, it's been very easy. Cause before when they walk into villages, they have to spend some time with the village head or the chief trying to go around conversations. "Oh, we are here to talk about women and boys, their issues or some of the sufferings that happened between them." And all these coded language to kind of explain and to be able to have access to the young people to kind of discuss sexual violence or harassment in general. And to now hear them say, " Oh, we're here to talk about issues like what happened to Toufah". And there’s a general understanding of what that is.
And to not have to spend hours trying to find a way not sound rude, not to sound inappropriate in order to even provide knowledge to the young people of that community. To just be able to be used as a reference point, to refer to that, it’s been great to push the conversation in that way.
Those are one of the things I'm really passionate about because once we are able to find a language for something, then it exists. If it doesn't have a language attached to it, it is non-existent and you cannot fight, eradicate and advocate against something that everyone pretends like doesn't exist.
For me, one of the things I think that has been achieved for me is to just know now we can talk about this. This is a national discourse, great! Just that, just the fact that it is a conversation that we have within our homes, because my issue has been the talk of almost every home and it's "Oh, did you hear that Toufah?". "Oh my God, what happened? This happened, that happened''. But at least probably I'm sure there are some families that even had this discussion for the first time.
Audrey: Toufah has also focused on normalizing the conversation at home.
Toufah: My youngest brother knows what has happened to me. We talk about consent. We talk about how he should be a gentleman and all of that. And he understands that at that age. Same with my sister, a privilege they get to have that I did not have and many of us don't have. At the house, my littlest sister, who's like seven years old would scream, "no to rape, no to rape, no to sexual violence". I mean, it's like a song and, it's just been great to know that that is a normalized conversation that we came from zero talks of it to almost frequently all the time talking about it. So, that's been awesome.
Audrey: You’ve talked about the risks, the hardships, the side eyes that you’ve gotten as a result of speaking out and being public about your story. Where do you draw your own strength from? How do you take care of yourself, Toufah?
Toufah: I think the strength in general and the idea of pushing forward comes from a line of feminine energy. My mother is a very mellow, quiet kind of an African mom but also a very resistant one, right? Resistance doesn't just come from the ability of being able to put your feelings and expression into words. There are people that act on it. I might be a bit more outspoken than my mom but I don't think I am stronger than she is. If you consider the socio-cultural backgrounds that they come from. You have my mom who was married off at 18. She had me when she was sitting for her final exams. Fighting for her place in school, even as she was married off without her consent at 18 years old. Not stopping there, but deciding to stop breastfeeding me, leave the village, travel all the way to the city just so she could start college. Against the advice of all the male figures in her life, to have herself go to college, then come back for me later. To gap her child bearing timeframe so she could go to university, married in a polygamous family of four other wives.
That to me is strength and that to me is feminism. To me, I find it very disrespectful when that is not recognized as feminism, but somehow other variations of it in other parts of the world, they consider that. That is not coming from an outside perspective, that is coming from us. That's why it hurts, because somehow when a Black woman stands for herself, she has to be influenced by an outside influence. But our mothers and our grandmothers have been a source of strength, a source of inspiration in their own way. I think we are just a representation of that, but I guess in a more radical way. Yeah.
Audrey: Toufah set the stage for this whole series of Power of the Streets. We’re going to hear all about the progressive and innovative ways that people are standing up on the continent.
I was keen to hear what she thinks is missing from the current #MeToo conversations.
Toufah: I think what is missing is a sense of ownership of our stories, right?
My story is out there now not because of me as a person, but because of the person who violated my body, right? The story is out there in a way and it’s sensationalized and it’s huge not because of me, because what happened to me, happened to so many other people, but because of the person who did it to me. My perpetrator, his position and his power, who he is, it's why my story is the way it is. Right? That's a privilege I have to recognize and continue to speak up because it is given that level of attention.
Audrey: But Toufah worries that it’s not just about personal ownership, but who gets to tell our stories to our communities, and the world.
Toufah: If I had gone to a local radio station, if I had gone to a media house, a national media house and met a journalist and kind of talked about this with them, would my story have gotten here? Would it be publicized? It's all these questions, and to know that all of these stories starting from Gambia to Senegal to Nigeria all the way to the east, to realize that the stories become national West African, African conversation, international conversation, only if outsiders pick it up. That is an unfortunate position that we find ourselves in.
I think to engage media houses or journalists in general, in Africa, to build interest in investigating such stories, to put much importance to women and survival stories in as much as we put into who went viral on, I don't know, TikTok. Then we would kind of take a collective responsibility and ownership of what our stories are. Because that's not happening, a lot of fighters who are trying to fight for justice and representation and women's right and victims' voices find themselves being accused of Western feminization or find themselves being accused of being paid money because their stories have been amplified outside, which is great, there is no problem with that, but that takes away a sense of ownership.
I mean, there's nothing wrong with the outside picking that, but can we start, can it start with us? You cannot be in a country with a citizen of that country, with a woman that has gone through what she has gone through and you get to hear about that story online from New York Times and every media house in that country becomes a secondary source to that. I think that's something we can definitely work on and invite our brothers and sisters in media and journalism to listen and think that we are front page or primetime worthy.
Audrey: Toufah has used her visibility to spark a movement in Gambia. With the hashtag #IAmToufah, many women in the region shared their own stories of rape and resistance. And Toufah led hundreds of young people on a march through the streets of Gambia’s capital, Banjul.
Toufah: Having those women come out in June, in numbers to march with me in the streets to say enough of this for the first time it was worth it. It was worth all of that. To have myself walk into rooms, to mentor young girls who you can see are so proud and so happy to be there. And feel comfortable to talk to me about their uncles touching their bums and their breast, and to realize in that moment that it is not okay. That just makes it all worth it. You know, to hear my aunties who are older than me ... there's this generational gap who opened up to me about their own stories. I mean, an uncle's friend, who's a man opening about his stories. Female friends of mine who take it upon themselves to confront their perpetrators, having people all over online with the hashtag #IAmToufah and their stories, people I don't know, they don't know me. Just having that open door and for a woman to open her mouth and mention the word rape perpetrator and even put the name of the perpetrator next to rape. It’s incomparable to anything else. That is real lives being affected.
Yeah, it's been worth every insult. It's been worth every sidelining, and it's been worth every side eye look, every rolling eye... it's worth me losing my sense of security. It's worth having to have security at my home for 24 hours. It's worth all of that....it is.
Audrey: That’s Toufah Jallow from Gambia. She’s living in Canada now and she’s writing a book. She also heads the Toufah Foundation, which aims to create safe spaces for survivors.
You have been listening to Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Toufah and the conversation she started in Gambia.
In the next episode, we’ll take the conversation to Tanzania.
Learn more about Human Rights Watch and our work by visiting our website HRW.org. Follow us on Twitter @HRW and on Instagram @HumanRightsWatch.
Join the conversation using the hashtag #PowerOfTheStreets and share your thoughts with Toufah or any of our other guests, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
This episode of Power of the Streets was produced by Jessie Graham and Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
We give special thanks to Frederica Boswell and Amy Costello.
The main theme song, Au Revoir is produced by Young OG Beats.
Till next time, thank you for listening.
- EPISODE 5
Taking On The Trolls
What’s it like being a vocal African woman online? Entrepreneur Carol Ndosi discusses the importance of women’s voices on the internet in Tanzania, and how her work led to the creation of support systems for women who are trolled on social media.
Check out Women at Web’s work on Twitter using #WomenatWeb<
Check out the Carol and the Launch Pad’s work here: https://thelaunchpad.or.tz/
Follow Carol Ndosi here: https://twitter.com/CarolNdosi
Here’s Carol Ndosi’s startup, Nyama Choma Festival: https://www.instagram.com/nyamachomafestival/
Audrey:This is Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire, based in Nairobi, Kenya.
We’ve been hearing from some of the people driving Africa’s #MeToo movement
In the previous episode, we spoke to Toufah Jallow where she took her fight to the doorstep of former Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh.
In this episode, we take the conversation to Tanzania.
Carol: That word activism in the current context in Tanzania, especially, um, with the current government, it doesn't really represent what I do uh, I would say. So, yes, uh, I am doing activism, but if I had the choice, especially in the Tanzanian context, I wouldn't refer to myself as an activist. Uh, but I would say that the media background, my journalism days are the, you know, the ones that actually instilled that passion in me to advocate for change in my community, in my society, in my country.
Audrey: That's Carol Ndosi from Tanzania. She advocates for social justice and gender equality especially focusing on Africa’s economic progression.
Carol: I did about seven years in media, straight from school, uh, started with, um, radio, um, doing the news and then, um, advanced to the newsroom and did broadcast TV, um, also around news, but also programs around current affairs. So that experience alone, I would say, created that foundation for me, that, um, sense of activism, but I don't really call it activism. I would like to refer to myself as an active citizen.
Audrey: Carol you're an entrepreneur working on women's rights, uh, to access the internet. You also write about, uh, women empowerment and you know how sometimes that phrasing can be problematic. You also addressed in your blog, how, uh, speaking up as a woman sometimes lead to tone policing. When you are being told that you sound bitter when you, um, raise some complaints about, uh, uh, a certain event, and we'll speak more about all these things, but to begin with, let's go all the way to the start.
Carol: I think it was right around the time when I was doing the morning breakfast show. At that time, it was the 101.4 BBC reference in Tanzania called SkyFM. And I think it was from the, the feedback that I had gotten from the listeners and how I voiced my response after that, that made me realize that, ah, you know, Carol, you actually have something to say and people are actually listening to you. So you can use this as a platform. And I remember from then on, I used to take, um, that engagement further and take it to my Facebook page, you know, and continue the conversation there. And take it offline as well. You know, when you meet people, you continue with the debate. So um, doing the, the radio show and that engagement, um, offline and online actually gave me an opportunity to get recruited for another show where I was given a chance to produce and present it. And it was all around, um, current affairs, what was happening in Tanzania, um, socio-political issues, socio-cultural issues. We had, uh, the segment called the expose segment and it was, um, all this brilliant idea and our head of programming at the time. I would say it was, it was the one stepping stone into my activism per se, because it did give me a chance to really dig deep. Um, at some point we really embraced investigative journalism and some issues. So I would say that that's where it began.
Audrey: And now you've come all the way. You're now working to bridge the gender digital divide through your work, um, at Women at Web. Uh, tell me about this work and why it's relevant to African women and in particular women in Tanzania.
Carol: Right so yeah, whenever someone asks me about that, I always, um, have to first admit my embarrassment because I wish that Women at Web was, um, was a movement that was pioneered, you know, from within the country *laughs*. But unfortunately or maybe fortunately, um, it's, it's a project under DW Academy. So they, in 2018, 2017 they identified, um, several professionals working in the areas of digitalization and entrepreneurship, but also around gender equality and women advancement programs. Um, and I was one of those, um, um, professionals who were invited to that workshop and what they did was they presented to us, um, what they thought was a situational analysis of the online participation of women in the East African region. And then the workshop, um, advanced to trying to determine why there was lower participation of women as compared to men and not just participation, but, you know, active and effective participation of these digital platforms.
So from that meeting, we were able to come up with a whole project that would then address the digital gender divide in the East African region through, um, addressing the top um, I would say the top affecting factors
Audrey: One of those things being the ability to connect to online platforms.
Carol: So yes, the skills, the literacy, the knowledge, the know-how for these women to get, um, online.
Audrey: Followed by the affordability factor...
Carol: … which is mostly around lobbying with the telecoms, you know, to really set up the infrastructure and the relevant, um, and respective ministry and so on. But lastly, it's also about the appetite because one of the, um, when we went out to the streets in Machakos, um, during that same workshop, what we found out was women were, um, not effectively and actively participating online because they did not find content that was relevant to their interest or, you know, that appealed to their interests.
Audrey: Through a survey conducted during the workshop, they found that most women chose to stay away from online platforms in their personal capacity or even in a business or career capacity.
Carol: That's how we actually arrived at, um, cyberbullying and online gender-based violence being one of the major factors that is affecting, um, active participation of women, especially in this African region. Uh, because through that, um, survey that we did, most of the women were saying, you know, I try to get online. I'm an entrepreneur. Um, and the minute I went on and I started posting about my business, this is what I went through. Um, another one said I'm a professional, you know, I believe in voicing out my, you know, opinion about different matters, but the minute I did that people started attacking me. You know, we met some women journalists who said it was quite hard for them to embrace the online platforms as opposed to their male counterparts, because they were then subjected to, um, body shaming and all sorts of, um, you know harassments.
So from 2017 to now, our focus has been around, um, promoting and encouraging online participation of women by first providing them with the capacity. So, um, the ability, the skills, we train them in digital literacy and digital citizenship, but then we also realize that we can't just tell them to get online if we don't have safe online spaces. So our work has also been majorly, um, around building safe, online communities and advocating for, um, um, safe usage of the internet and people really getting to know their digital rights and the additional responsibilities as digital active citizens. Yeah.
Audrey: What does that mean though? How do you create a safe space? Because I do understand what many of your respondents were saying that when I get online and talk, you know, there's all these people coming to attack me. I don't even know why they're doing that. So how then... are you training the women or who exactly is responsible for the safe space here?
Carol: Right. So, well, we, we do realize that first of all, it takes both the men and women, um, to create a safe online community, but because our target is the woman we have, uh, prioritize that particular target group. So what we are doing is yes, we are training them with the digital skills, but not just digital skills, not just how to navigate, you know, on Twitter, on Facebook or on these, um, social, uh, popular social platforms, but also the know how to, um, share, um, information in a secure way to protect the information as well. You know, so digital security is a major component of our trainings. Um, but also in the context of protecting themselves against, um, cyber bullying and online gender based violence, we do equip them with the, um, sort of like navigation skill and survival, uh, what we call a survival guide kits on how one can survive um, the internet is quite, it's quite, um, uh, terrifying when you put it like that, but that's the reality. So we, we do teach them about how, um, one should be aware of the digital footprint, um, what you leave on the internet, um, the, the kind of content, the kind of accounts that you expose yourself to, but also when you are subjected to any kind of harassment, what kind of steps that you can take. We've also been working with, um, digital platforms like Facebook East Africa, but also the respective authorities, like the Tanzanian police force, because we also realize that, for example, in the Tanzanian context, um, when it comes to online, gender-based violence, as much as we have the cyber crime law, the law still looks at, um, in the, in the instance of what we call revenge pornography or nonconsensual, um, intimate images. The law still looks at the victim, the woman as one of the offenders, because, uh, the law says that anyone who has taken part in, um, producing or publicizing, um, intimate images is also, um, you know, legally liable.
Carol: Yes, yes, yes, yes.
Audrey: So if my photo is posted then by someone else, then.
Audrey: Oh God.
Carol: Yeah. So the police say, how did you allow that to happen? Even if it was, you know, in an intimate relationship between you and your lover.
Carol: Exactly. Exactly. So a lot of our work has also been around changing the mindset of the Tanzanian police force, but also we have a lot of work. Um, I had on, um, lobbying with the legislators to really, uh, look at this law and come up with a section that could be used specifically to eliminate online gender based violence in that particular context where the law does not look at the victim as also the offender.
Yeah. So there's, it's, it's quite a lot of work, but we do believe that it's the mindset, um, and sort of like sensitization that needs to go into what online gender based violence is and how that has been manifested from how we have positioned the woman in our society and what, um, we, as a society look at what can be done to a woman and what, you know, what is justifiable to be done to a woman or what we expect her to be.
Audrey: Yeah, that's a lot, but I know your training program is really wide and deep and you know, you're doing a lot to cover access to internet and being safe online. But if you could give me one tip, so if I'm being trolled or someone I know is being trolled, what's one thing they can do to either stay safe or stop the trolling.
Carol: Um, so I'll give you, I'll give you this from the response, from the experience and, um, the feedback that we've gotten with our, um, sort of like groups that we work with. And the first thing we try to tell them is the first thing you should be concerned about is your psychosocial safety and the mental wellness aspect, because a lot of them. Um, because of what they went through, ended up dropping entirely up from the internet, you know, deleting their accounts or coming back with aliases or parodies. The first option we always give people is you can always just back off and ignore, you know, you don't have to respond. Um, and after that for your own mental wellness, because what will happen is it will go viral when you respond to that kind of content. What happens is it goes viral. So unless you're ready to face that, unless you're ready to really, um, dance to that music. What we tell people is just take a few minutes, take a few hours, just think about it, think about the, you know, um, how you would like to address it. And while you're thinking about that, remember as a digital citizen, depending on that particular platform, you always have an alternative to, um, an, an option to report that account. Okay. You can always unfollow that account. You can always mute any words that are associated with that attack. Um, and if you feel that is also not enough, what we also advise them is because legally, um, at least with the Tanzanian police force, when you go and report this kind of crime, they want, um, they also want proof that you have also tried to do something. So even when you're reporting, you should, first of all, take the screenshots of these accounts in a way that, um, they display authenticity that even the police look at it, they're like, okay, it was not photo-shopped. And then, um, try to take screenshots of how you try to report their account as well, because the police, the first question is they asked you, like, did you report it? You know, what action did you also take?
Audrey: Another challenge that the Carol and women at web have faced when encouraging women to report these accounts, is the language barrier that prohibits social media platforms from interpreting abusive content written in another language that is not English.
Carol: When most of this content gets reported, um, especially in the Tanzanian context, um, it's in Swahili. So unfortunately, yeah, with the digital platforms they don't have, I would, I would like to believe they don't have enough content regulators and moderators. Like for example, Twitter or Instagram, because what happens is a lot of this content is actually against their community-based guidelines. So when people report the accounts, they don't get taken down as opposed to when it was, it is in English. You know?
Um, but apart from that, what we also try to do is to offer what we call the peer to peer, um, emotional support. Um, we're also going to be launching a helpline this year because we also realize that, um, one of the major consequences from this, um, incidents is most of these young ladies end up committing suicide because they feel that they're life…
Audrey: Oh, that's horrible.
Carol: Exactly. Like we've had three suicide, um, incidents last year. Um, we've had 15 attempts. So all these young ladies at the end of the day, what, what, um, as much as we offer a sort of like, um, the guidance or legal guidance, like legal advice, like you can go into this and this, we also have to invest a lot in there, you know, um, mental wellness and just offering them that psychosocial support and, um, that emotional support and letting them know that, you know, they're not alone. And, uh, so we had this group launched last year called Jeshi la Dada and basically what they do...
Audrey: Could you translate what that means? Jeshi la Dada to someone listening, who doesn't speak Kiswahili
Carol: Right, Jeshi la Dada is a sisters army basically. And, um, the group, uh, uh, came about from one of our focus group discussions where we had with this young females from the age of 18 to 35, and we asked them again, like, what do they need? And they said that, I think I need a sisters keeper when something like that is happening. Uh, we feel that, you know, I feel that I'm alone. So I wish I had people who could be on my side, you know, who would say, I see you, I hear you, you know, and I'm here with you. You don't necessarily have to go and attack these people who are attacking me, but, you know, just, just be there for me. So that was the essence of the sisters army, the Jeshi la Dada, but they also went as far as mobilizing themselves and doing what they call an online patrol, um, voluntary by the way. And, um, they've been patrolling, um, um, the social media platforms and looking for abusive accounts and reporting them. And, um, they've had 53 or 53 accounts that were taken down across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as well. So they've been doing tremendous work and this is all on a voluntary basis.
Audrey: Okay. That's super impressive work. And I'm just wondering with your activism. If it is activism, which is really bold and being such a well-known feminist speaking out against violence against women and girls, especially online. How do your friends and family respond to your work?
Carol: *long sigh* Okay, yeah. So
Audrey: *laughs* That's a very long sigh. Come on, Carol.
Carol: Yeah. It's a long sigh because it's sort of like reminds me of what I went through about three years ago. So, and that's the reason why I don't, I don't like that, that name because the minute, the minute my government, um, decided what activism is. I was, uh, sort of like, um, I wouldn't say, yeah, I was actually a victim of, of what the current perception is. And because of that, my business suffered because of my, you know, me voicing out or me being vocal about whatever that was happening in the country. Um, and so because of that, um, like I went through a very hard time and because of that, my family went through a very hard time. I made my mom stay up most of the nights, you know, praying for me, praying that I would not get detained, praying that I would not get a money laundering case. *both laugh*
So it was quite, quite a trying two years. And I think that was a tipping point for me, because what I also came to realize was, you know, the, the different kinds of activism and, um, activism can also work in different ways. So the way I look at it right now is my activism is in development programs and how I can support women and youth to really advance, you know, um, socioeconomically and how I contribute to that is through these development programs. And it's quite a different direction from what I used to do four years ago, when, you know, where we take it to this, um, public platforms and call out the government or whatever authorities and say, you know, you should be doing this and this. I'm not saying that that doesn't work, but what I've also realized that we can actually go beyond advocacy.
So it was hard for them. It was really hard for my family, because at some point it did affect them really hard. Um, but we managed to work through it. Um, and right now I think they're only left with the yeah the whole feminist cause right now say any, any woman in Tanzania who speaks out is either, um, bitter, because she's not married, which I'm not. So that's always, that's always the, that's always the point that they hit me with. Like, you shouldn't be talking, you're not even married.
Audrey: So if, if someone is married, that's when they can talk.
Carol: Apparently you see again, we're going back to the position of the woman in the society, um, in the, in the popular context for a woman to, to, I suppose, to have that sort of respect from the community, she has to be married. So I'm a mother of two and I'm not married. And to many of the people that I try to speak with, I have not, um, justified my, I, I've not sort of like gained my right foot. I'm not even sure how to put it, but yeah, for some reason I'm not, I don't deserve to be speaking about what I am speaking, you know.
Audrey: Yeah, you do a lot of work and it's, it's *laughs* very, very...
Carol: Yeah, I should, I should be writing right now. Like I haven't, I haven't been able to write for the past four months, sort of like had an writer's block. I'm blaming it on COVID. Yes. Yeah.
Audrey: Yes its a pandemic. Trust me. It is. So, but how are you taking care of yourself though? You know, how, how, how do you rest after you do such heavy work and face all these things you face online, how do you go back and take care of yourself?
Carol: Uh, I think detox is very important. Um, like it's a very important aspect of my life. I try to do that cause it can get really overwhelming, um, working in the, in the, in these you know, in this areas, at some point you, you get so immersed in it and you really take over people's experiences and their challenges and what they're going through. Um, so yeah, so how I deal with it, Oh my God. It's, it's, it's pace, you know, how to pace yourself. Prioritizing like what exactly I should be focusing on and really taking that time off and saying, you know what, right now I don't have the mental bandwidth. So I'm just going to take a breather and come back to this. I also do. I work out a lot for the past year and a half. I've been working out a lot.
Audrey: Where do you think the movement is going in the next five years, the gender based violence movement, uhm, the digital rights movement. Where do you see this movement going?
Carol: I think, um, well towards inclusive economies, especially right now, as we're seeing the pandemic, um, well, it's coming back, we're seeing the second wave right now. So the digital economy and digital societies, you know, there's really going to take off. So, um, I believe the #MeToo movement offline and online will continue because, um, unfortunately with the pandemic, we've also seen a lot of, uh, what do you call it? An influx of digital citizens who just keep on coming into these, um, online spaces with no, um, knowledge of their digital rights or their digital responsibilities, or even the, the law as it is, or even the community, um, you know, guidelines from these platforms. So there's quite a lot of, uh, a lot of work that I see will have to continue. Um, in that particular context, in the spirit of digital inclusion, there's going to be a lot of work. So the movement is going to just get stronger. I see a lot of other, um, a lot of other stakeholders getting on board. Like just the other day, we, we, uh, partnered up with UN Women Tanzania who obviously have the mandate to eliminate gender based violence as an international organization. And they are now embracing that as, you know, as a major component in their programs. And we have all other, um, all these other organizations, as well as the respective authorities like this year, we're going to be working with the police. We're going to be working with, um, um, all these other partners. I see the movement getting stronger. And like we said, it's like we say, in, in, at Women at Web, offline should mirror online and vice versa. So even in the context of the #MeToo movement, um, what we have seen is now that the #MeToo movement is now, you know, gone online as well.
Audrey: Yes. And, um, Carol, can you tell me where people can find you online, all the amazing work that you're doing?
Carol: Right. So I'm on Instagram, um, Twitter yeah and Instagram and Twitter you can get me at Carol Ndosi, that's C-A-R-O-L N-D-O-S-I uh, you can also find me on medium. Um, I write a couple of things in there as well, but @CarolNdosi, um, on Facebook as well, Carol Moses Ndosi, you can also find me on LinkedIn, the same name Carol Ndosi.
Audrey: Okay, great. And on your social media pages, I know you can find all the work she does with the festival you host. Um...
Carol: Yeah, we didn't talk about that.
Audrey: Tell me about the festival.
Carol: Right. So I'm an entrepreneur as well. I started my events management company in 2011, um, after working for three years, um, as the head of events in another company. So yeah, I've been doing that since 2011. We are 10 years old this year and we have been running what is now the largest barbecue festival in East and Central Africa. Um, so yeah, it's called the Nyamachoma festival. It's Swahili yeah, but it's in English it's just the barbecue festival.
Audrey: Okay. I think Nyamachoma festival sounds better.
Carol: Right? There's a zing to it *laughs* there is a zing to it. Yeah.
Audrey: You have been listening to Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Carol and her work in the Women at Web organization as well as all her other businesses.
In the next episode we take the conversation to South Africa.
To learn more about Human Rights Watch visit HRW.org. Follow us on Twitter @HRW and Instagram @humanrightswatch for updates about the show.
Join the conversation using the #PowerOfTheStreets and share your thoughts with Carol or any of our other guests, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
Our producer is Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
The main theme song Au Revoir was produced by Young OG Beats.
Till next time, thank you for listening.
- EPISODE 6
Where The Heart Is
How do you prove that the home you fled was unsafe, if you could never report the violence you faced there? Thomars Shamuyarira is a Zimbabwean migrant rights activist living in South Africa. He speaks on South Africa’s restrictive asylum process and the experiences of LGBT people from elsewhere in Africa seeking asylum there.
You can follow the Fruit Basket on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Fruit Basket won a prestigious award, read about it here.
Audrey: This is Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire and I am based in Nairobi, Kenya.
We’ve been hearing from some of the people driving Africa’s MeToo movement and that journey now takes us to the LGBT migrant community in South Africa.
Everyone we speak to in this series has a second, a minute, or an hour when they realise that they need to make a change. The moment when they decide to step up, and rise.
Thomars: Homosexuality, or it's just a... it's that elephant in the room, that issue that nobody ever wants to address or ever talk about. So I, I didn't know. I didn't know anything. I just knew that I felt differently from the way that everybody else my age was feeling, you know, and I didn't know what to make of it. I didn't know who to talk to about it. I didn't know who to ask, so it was really confusing.
Audrey: Thomas Shamuyarira is a transgender man born and raised in Zimbabwe and has been living in South Africa for 10 years. He speaks about the hardships of growing up in a country where sexual orientation and gender identity, outside of being heterosexual and cisgender, is frowned upon and even taboo.
Thomars: I just had to try and just be like, everybody else, do the things that the other girls my age were doing, just so that I could yeah fit in. But even though I did my very best, I just knew that that was not, that was not me. You know, that was not who I was. And yeah, I just had to figure things out.
Audrey: And how did you get to learn more about yourself? Was there a person you met? You know, you're saying there were no books, magazines. How did you then, you know, what was the journey? How did the journey begin to find yourself?
Thomars: Okay, so yeah, uhm in high school, I had a best friend. I... she thought we were best friends, but for me it was obviously more than that. I had other feelings for her, other than those of, of, of friendship. II loved her actually. And yeah, so for her, it was just, oh, okay we are very close. We are best friends. And we always, we are always together. We're doing everything together. We spend most of our time together and for me it was something else. So, uh, then I knew, okay, that I was different because obviously at that point, every other girl my age was into boys. They were starting to fall in love with boys. But for me it was just not the same. I didn't know what it means, still at that point. And then I think how I came to discover or to actually figure out what it meant and what I was and was way after high school, when I met a masculine presenting woman who is, um, uh, lesbians, or I think they are called Butch lesbians or studs. I met her. I didn't know what, what she was also at that point, but I just saw her. And I sort of like saw myself in her, you know, like what I've always wanted to, I mean, like how I've always wanted to dress, how I've always wanted to present myself. I saw that in, in, in that person. So I approached her and I spoke to her. And her being a female that is attracted to other females, she thought, she assumed when she saw me walk up to her that I liked her in that way. But for me it was just like, oh, that person, you know, I just want to be friends with her so that, you know, I don't know, we can just be friends because I see myself in her.
Audrey: So they do exchange phone numbers and continue chatting.
Thomars: She introduced me to GALZ. So there was actually a function happening at their, at their premises. And she took me there, like, I think a day or two after we met. And yeah, my life changed. That's when I, I just knew like when I got there, I was shocked. They were like, boys that looked like girls. They were girls that looked like boys. There was just a whole, you know, it was just a whole different world for me. So from there that's when I started learning from there, that's when I started to get an understanding to say, Oh, okay. So what I am is lesbian and I'm, I'm putting air quotes. I'm using air quotes here, but you can't see me obviously. So like, I was like, Oh, okay. So if I'm a girl that is attracted to other girls, then that means I'm a lesbian. And then there's, you know, and if boys that are attracted to other boys they're called gay and all of that. So the moment that I met her, I mean, that's, I can say that's when the education or the journey began for me to understanding who I was, to getting to where I am today. I think meeting that, that person was the beginning of everything for me.
Audrey: Hmmm, hmm so, so finding that community and, you know, something that you've never been exposed to before, was it... were these like friends who, you know, your family knew about? And so how was that journey between, you know, you finding, um, this new family and your family at home? Yeah.
Thomars: So, yeah. Um, I started dating this girl that was very out and very proud. So, you know, you're in the closet and you're dating somebody who is out and proud. They can't be pulled back into the closet for any reason. And you can't come out of the closet that quick, because you know, you have to, there's, there's a lot of things that you need to consider before you put yourself out there. So yeah, people started talking and my sister heard about it. And then also, yeah, somebody had told my mom also about me being seen with people that look very suspicious, boys that look like girls and girls that look like boys. And my mom approached me and asked me about it at some point. And I denied it, that they were just, they, we just happened to be in the same place at the same time, but we were not together.
You know? So yeah. So one time me and my sister had a fight and then she sort of like just told my mom that I was a lesbian because she was very angry with me. So my mom, because she had also been hearing all of these things from different people. She then she, she, she didn't even have to ask me because it made sense, you know? And yeah, that's, that's how it caught up with me. I was then disowned instantly, like disowned, kicked out and told never to come back and told that I was a disgrace to the human race, to the family, you know? So it's, yeah. It's funny now. But then back then it was, it, it wasn't, it wasn't funny at all, yeah.
Audrey: Okay. Okay. Um, in this series, we are focusing on the #MeToo movement in Africa and the violence faced by LGBT people is an important part of this movement. And you're an activist in South Africa, your work revolves around supporting migrants, LGBT people. But you know, before we go into that, tell me about your migration story. Why did you decide to leave a place that was home?
Thomars: Okay. It wasn't really a personal decision, but then, you know, like after I was disowned and kicked out, then my mom I think after a year plus yeah. After almost two years, she then I don't know what it was. Okay. Then she just called me out of the blue and then instructed me to come back home. So yeah, where I was, wasn't nice. So I was like, okay, I know that if I go back home, it's not going to be the same, obviously, but yeah, I'm in hell already now with this person in this place. So which hell is better than the other, you know? So I just made the decision, like, okay, since you say that I must come home, let me go. I have nothing to lose. So I went back home and as I predicted home wasn't home anymore. It wasn't nice. It wasn't comfortable. It wasn't good for me. The people in the area, also they, they had heard about why I was disowned and why I was kicked out. So everybody was talking and also at home, like, it was very difficult for my mom to accept and to understand like, how is it even possible? Like where did you get it in the family? They've not heard about it. Nobody else is like me. So why me? You know? So it was very difficult for me and for her,
Audrey: But she, she called you to come back home. Didn't she know that, you know, you'll just come back as yourself or what was the understanding there?
Thomars: I don't know, maybe it was like, okay, so you've learnt your lesson. Yeah. Like it wasn't, it wasn't home anymore. I wasn't free to laugh. I wasn't free to just be, you know, a child in, in, in their mom's house, you know, it wasn't like that. So, uh, there came a point where I, I have a sister who was already living here in SA. So she had a tenant that was going to open a business, a hair salon. So she needed people to help her with that. So my sister then knew that I was there at home, not doing anything. And she told my mom about this person and this, this opportunity. So yeah. They were like, okay, yes, I can come to South Africa. Only if I promise that I will stop this thing. If I promised that I was going to change and I wasn't going to look at women, the way that I looked at women and stuff, you know, so what options did I have? I made the promise. I said, I was going to change. I said, I wasn't going to do it anymore. I say I was going to be the best daughter ever. I was going to do my best. So yeah, after making those promises, then yeah, the arrangements were made and I came to SA. So yeah, I was living with my sister and I was working with this woman at this hair salon. But then I, this wasn't a good idea was it, putting me in a place where women... *laughing*
Audrey: Of course you are going to, you know, fall in love.
Thomars: Oh God, of all the places to, to put it, to put a lesbian-identifying woman, put them in a place where different kinds of women walk in every single day. Yeah. So I fell in love with someone and this was like barely a month after I moved here. You know, and after making the promise that I would never do it again. So yeah. Obviously the woman was a straight woman. She was not a lesbian, she was just attracted to men and yeah. You know how it is wanting something that you can never have. It's crazy. But then, because you want it so much, you're willing to die or do anything and try your very best to get it. So that's the predicament that I found myself in. I fell in love with the straight girl. And you know, when you like somebody, you can hide that you like somebody. But when you love, when you're in love with someone, it's, you, you cannot hide that.
You can do your best, but then you just fail. You know so that's what happened. I fell in love with this woman and yeah, my sister ended up finding out, she kicked me out. She found out it was a girl and she kicked me out. So luckily the lady now that I was working for, the one with the hair salon, she was like, you're going to kick her out where is she going to go? Because then, you know, we're working, but then we’re not making a lot of money yet at the salon and I'm not paying her enough. How is she going to survive? You know? So I'm going to go with her and then we're going to look for a place and we're going to share so that I can help out. So my sister was like, good riddance just, just get out the both of you, you know? So we left and then I started living with her. So yeah, that's, that's how I ended up here.
Audrey: While living in Zimbabwe, Thomars was automatically identified as a lesbian, because he was seen as a woman attracted to other women. But he always felt masculine and wanted to express himself in that way. It was only when he moved to South Africa where he discovered the term transgender and this unleashed his confidence to begin transitioning.
And so you, like many other LGBT Africans, migrate to South Africa? Why is this, why SA?
Thomars: Well, it's the easiest place for us to get to number one. And then it's also like, it's not a criminal offense to be yourself here, to be gay, to be trans, to be queer, to be lesbian, to be bisexual. You can be yourself freely in this country, which is why it is, which is why we, we, everybody, even until today, there are so many LGBT people that are in their countries that criminalize homosexuality that wish, or that hope to get to SA one day, you know, because of that, that's all we want. We don't want so much. We just want the freedom to be ourselves. You know, that chance to just love who we want to love freely and not have somebody arresting you for that. You know, we can be ourselves here. I think that's why. And also the economy here is, is thriving compared to other African countries. So yeah.
Audrey: Now, well, now that, you know, considering those factors, um, now, now that you're like someone is there at the border, is it easy to get, the process of gaining asylum as an African LGBT migrant? Um, what's that like exactly?
Thomars: It's very complicated. Um, okay. So this is how the whole process or system is supposed to work. You are supposed to state, at the port of entry, your intentions of seeking asylum right. But then, um, people actually opt to just get in as a tourist, or as a visitor. And then they, um, find their way once they, they, they've settled in. So from my understanding, from the conversations that we've had with people is that, um, one it's scary. You never know, you know, you never know who you going to talk to. You don't know how they're going to receive you. And you don't know if they're actually willing, they're going to be willing to, to take you through the process. If they actually want you to proceed, you know, this is the very, very wrong way of doing it. But then again, what options or what other choice do people have because you don't want to be sent back. That is the worst thing that can ever happen to you.
Audrey: Yeah. I can see that, you know, dilemma of trying to do it legally or going back home to face violence, potential violence.
Thomars: Yeah. You know, like going back to whatever it is that you were running away from. So then the process then again now is once you get in, you now need to follow the process, where you go to a refugee reception office and then state your case. And yeah, that is also not very easy because we've had cases or situations where people were asked to prove that they’re really gay or people were asked, why they are gay. You know, there's just no way to do that.
Audrey: Like they need proof of why you're escaping?
Thomars: Yeah. So for example, you need to come with a, because then you will, you, you have to have gone through an ordeal where maybe you were attacked and then you, uh, reported the case, or you have to have maybe the, the police reports or maybe there was an incident. And then you ended up in the papers in the newspaper. So you have to bring a newspaper article and say, look at this, you know, uh...
Audrey: Yeah, that, that is really difficult. You know, you were saying that you are leaving home, you are afraid of, you know, people's words turning into something physical, but they want proof of something physical.
Thomars: What it is, is the fact that the constitution of your country says, criminalizes, homosexuality. That's reason enough for you to leave and come and seek asylum here. You know, that's reason enough for you to leave and go seek asylum anywhere else.
Audrey: Now let's go back to your, um, activism. When you look at your childhood and your experiences as a migrant, what's the exact moment that pushed you to speak up and become an activist? Was it a moment or a series of events if something?
Thomars: If something happens, especially if it's something bad, I always imagine how people that are less, let me not say less privileged that are more disadvantaged than I am, I always imagine how they are dealing with a situation or coping with that situation. Because me, with the little advantage that I have, I'm actually struggling. What more somebody, you know, else. So it was always that for me, the fruit basket, like was, was born out of, I always want to say frustration and passion, my passion to want to help people. And then the frustration of not knowing who to turn to when I need assistance, like going to people to look for certain assistance and people not knowing how to help me and referring me to the next person and the next person actually saying, why did they send you to me? Because, you know, type of, type of situation.
And then I was just like, okay, I am here now in this situation, in this foreign land. What do I do? Okay so I am not a professional. I don't have the experience. I know nothing at all about all of these issues. You know, I am still trying to figure things out. I am still trying to figure myself out, but then again, okay. So in the process of me figuring things out, in the process of me trying to find out what to do to get what I want, in the process of me just trying to find a way to survive in this foreign land. Why don't I just create something, a platform that can then, as I get help for myself, I get it for everybody else at the same time, you know?
Audrey: Yeah. That's, that's really inspiring to me. That's really admirable, um, how you've come to where you are and, you know, talking about your organization, the fruit basket, you just mentioned it. You do a lot of impressive work for migrant LGBT people in South Africa. Tell me more about the organization. Um, what, what exactly do you do? Um, and, and what have you achieved so far?
Thomars: So I created the fruit basket so that LGBT asylum seekers and refugees like myself can just have that place where they can run to whatever challenge or whatever problem that they may be facing. We now act as a referral system. So if somebody comes with whatever challenge and we are unable to help them as the fruit basket, we know where to direct them to. We know that if they can go to a certain place or a certain organization with a reference saying that the fruit basket referred us to you, they will be able to get that kind, that assistance.
You know, this is like a practical solution. Oh, okay. You need a place to stay. I'm going to help you to get a place to stay. You need food to eat. Okay. We going to do our best to help you to get food. That's what we are focusing on, on at the moment, providing practical solutions to people's challenges that they're facing on a daily basis. We want to focus on, you know, helping with, with this documentation issue, because then if you start looking at people and the problems that they're facing, most of them come from this, you know, this is like the root of, of all the problems. That's where they are coming from.
Audrey: Yeah. And as we are winding up, you know, you're pretty busy Thomars. Um, you know, doing a lot of work, really cool stuff. How are you taking care of yourself?
Thomars: Okay, so for me, like, I love, I love, love, love, love working out more than anything. So I do work out. I run like almost every morning, five kilometers. That helps me a lot.
Thomars: I know, I do. Yes. That really helps me a lot. I work out I, uh, but I know I need to, I need to do more. Like I need to talk to professionals because last year I got married, this was in July. And in November everything just came crumbling down and I am not married anymore. I think I need to contact Guinness World Record so that they can put my mine as the shortest marriage in the history of marriages. So yeah, that I have not dealt with that yet, I, you know, like a lot of like good things and bad things happened at the same time. And I didn't know. And I still don't know how to feel, you know, like by my divorce and my top surgery happened two days apart and the United Nations Innovation Award that the fruit basket won, the announcement came, I think about a few days after that. You know, so it's like the worst thing and the best thing happened at the same time. And I don't know how to feel. Do I celebrate my surgery that I have wanted for the longest of times that I have waited for? Or, oh okay I just got divorced, wowza’s oh I just won, we just won this big award we just got the recognition and the visibility that we have always wanted. You know at the moment I just feel like one day I will just explode and so yeah.
Audrey: Okay. Thomars what's your message for other activists doing the work of protecting LGBT people from violence on the continent.
Thomars: First of all, thank you guys for the work that you do. It is essential, you know. Um, sometimes people just need that person to look up to that person that can just stand in front of them and then lead them and take them to wherever that they want to go and you guys are doing that. And you guys are that those people for, for the communities that you serve.
Audrey: You have been listening to Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire in Nairobi, kenya.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Thomars and his work at The Fruit Basket.
In the next episode we will take the conversation to Ethiopia.
To learn more about Human Rights Watch visit HRW.org. Follow us on Twitter @HRW and on Instagram @Humanrightswatch for updates about the show.
Join the conversation using the #PowerOfTheStreets and share your thoughts with Thomars or any of our other guests, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
Our producer is Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
The main theme song, Au Revoir was produced by Young OG Beats
Till next time, thank you for listening.
- EPISODE 7
Student leader Ruth Yitbarek wants more Ethiopian women to understand their rights and speak up for themselves. She speaks about the Yellow Movement that continues to grow in Ethiopia’s universities and how it challenges abusive societal norms.
Read about the Yellow Movement here: http://www.aau.edu.et/the-yellow-movement/
Follow Ruth here: https://twitter.com/ruth_yitbarek
Audrey: This is Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power. I’m your host Audrey Kawire Wabwire based in Nairobi, Kenya.
In the series, we have been speaking to some of the people driving Africa’s #MeToo movement. But we are not done yet - in this episode we’re taking the conversation to Ethiopia.
Ruth: I think growing up, I've been really conscious about things around me. l’m politically very conscious. I think I can say I’ve been very conscious because l grew up in that kind of household. First year in the university doing my undergrad was my waking moment I can say that for sure.
Audrey: Ruth Yitbarek is a 24-year-old activist from Ethiopia. She is the campaign manager for The Yellow Movement, a university based student movement that addresses issues of gender based violence.
In this podcast, we are talking about the actual moment in time when someone decides to stand up against injustice, maybe through a movement or an event, maybe through a hashtag. You're an activist, Ruth, and you've been part of a major women's rights movement, the Yellow Movement. And you also work with UN Women and other platforms pushing for women's rights. What led you to activism?
Ruth: I grew up in a very feminist household to begin with, and also I went to all girls school. I've never been conscious about my gender or if I'm a woman or a man I've never been conscious. We call that privilege, right? When I joined university, I went to Mekelle University and I had a very bizarre moment. People actually are woman and man, for me that was a new thing. First our teacher gave us this assignment saying, describe your future husband, or describe your future wife. The way they described their future wife was really shocking for me. Gender was a very, very big thing in the university and people are discriminated against based on their gender. People come from very remote areas and I said, “You know, Ruth, you have been privileged enough, but it's time to say no!”
Audrey: So when you say you grew up in a feminist household, how was it exactly? How was your interaction with your siblings, your family? What exactly do you mean?
Ruth: I only have one sister and in our house my mom is a leader. My dad is, he is also an educated person. He has never made us aware of if we are a woman or if we are a man. He raised us, or like our family raised us, to be good humans, to focus on our education and what we want to become. You know in our house talking about periods was a very normal thing, talking about different things was very normal in our household. We have never had a gender role.
Audrey: Wow. That's really interesting. So maybe we talk about the Yellow Movement. It's a movement in Ethiopian universities. How did it start and how did you get to join it?
Ruth: The Yellow Movement started, I think, 10 years ago. It was started by a Law school teacher and her students. There was this case, [inaudible], her husband killed her in broad daylight, on a public street. She was shot and whenever this kind of thing happens there’s a public outrage. Everyone would be so angry and people start condemning them but then again it just seizes. We said, they said we're going to be small but very consistent voices. We are going to talk about gender inequality daily, we are going to talk about gender based violence daily. We might be small but we’re going to be consistent. That’s the main idea behind the Yellow Movement is that.
And how l joined it? One of the founders, the law teacher, was Blen Sahilu. She’s someone l really look up to, she is my role model, my mentor. She was on Twitter and she was active and there were, so Zone 9 were bloggers they were detained in Ethiopia. So Blen was really active. She used to talk about them, do campaigns for them on twitter and l was really interested. I was grade 12, I remember. So I was really, you know, I was really interested. One time l went to the court to see their case and l met Blen there. She invited me to a book club, it was the year l was to join University. I think it was around June and I joined the University in September.
So, I met Blen there. And l met the Yellow Movement team and they were like very young feminists and I was really impressed by how well they know what they want. I think we read the Alchemist and all of them, they all knew what they wanted. They were very articulated in the things that they want and I said oh my God. My friends are bright but they were different. First they were university students, yeah much older than me but l was really impressed by how well they talk and how well they expressed themselves. I said hmm this is interesting and l want to join.
Audrey: That's amazing. So this movement is trying to make sure that people hear about gender based violence every day and women's rights. So what exactly do you do?
Ruth: So in the Yellow Movement, one thing we do is table day. So we have table day, every week. We talk about different things, we raise different issues, we also have a book club. We also have yearly campaigns, we have monthly campaigns. We have this kind of things. We also have different programmes, mentorship programmes, we have scholarship programmes for women.
Audrey: Those programs seem super interesting and they're really going in the right direction. What impact has the movement had to date and where do you think it's going?
Ruth: I think one of the impacts that we have is whenever something happens, people say, where are the Yellow Movement? And I think our name is bigger than us. I've always said that.
Ruth: Yeah. It's bigger than us.
Audrey: How so?
Ruth: People forget that it’s a student movement. They forget that it's a student movement, they think it’s led by all these big older professionals who, you know all Yellow Movement members are volunteers. We are under the Addis Ababa University and others from Mekelle University. You know, they’re volunteers, they’re students, most of them are students and us who’ve finished school, we are mentors. The members, the volunteers are students, are law students, sociology students. They are very bright. They give everything that they have for the movement. I think by now most people know about the Yellow Movement.
If they are like conscious, if they know what’s going on in Addis and other parts of Ethiopia then they know about the Yellow Movement. I think, for example, our scholarship programme has made a very huge impact. One of the things we did was ‘know your rights’ we made sure that everyone who joins the university knows about the code of conduct and we revise the code of conduct - that's our university code of conduct. We have yearly activisms. So these are one of the things that have made a really huge impact.
Audrey: I was… I read a story on violence against women a while back. This article on Buzzfeed, I think a year ago, which was talking about the surviving R Kelly documentary. So, you know R Kelly the musician? He was abusing girls, Black girls in the US for many, many years. And the article was discussing how this documentary and the discussions around it was integral to the #MeToo discussions among, Ethiopian communities, both at home and in the diaspora. Tell me about this.
Ruth: So yeah, I think it happened a year or two years ago. There was this whole #MeToo movement that started in Ethiopia I think [inaudible] , they're the ones who started it. I think the, the conversation has been going on a lot, but I think the internet community was really surprised by the stories that came out. And for me, one of the best things that came out was, I don’t know if you know but, Kalela, Kalela the parents guide to protect their kids from gender based violence.
Audrey: So, is this government led or is it a group ?
Ruth: No, it’s just it was an individual initiative. Her name is Selam Mussie. She is a media and gender consultant, and she started it with her friends. I think a month or two ago, they published their first guide book for parents to protect their kids from gender based violence and sexual exploitation. That was one of the very good things that the #MeToo movement in Ethiopia brought. It also opened up a very good discussion for the online community to talk about gender based violence. To talk about you know, our abusers are not monsters, they are the people we interact with everyday. They are our families, they are our friends. So we know them, we have talked with them and that is a very good thing to know. It was an eye opener I think for most Ethiopian online community.
Audrey: So why do you think… You are saying there was a #MeToo movement already in Ethiopia. But this really brought the discussion online in a different way. Why do you think people were surprised?
Ruth: First we don’t talk about this. I don’t know in other cultures but in Ethiopia abuse is not something that you talk about on a daily basis. Either you get shamed by it or... but you don’t talk about it. And when you talk about it people take it as “why are you always crying?” “it happens to everyone”. Most of the abusers are someone that, you know, people that we know like family or even friends like uncles, so I think people were really surprised by that. I think the stories that came out were really overwhelming, they were really heartbreaking you know.
Audrey: Yeah, I remember reading those stories and it was heartbreaking and shocking at the same time. So speaking about the pandemic we are going through right now, it's really restricting us a lot and changing the way we are living. But as you said, there's also a conflict going on and we don't know what will happen. Especially in many regions in your country. We know that during conflict and when there's a disease outbreak, women are usually uniquely affected because we experience a whole other layer of violence. Are there any patterns of violence that you're witnessing in these times and how are you as activists organizing around this violence?
Ruth: The conflict that’s going on was really personal because l went to school Mekelle University, in Tigray region. It was personal for me and my family was there, you know, something very personal. There was also internet shut down so we didn’t know what was going on. But, you know, it’s expected whenever there’s a war, there’s going to be a rape. It’s never going to be separated. Yeah so It’s really heartbreaking, there are a lot of stories that are coming out. Lots of you know, people are complaining of rape, gender based violence, physical violence, emotional violence. It’s really heartbreaking what’s happening in Tigray. Lots of stories, people they don’t have access to banks, people they still don't have access to food and sanitation and sanitary products.
So like most Tigray activists are organizing, I don’t know if you have seen reports from UNHCR, WFP but women are facing lots of challenges in that area. So I think Tigray activists are organizing and calling out this and other activists in Ethiopia. And women activist are calling out this and organizing and collecting stuff like sanitary products to go to the affected region. But one of the main problems is most roads are closed and there is no way that things can, can go to the humanitarian aid can’t go. So yeah that's happening, and activists, particularly Tigray activists, are calling this out. You know asking the government, asking different women officials to talk about this, to condemn this, also to do something about it even.
Audrey: You know many young Africans are now using the internet as a tool to organize, and you know, to spread the message and just push the movement forward. But we are seeing many governments now shut down the internet whenever they feel like really. So how do these shutdowns affect the work of human rights? The work of activists?
Ruth: It really affects us you know there was no internet for a month in Tigray. So like people don’t have a source of information so they don’t know what’s going on. The government can do whatever it wants because there is no one watching. There’s no one calling things out. So it's like you know, they do this intentionally. Whenever they close the internet it’s because they have something to hide. So yeah, it really affects human rights work. It really affects activists' work. It makes you even frustrated. So many times you might say there are lot of misinformation, disinformation coming out of Facebook or in the internet but again it's really important to organise, it’s really important as a source of information. It’s also really important to let the world know what’s happening, to push the government, to ask the government why are they doing the things they are doing.
Audrey: As we're talking about information and how, you know, it really informs human rights work and pushes the movement forward. I know one of the things you care about a lot is data, statistics of reporting when it comes to gender based violence. This conversation is usually driven by people when they choose to speak up. Mainly when they feel safe to, but there's still a disadvantage of official data. Because if I speak up, for example, I can give my example in Kenya, sexual harassment, talking about that, you'll get lots of blowback online, offline. You don't get lots of support, you get a lot of blowback. But you're doing a lot of work around official data of gender based violence. Why do you think this is really important?
Ruth: One of the things that we really have to focus on as a movement in Ethiopia and also as a movement in Africa is informed advocacy and data-based advocacy. When we can do that, I think we can really, really influence policy makers. We can influence the government, we can influence real conversations. But people should know what's happening out there, people should know that we're just not talking, just because we're angry, just because we hate men. We're talking about things because they're happening out there and we're losing so many lives because of the things that are happening out there. So I think one of the things we'd really have to focus on is data and that data-based advocacy.
Audrey: Hm, hm. I know you monitor the media a lot and you've written about how the media shapes narratives on gender equality, violence against women. You made a presentation about this in 2019. Tell me about this discussion. What led you to do this?
Ruth: One of my friends pushed me to do this because media in Ethiopia is really sexist. To put it in a simple word, it’s sexist in two ways. One, the way it narrates. Women experts are only called whenever there’s a women’s issue. That is whenever there’s gender based violence issue whenever that is. But, there are women economists, there are women politicians working on different things. And gender is not something alienated, it’s weavered in so many policies, so many activities, so many conversations, political conversations. But whenever there’s an inflation it’s the guy with the suit that’s called to do a presentation about it, to talk about it. And whenever there's gender based violence it’s the woman that’s called. And we have to call this out, unless we are seeing things on a different lens, on a feminist lens we can never bring true change. Second is the way the woman is portrayed by Ethiopian media is the stereotypical woman. The one that cleans, the one that cooks, the one that takes care of the family but uh, yeah that's it. That's the only way the media, the music, sports racism, the movies, the ads that's the way portray it. And on the other hand, whenever there’s a gender based violence case, the media doesn’t give it enough attention.
Audrey: This is very heavy work that you're doing in a conservative society. How does your family, your friends, the people you interact with, how do they respond to you?
Ruth: Hmmm, I think my close, close friends are also very active and very vocal. So I can say that. Again my family are happy, they are supportive. Uh, you know people you interact with on occasional basis that have a negative comment about this kind of thing. But other than that, I choose my circle very wisely.
Audrey: So you know, is choosing your circle wisely a way to take care of yourself. What else do you do to just unwind and come out from the daily push of activism?
Ruth: Ah for example now, there are lots of things happening, but I'm not saying anything because I know some people are actually saying so many things about it. And because, I need to be okay. I need to be, the way I learned this, was in a very hard way. So I just want to keep on learning on how to say, Ruth take a break and you can do better next time. Every battle is not your battle. Every battle is not something you can win or fight. It's okay to take the time off and reflect on yourself and come back strong. And for me, choosing your circle is really important. You need to have a very strong support system to make you go for a while and to take care of yourself, to make you accountable even for the things that you do in a good way.
Audrey: So many young activists are working across the continent on the #MeToo movement. What message do you have to inspire them?
Ruth: Be conscious, question your privilege, forgive yourself.
Audrey: Why did you say question your privilege?
Ruth: I think, for example living in Ethiopia, I was born and raised in Addis Ababa. And I can never speak for the Oromo woman, like the Oromo woman. So I need to question my privilege and I can never say you know I am Ethiopian I'm not an Oromo, I'm an Ethiopian first, I don't see my ethnicity that much. That's privileged for me to say that. People are identified as Oromo first for so long. They can't say they are Ethiopian first and they've been identified as Gambella for so many years. They can't say I am Ethiopian first. So we have to question our privilege, if our concerns are coming from a point of privilege or are actual concerns and it's something that I'm learning recently.
Audrey: Uhm where can we find information on your work and the Yellow Movement online?
Ruth: So I think you can find Yellow Movement on Yellow Movement AU, on Facebook page, Yellow Movement, Twitter page. You can email us at the email@example.com. You can find us on Instagram. So these are the platforms you can find about Yellow Movement.
Audrey: You’ve been listening to Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Ruth and her work at the Yellow Movement.
In the next episode, we take the conversation to Mozambique.
To learn more about Human Rights Watch visit HRW.org and follow us on Twitter @HRW and on Instagram @Humanrightswatch for updates about the show.
Join the conversation using the hashtag Power of the Streets and share your thoughts with Ruth or any of our other guests, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
Our producer is Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
The main theme song, Au Revoir is produced by Young OG Beats.
Till next time, thank you for listening.
- EPISODE 8
By engaging with politics, citizens can demand justice and good governance from their governments and leaders. But women political activists face unique challenges. Fatima speaks about why she continues to push for space for citizens voices and women’s recognition in governance.
Follow Fatima on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/fatima.mimbire
Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/fatima_f2m?lang=en
Audrey: This is Power of the Streets, a podcast series brought to you by Human Rights Watch about how we speak truth to power. I’m Audrey Kawire Wabwire, based in Nairobi, Kenya.
We’ve already been to Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, Gambia, Tanzania, South Africa and Ethiopia, speaking with some of the people leading the #MeToo movement in Africa. If you haven’t already, please check out all the previous episodes to catch up.
Now, this is the final episode of our very first season, and we are taking this conversation to Mozambique.
Everyone we speak to in this series has a second, a minute, or an hour when they realise that they need to make a change. The moment when they decide to step up, and rise.
Fátima: We are 52% of the population. How come the decision making process, which are took by politicians, we are not took in consideration. We are not there influencing.
Audrey: That is Fátima Mimbire. She is a writer, human rights defender and a political activist in Mozambique. She advocates for women’s rights and she believes that citizens should be more engaged in politics and every day governance.
Fátima: We will die one day. We are, I used to use a expression saying that we all are in this world pilgrimaging for the death, right? The end is to die, right? So just choose how do you want to die. So I, I, I chose to die defending ideal. I know that I will die. If they want to kill me, they can kill me.
Audrey: To start off, you're a human rights activist in Mozambique and you champion citizens participation in politics and governance. What are you trying to change when you push for more people to take part in governance?
Fátima: Well, first of all, we need to recognize that the exercise of uh politic-power relies to the citizens because they are the ones who choose the representatives or the ones who will lead the country. We have responsibilities to monitor, to contribute, to hold them accountable. Uh, and what we feel, particularly, what I feel is that, uh, we have people or citizens are aware and responsive in terms of voting process. They recognize that this is a responsibility, but once, uh, the government or the elected people are sworn, they forget about the role they do have. They allow them to do whatever they want. Uh, they don't want to participate. They complain, but they don't contribute. Uh, and then they abuse of power, we just accept that.
The poorest are becoming more poor and the rich people are becoming richer. And why? Because they are part of political elite. So I decided to be a voice that, um, inspires other voices other people to come up and participate, to come up and revendicate, to come up and ask the government, hold the government accountable. And that is interesting because I'm a woman and people says, uh, from where she got this courage. And I used to say that, uh, I was emancipated from my home. Okay. My parents allowed us to...
Audrey: Wait, wait Fátima, wait, wait. That is a very interesting point. Very interesting point, you know yeah. Just let let's really go back to the beginning. You know, you're speaking really passionately about pushing for citizens to demand better from their government. And this is something, you know, that you started in your childhood or even as a teenager, but was there a moment that, you know, you decided no, I'm going to speak up and I'm not going to take this anymore. Was there a particular time when you decided to be an activist?
Fátima: I worked 10 years in, in, in, in, in news rooms as a journalist. The trigger point for me was while I understood that being journalists in Mozambique is not enough to influence the public debate, is not enough to fuel, um, and challenge the government. In other countries we, we see that happening, but in Mozambique don't because the, the, the editorials are controlled. The gatekeepers are controlled people.
And I remember my last episode as a journalist and that was expensive for me was the, in the meeting in 2008, we were facing the start of this global economic crisis. And the cereals crisis also came in.
Audrey: In 2008, global food prices of rice, wheat, maize and oil increased on international markets. Since Mozambique imports over 60% of its cereal products, local demand was severely impacted, and the prices of these cereal increased locally.
Fátima: As some markets started to close and not export, uh, their cereals for other countries. So we were invited for a press conference. They called us on Saturday to explain to the citizens that they are creating a strategy to, to produce cereals in the country.
And I said, sorry, Mr. Minister, I do understand very well, what you are saying. You are presenting us a very good plan, but this plan is not feasible for short-term where we are facing a crisis and tomorrow we will not have rice, uh, and, and maize and so forth to give to our people. So what will you do? So we will be, need to wait for three, four, five years to have that, that products available for our people. And my colleagues, once we came out, started to ask Fátima, you are saying that this gov, uh, this people from government, they are, they are useless. I said, yes, I'm telling that because we are facing these, we are hungry now because of them, they are not doing their work. Before I being journalist I'm a citizen. And these measures, will affect me in the first stage.
Audrey: So Fatima, I, you know, you, you're, you're very serious that, you know, you're, you're going to use your voice to speak up as a citizen and push for more people to be involved in, you know, uh, asking for change from the government. But as you started mentioned, you're a woman speaking about politics and you're in the minority, in a male-dominated field. And you have said that, um, in the past that you received threats for your work. So in this show, we are speaking about gender-based violence and how people are standing up against it, on the continent be it, uh, cyber-bullying or verbal or physical. So could you tell me about some of the threats you received and how you responded against them? How you responded to them?
Fátima: I was exposed in WhatsApp messages that circulated saying that I am a foreigner agent, like I'm not defending the interest of my country, but I'm defending the interest of the foreigners who are enemies of this country. Uh, like, because the civil society organizations are financed by international institutions like embassies. So we are serving the interests of that embassies, which are not for the good of Mozambique. So saying that I'm not genuine in what I'm talking about in what I'm revendicating, but I I'm clear that this is not something that I agreed with them. There is a work that I do, and I report to them because they are financing, but there are civic intervention that has nothing to do with the donors is about the Mozambican with its government. Okay, it's about me and my government. The second one where really direct threats in my Facebook account. But the one who really shocked me and is really a serious threat was once a member of parliament.
And I have to underline that that was a woman. We were discussing about the death of Afonso Dhlakama the opposite, the main opposition leader who died, uh, in, I think, two or three years ago. And we were discussing about him, the role he has and so forth. And I said that he was a hero for some and a villain for others. And I was making that assessment saying that some people recognize his role for democracy fight in this country. And some girl who wrote in, in her WhatsApp, uh wall saying that, who is that Fátima Mimbire who is saying that Afonso Dhlakama is them hero? And that that's, um, member of parliament said that Fátima is an oppositor, she deserves to be raped by 10 strong and big men in order to correct her conduct. She is an agitator. So she needs to be punished. I have no relationship with that woman.
Audrey: That is terrible!
Fátima: Yes. It was shocking, and that woman at the parliament supposedly she represents me and other women that were already raped. And she saying that rape is the way to correct a deviated behavior. That was the main message she brought out.
Audrey: Where did she say this?
Fátima: She, she said that on Facebook. She was commenting and she said that. Then people saw that people calling me saying, did you see that? And I received screenshots and so forth. So the society, the people at Facebook started to complain to name and shame her asking to her to step up from the parliament seat and so forth. Uh, so that came to me and I had to, to, to, to address the situation.
So in 2019, I was marching. And the main message was that stop sexual harassment, because these are the main reason of, sexual violence is the main kind of violence affecting women. And every day we see news saying that a woman was arrest sexually violated, or a kid or a baby with one just one year was violated. How come we do accept such a thing? And months after my, my home was, was assaulted. And I had to run off from that, uh, for, for, for three months...
Audrey: Oh, what happened?
Fátima: They came in into my home. They robbed, they took my husband computer, because mine was with me. They took the home computer that we use our desktop, that we use with our kids, or when we are doing work here, they got in my room, they searched different things.
I found all my document as spread on the, on, on the, on the floor. Uh, they opened the doors and left that doors open. And the kind of things that they took, uh, the way they got in was a clear message for me. Not that they wanted to take something here. They just took something here to show, uh, or to convince us that this was a normal assault, but it wasn't, this was a message. Uh intimidating me and intimidating at the guys in the, in the, in the, in the society.
It is important to underline that I was traveling. And it was the day I was coming back in the, uh, in the, in the night of the day that I was, I was coming back. So it was really a message for me. I also, uh, um, went to the police to expose the case, but they didn't come to my home to do this investigation, to find fingerprints and so forth. No. So the case is closed because nothing happened. And no one gives me an explanation about what happened.
Audrey: Fátima, I, I hear what you're saying, what I'd like to understand more, is it common for women who participate in politics like you to be threatened?
Fátima: We have a history from past where voice women were killed. There is a woman called Joana Simao who was killed in a brutal way. She was, if you go to internet, you can find some about her. She was a voice lady. She created a group or a political party. She was, uh, after the independence, she was discussing on how the country should be run. She was discussing about the pattern. The state was the same thing. And she was demanding for, for, for democracy, for the elections in a time that that was unthinkable. And she was speaking up about that. And she was killed in a brutal way until now some people in her family don't know where she is. So this is one example. Alice Mabota is another, another woman that was threatened more than me. What I was, uh, exposed to is nothing related to what she did.
She's a heroin, that's that we need to recognize the role she, she had for, for human rights, uh, recognition from, uh, the people in the, in the jail, the common citizen people affected in, in rural areas by and so forth. So there is a kind of, history of women that try, uh, um, dared to, to, challenge the establishment that were really, um, threats. Uh, we see some women in political parties. We saw some running for a position, but once they are there, they are exposed. They are, they are, um, how can I say their private life comes out. Their nude pictures are put in public domain just to name and shame them. And that's the reason, I guess, that there is no much significant numbers of women in Mozambique engaged in politics.
Audrey: So this is very interesting, and it's very energizing to see that, you know, you are not deterred, you're not stopped by, um, the threats and the difficulties in challenging the government. Something more personal I'd like to know is how has your family and other close people reacted to your activism and your work?
Fátima: Yeah, it's not, it's not easy to deal with that. My husband, he's my friend, my supporter, is the one who you know sometimes I think I will give up and he says, no, I know what are you fighting for? Look at your, your children and just do things for them. So it's someone who supports me unconditionally. My father is my main inspiration, because as I said, in some stage of this conversation, I was emancipated from my home. Um, coming from a family of, uh, six siblings. We, we, we were six. I am the fifth one. Um, we have three boys and three girls. And my, my father was someone who always spoke to her to us. We have no problem at home that was not discussed in an assembly.
So if someone did something, we all will be convened to discuss that issue, to the, see the decision making process, we were all involved, all of us, even in a sensitive situations. We were there. There is a piece of information that for me, it's really interesting and I'd like to share here. Once I was about to get married, we have such a kind of a Lobola.
Audrey: Yes, I know Lobola.
Fátima: So I was to be, um, in that ceremony. So the family convened with the uncles, aunties, and the uncles, aunties decided that oh we should ask them this amount. And then once these guys went off, I went to my, my father and my, my, my mom. And I said, look, I, this is a symbolic payment. I am not being, um, bought, it’ss not about buying me. It's about the symbolism, traditional symbolism. So let's be clear about that.
This amount is huge. I'm not accepting that. I know the guy, and I know that this is a huge amount. My father says, ‘oh, well, how will we handle that?’ I said, well, the aunties and uncles. They can say whatever they want. They don't know us. They don't know the conditions of my fiancé. So please, I will tell you how much he is charged, which is lower than what the family demanded. So we agreed on that. I had the word to say on that. My question is how many women, how many girls are hurt from their families was, is to take such a kind of decision that will affect their lives and these gender based violence. Some cases has a base from that kind of situations, how the families deal with this, uh way that this girl is getting married, traditionally, the monetary financial relationship. So once having a voice to say to your parents that, no, I don't agree with that. It's something that emancipates you.
Audrey: Now. Now, here you are. I know that you're inspiring many young women when they see you in Mozambique, they see you speaking up, uh, bravely publicly, and you're very involved in politics and you're not afraid, but you know, like you said, it's, it's difficult and it's scary. Um, the violence you face, the cyber bullying, um, being… your home being targeted, there are very many threats. What is your message to other women who either they want to start being more involved or they're already doing this work? What is your message to inspire them, to push them forward?
Fátima: Well, yeah, my main message is that we cannot, uh, be a part of a political debate of our country because even the, um, um, gender based violence has a root cause in, in the policies that the country implements. So the kind of leaders or politicians we have that will push for better policies for better measures to, to deal with gender based violence is all related to politics. So it's not something that we can run away. So it's something that is, has everything to do with us that affects our life. So we need to understand that people says, I don't like politics. You have to like politics because it's from there where you, your life is decided, the things that affects you, your quality of life, your security, we are now talking about peace in Mozambique, how many women are affected by these instability and all this is about politics. So we need, we have to be involved in that.
Audrey: Now Fátima, you know, you're doing very heavy work. I can tell by some of the things you go through, some of, you know, uh, what you have to maneuver and the threats, the difficulty. How do you take time off and relax and reset? What do you usually do to, you know, just chill out?
Fátima: We find ways to chill out, to relax. Books are good. I write, I'm writing my poems. I'm writing a book now about corruption that I, the title that I created, is [in Portuguese] is the kind of dance, uh, the, uh, traditional dance in Mozambique, but [in Portuguese] has another, um, um, meaning, uh, that can take us to say that that erupts uh, or which prejudices, uh, something like that. So writing, um, so relaxing with family, uh, giving quality time, doing cooking with the family in the kitchen, um, messing the kitchen, so this kind of things, watching movies. So I like a lot of comedy, action. So I found at home that place where I found my peace.
Audrey: Okay. That's really interesting. Um, um, I've, I've been cooking a lot during COVID, but you know, I've never been a great cook, so I really experiment and you know, my son has to eat everything that works out or doesn't work yeah. Yeah. Um, for someone who's listening right now, where can they find you, your Facebook? And follow your work right now?
Fátima: They can follow me on Facebook. I'm there, very active. It's Fátima Mimbire. M I M B I R E uh, I'm there. I have a lot of friends. Uh, I have a lot of, um, publications and now fortunately Facebook does, uh, translation to English. So you can read, uh, what I used to write, so it is discussion about politics. My YouTube channel is not ready yet. I'm working on it. Uh, on YouTube. You can look for [in Portuguese]. I was there until, uh, June, 2019. So you will listen to my contributions, my participation in public debates. There is a lot, but these are the main places where they can find me. Facebook, Youtube - not my specific channel - but the [in Portuguese] program.
That’s the end of our show. Check out our show notes for more about Fátima and where you can find her work.
This is the end of the first season of Power of the Streets, where we focused on the #MeToo movement in Africa. It’s been such an honor and a great journey speaking to all these amazing African activists. Please share the series with a friend and rate the show wherever you listen. We’d love to hear your feedback! Tell us what you think using the hashtag Power of the Streets on social media, and share your thoughts with Fátima or any of the guests we had in this season, and you can tell us how you’re speaking truth to power.
To learn more about Human Rights Watch visit HRW.org. Follow us on Twitter @HRW and on Instagram @humanrightswatch for updates on the show and more bonus episodes coming soon!
Our producer is Andisiwe May and this is a Volume production.
The main theme song Au Revoir is produced by Young OG beats.
Till next time, thank you for listening.
About Season 1
SEASON 1: #MeToo in Africa: In the first season, we hear from the people driving Africa’s #MeToo movement. This season tells the stories of Africans who are defying the odds by continuing to speak out, and shows how their innovative, creative strategies have made deep changes.
Power of the Streets is hosted by Audrey Kawire Wabwire, a Media Manager at Human Rights Watch in Eastern Africa. She is based in Nairobi and grew up on a steady diet of KBC radio drama and maintained a passion for audio storytelling in her work as a radio journalist, commercial audio producer and media trainer in the region. She is excited about the possibilities that African podcasts are unlocking for diverse voices.