tribute to gambian women

#GambiaAt50 : A Tribute To The Sheros Of Our Journey To Independence

I celebrate a force that is too often forgotten
When we share the stories of our journey
Our struggles, our negotiations, the final agreement
That brought us freedom on that fateful day, 1965.

This force… she was a Mother
To the founding fathers and their brothers
In the struggle
She raised, nurtured, and cared for
Groomed the leaders we cheered for
In the history books, she might not really be catered for
But her mark remains indelible in the hero she bore and guided
Blessed and prayed for.

This force… she was a Wife
The proverbial woman behind our successful man
The quiet engine driving the vehicle of change, our change
She was the one, his biggest supporter, his comfort when the days were gloomy
She saw our hero at his weakest and most vulnerable
Yet cloaked him with her sutura
Filling him with the strength he needed when the sun rose again
She waited through the long nights of late meetings
Then soothed aching feet and filled a growling stomach
She would eventually stand beside him, celebrating their victory
Thanking God for the wise counsel she gave when he was doubtful of his plans
To us, she was Mrs. Founding Father
To him, she was Bilqis… of love, hope, strength and loyalty.

This force… she was a Guewel, too
Singing the many praises of our hero,
Lifting his spirits when they were downcast and trodden
Reminding him of the glory of his ancestors who’d taken similar paths, in years past
She glorified him, Faye biram penda waagan, Njie kuli jatta njie, Cham baabel demba cham
He was Jawara…diko, Jahumpa, Dibba Chaaku,  John Massar
He was Small… yet of neither small feats, nor little accomplishments
This force, she exalted the royalty in their blood, celebrated their greatness
And propelled our nation to visions of the glory of Jollof and Sine, Kaabu and Manding
Remember her… this force.

Sometimes she would manifest her prowess in groups
Of mothers, sisters, aunties and nieces… in compins rallying support
She was the voice that rang across districts and constituencies
Carrying her message over the hills at Hella and the fields at Pachaar
She built trust and confidence among the people
And when the time came to cast votes, she echoed the great stories of the struggle
And linked the threads, weaving the fabric of our history.

Our force, she was a philantropist
Caring for many, her actions a reflection of the beauty in her heart
She was a teacher… beyond the home and neighbourhood
She shared her wisdom with hundreds in the classrooms
From Banjul to Fatoto, Serekunda to Kristi Kunda
Building the minds of generations
And shaping the future of our country.

We wonder if she just stayed in the background, bidding her time
But our force, she was at the forefront too
Mutating from follower and supporter to an active participant
In the politics of our baby nation
Setting the pace for many women that will come after her
Making them believe in the power of their thoughts, the validity of their dreams
Dispelling the myth that we were only made to be seen and not heard.

But this couldn’t, shouldn’t be a surprise
For she descended from the unrivaled Linguere, queen of Jollof
Leader, Mother, Giver of Care
Leadership, thus a genetic trait
Passed down through kingdoms, nations and republics
Clearing the path for my generation of young leaders.

So when we share the stories of our journey to independence
Let us remember this force
Whose mark still shines in all we do
I pay tribute to the many women who stood tall
And took their rightful places in shaping the history of this country
The giants on whose shoulders we now stand
The Lingueres whose place in history should never, can never be replaced.
This is a tribute to the Gambian woman.

Lost in Religious Translation

At around the age of twelve, I made the conscious decision to become a Muslim. Maybe, what I should say is that I made the conscious decision to become a practising Muslim. Let me explain.


I come from a society where, when children are born, they generally follow their father’s religion. This is easy to handle when both parents are of the same faith and the kids are naturally brought up to believe in the same things. It seems even easier when the parents are married and live together, as the religious beliefs of the child are not just theoretical then, but also learned and nurtured from watching these parents, if they practise. There are these cases, considered normal, and then there is my case.

I was born to a Christian mother from a family of staunch Catholics, and a Muslim father from a family with strong blood and social ties to one of the sects in the Senegambia region. On the eighth day after my birth, I was named, had all the rituals for a new baby performed and welcomed as one of the Muslim ummah. My parents unmarried, I was raised by my mother and her family who held on to their Catholic faith while making me understand that I could practise my Islam freely.

However, I (and my sister who would be born three years after me), spent our early years in church, following what we saw around us and practically living as Catholics. We became so absorbed in the faith that on days when our Catholic cousins would decide to skip church, we would dress up and join my mother and uncle for Mass. This was the life we knew and had become a part of. We were taught very little about Islam, though my grandmother would always encourage us to perform the five daily prayers. On Muslim feasts, we would also celebrate with my father’s family. We enjoyed the best of both worlds… until I was about twelve years old.

My decision was mainly triggered by a series of embarrassing sessions in Islamic Studies class at my primary school where, looking back now, I was never given the option to choose what religious class I wanted to attend. By virtue of being a Muslim, I found myself in this class that would always reflect my lowest grade, throwing shade at my position as the top student and giving my classmates a chance to throw jibes at my little- almost nonexistent – knowledge of the chapters and verses of the Quran. Even at that young age, there was only so much humiliation I could take among my peers, and I decided to act. With my sister on my side, I found a teacher who would come to our home several times during the week, to teach us Quranic lessons and Arabic. These classes went on for about a year and ended, but by that time, we had learnt enough to perform the mandatory prayers and build up enough confidence to call ourselves Muslims.

For me, it was also a chance at self-discovery. Being curious and an avid reader meant I would go beyond the lessons taught at home and school. I found books I could gain more knowledge from and taught myself new chapters of the Quran and their meanings. I gradually stopped going to church, though I grew up being very tolerant and respectful of all other religions, thanks to my background. In my little research, I did not just become convinced of the religion I wished to practise. I found love and peace in messages that I wasn’t even taught. I discovered the beauty of Islam, devoid of the many interpretations from men, that would sometimes distort the messages in their favour. I was content with learning at my pace and embracing the beauty of the religion in its simplest forms.

Last week, I was on a flight back to Nairobi from Eldoret, where I had been invited to attend the launching of The Girl Generation  Africa Project. The discussion with one of my hosts turned to religion and I shared the story of my mixed background and how it has influenced my world view, especially in these times. She paid much attention to the parts about my early life in church, then turned to look at me and ask ‘how could you choose to be Muslim after that?‘ Usually, I would have the perfect answer, ready to defend my religion. This time, I just sat there and thought about the question. In the end, my response was simply ‘I learnt about the religion and fell in love with its message of peace and tolerance‘. When she invited me to Christ, we talked about my love for, and belief in him as a Prophet of God. By the time we landed in Nairobi, we both agreed on the need for respect and tolerance, and explored the possibility of simply believing in a Supreme Being without the conventional attachment to a religion.

This is something I have thought about on several occasions, especially when my faith hits the dust and I’m searching for excuses to justify the dip. Yet, it makes a lot of sense to simply believe and pray to God, without having to subscribe to the many emerging schools of thought with different interpretations on how to worship God. If anything, it could shatter the stereotypes that abound on things that seem foreign to us. When my friend asked about my choice, there were subtle references to the killings and injustices being carried out by Muslims around the world. These exist, just as they exist among people of other faiths, but we rarely use the same brush to paint everyone in the same way as we do Muslims.

I think about Boko Haram, the Taliban, Al Shabab, ISIS and other groups using religion as a justification for their heinous acts and I understand how easy it can be to draw conclusions based on them. However, it would be unfair to the greater majority of Muslims to be seen and treated in the same way, even when they join in the condemnation of these acts that target innocent people. I do not wish to defend anyone today, especially after the recent shootings at the Pakistani school, that claimed the lives of 132 children and 9 teachers.

What I wish for, instead, is healing for this world that has become too chaotic. I look back on my earlier years and even hope that people would take the time to learn more about the different faiths, if only to do away with the misconceptions. In my readings, I have found that we are more alike than different and our beliefs are generally founded on the same principles of good, peace, love, mercy and tolerance. It is sad that the structures intended to guide and keep humanity together are being used to draw us apart.

The truth is that I am tired and drained out by everything happening in the world around us. When I pause and draw myself away, I can’t help wondering what it would mean to have a world where we’re not bound by any structures, but guided only by the desire and will to be and do good. Maybe, it will bring back the essence of humanity and promote peaceful co-existence. Or maybe, I should get down from my cloud and face the harsh reality we live with.

I believe we are one, regardless of what religion we choose to practise. Our relationship with God is sacred, but our relationships with our fellow humans say a lot about the former. After all, we were created in his image… or so I have read.

I don’t know why I wrote this post, but I was at a place where the written word was the only way to express what I truly felt. I hope we can simply endeavour to be and do all the good we can in this world, for humanity and for the love of the God we all share.



Crossroads: Where Will My Feet Lead Me?

I think life should come with a book to guide all the lost and confused souls walking this Earth. This is not just wishful thinking; these are thoughts inspired by days spent dreaming and some nights spent staring at the ceiling. Some would call it a quarter-life crisis but I choose to consider this as my arrival at one of the many crossroads on the path towards fulfilling my purpose. That is my attempt at keeping a positive mindset to help me navigate these relatively rough waters and emerge on the other side with my sanity intact.


Five years ago, I left for Morocco to study for a University degree. Those are probably the longest five years of my life yet and they are filled with stories and lessons that will remain with me for a very long time. Living away from my family and practically surviving on my own helped in my personal growth, each experience moulding, strengthening and preparing me for an independent and fulfilled life. There, I learnt to make my own choices and accept responsibility for their outcomes, good and bad. That journey ended recently with great success and life has dealt me another one of its cards.

Sometimes, we take the succession of events in our lives for granted, especially if we did little work to make them happen. Other times, we are confronted with barriers and obstructions to our carefully laid-out plans, which draw us back in and prompt us to reflect and reorganise to permit a smooth ride. When I got my degree, I hopped on a plane and returned home, ready to work for a year and then leave again for graduate school. This was, and had always been, my plan. It was going to be easy, I thought. Things would flow naturally and I will just ease back in with little hassle, I thought.

I’ve been home for three weeks now and I’ve got to say it’s not been as simple as I had pictured in my rainbow-coloured head. I must admit, however, that where people at this stage usually complain about a lack of options, I am faced with the daunting task of making the best choice from the ones I’ve been presented. For some, this is a privilege and I recognise that with much humility but it would be unfair to accept that it has been easy for me. Making the right choice and letting go of all the other great ones is one of the most confusing things I’m dealing with right now, but it still has to be done if I want to move from this stage to the next. Who said growing up would be easy, anyway?

It is even more challenging when this situation is not just limited to my professional activities, but touches on my personal life as well. I feel like I’ve been offered a chance at a new life, a clean slate and it is up to me to decide who/what appears and stays on it. Making these choices also means taking stock of where I’ve been, where I am and where I am headed. This, too, won’t be easy and might leave me with more emotions to deal with than I can handle at a time, but isn’t that what life does sometimes? We live, we learn, we grow from our lessons, move on to new experiences and go through the cycle all over again. I do not know if I’m fully ready for all of these changes, but I remind myself that there is no need to rush into anything and that things will eventually fall into place as the days go by.

I stand at a crossroads, looking at the different pathways lying ahead of me and left with the task of choosing one of them. Like Frost, will my feet lead me to the one less taken? Will I go where there are still footsteps from those who had been in this place before me? Better yet, do I have the choice of creating my path, filling it with all that I desire from the ones that already exist? This latter would be the ideal choice for me because it would reconcile the thoughts from my head with the desires from my heart, possibly leaving me happy and content. It is the path I am most likely to explore.

I blog about this to make sense of my thoughts and share this new journey I am on. I am certainly not the first, neither will I be the last to go through this phase in life. I am also cognisant of the fact that this is only one of the many challenges I will face as I continue to grow and progress on this journey towards becoming a whole woman. Therefore, I share my fears, my doubts and all the random thoughts while hoping to find kindred spirits to learn from.

Writing this also helps me to assess my progress and be constantly reminded of who I am, what I am worth and what I am meant to be/do/have in this world while I’m still given the opportunity to live. It is a journey of self-evaluation, much introspection and of course, a lot of learning and practice. In the end, I hope it will be worth it for me and for everyone who will be a part of it.

Demystifying Age: So How Young are You?


I’ve been on an unannounced blogging hiatus since the struggle to focus on writing my dissertation and completing my degree became realer sometime in May. Thankfully, that is behind me now and I am back home in The Gambia after graduating successfully.

While trying to make sense of everything that’s happening around me and holding firm in the face of the choices I am suddenly confronted with, I’ve thought of coming back to Linguere to share my thoughts, my new journey. Procrastination got the better of me each time and I kept putting it off, convincing myself that I needed the time to recreate and re-brand before getting back into the blogosphere.

When Timi of LivelyTwist asked me to join her and a few other bloggers to write a blog post, I thought it was my chance to get back to writing, especially since the topic was one of relevance to my current experiences.

We talked about age from different perspectives and I must say I enjoyed reading the posts from my fellow bloggers, each one shedding a new light on the topic. While I prepare to fully return to blogging, enjoy the awesome stories on this blog post.

Originally posted on livelytwist:


“Age has no reality except in the physical world. The essence of a human being is resistant to the passage of time. Our inner lives are eternal, which is to say that our spirits remain as youthful and vigorous as when we were in full bloom.”       – Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez -

I once knew a boy from the village who did not know when he was born. Since he had never attended school, he resumed primary school when he moved to Port Harcourt. That he was bigger than his classmates did not inspire their respect or fear. They teased and provoked him until he abandoned school. I was in secondary school then.

The years rolled by and his voice deepened. The years rolled by and I completed my university education. I planned my life using age as milestone markers. I wonder now, how he planned his; where…

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War, Women and Healing the Wounds from the Past

“As long as we share our stories, as long as our stories reveal our strengths and vulnerabilities to each other, we reinvigorate our understanding and tolerance for the little quirks of personality that in other circumstances would drive us apart. When we live in a family, a community, a country where we know each other’s true stories, we remember our capacity to lean in and love each other into wholeness.” – Christina Baldwin in  Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story 

This quote, for me, reflects the atmosphere at the private meeting on Youth and Reconciliation organised at the World Conference on Youth a week ago, bringing together a handful of international social media fellows and delegates on one hand, and Sri Lankan survivors of the civil war from the Tamil, Sinhalese and Muslim communities, on the other. The war began in July 1983 and led to 25 years of fighting between the Sri Lankan military and the independent militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). 

It was obvious from the beginning that the meeting would be a solemn one, despite the continuous reminders that we were there to hear stories of peace, reconciliation and rehabilitation. However, it is also a glaring truth that one does not easily forget and discard the past for the comforts of the present and hopes for the future. In reaching out for peace and reconciliation, memories of the past are evoked and in this case, they were neither beautiful nor happy. 

With little knowledge on the Sri Lankan civil war, I sat quietly as our friends shared their stories, ready to learn as much as I could from these people who lived through the daily realities of the conflict. I was particularly marked by the narrations from the women in my group, who shared their memories through translators, punctuated by shy smiles and cast-away looks.

Women in conflict

War and conflict are generally portrayed in masculine terms- a place where men oppose each other in a show of power and domination. When women are included in the story, they are more often portrayed as victims and indirect/secondary participants. The reality was different for these women in the room, who sat next to men they had fought with and against in the battlefield. For some, it was a choice. For others, fighting in the war was a moral obligation.

Seated right opposite me, in a beautiful red sari, was a young lady- perhaps my age or younger. Next to her, was her husband. They had recently tied the knot after leaving their respective rehabilitation centers set up by the Sri Lankan government to facilitate their transition back into civil life. A happy ending for this young couple, whose love story grew from the results of conflict.

Our young bride, a Tamil, was forced to join the LTTE in 2009 as a moral duty to her community. She revealed that one member from each family had to join the LTTE at the time. As all her siblings were married and raising their own families, the onus was on her to represent them, in respect of the rule. Consequently, she spent all her time living in bunkers with other recruits, awaiting their turn to go to the battlefield. The opportunity to fight never came; she was arrested after the war and kept under government custody, where she underwent the rehabilitation process for a year. 


Vinothanayagi Kulanthaivelu, 39

Vinothanayagi Kulanthaivelu, 39, is still under rehabilitation. She joined the LTTE in 1995 together with other girls and went through light training for about 3 months. She would later become responsible for data entry, keeping track of all information from Tamil areas. This kept her away from the battlefield, up until the final moments of the war, when the LTTE needed more fighters. Everyone had to get on board and Vinothanayagi found herself fighting for about 6 months. 

She, however, revealed that women had been in the battlefield since the beginning of the war, fighting side by side with their male counterparts. Where women are generally subject to inequalities based on gender in our different societies, the situation was different in the battlefield. Men and women were treated as equal and the latter “were acting like men and had the power to fight” and there was no male domination.

The women fighters executed their duties without the worry of domestic responsibilities, made possible by the LTTE’s rule that prevented married women from getting recruited. This rule would eventually be ignored when the need for more fighters arose and married women were forced to join the group. Vinothanayagi could not tell us what happened to their children- if they had any- but remembered that no one below the age of seventeen (17) was allowed to join the LTTE. 

Asked about the safety of women and girls in the camps, especially on the subject of sexual violence, Vinothanayagi dismissed the stories as rumours. In all 14 years of her time with the LTTE, she had never experienced or come across a case of sexual violence against women. In fact, there were few women during her stay there, as the society was not yet ready to accept them. She added that LTTE soldiers who wanted to get married left the camps and spread false stories, leading people to believe that women were being harassed. 

Post-conflict rehabilitation

When the war finally ended in May 2009, focus was shifted on reconciliation and the rehabilitation of soldiers and survivors. There was a general consensus in the room, hinting at great satisfaction with the rehabilitation program and the government’s provisions for housing and employment opportunities after release.

Our young bride told us that living in the rehabilitation centers was “better than living at home“, as she was able to go to school, take up vocational training and eventually started teaching. Similar sentiments were echoed from the group. The rehabilitation programs include training in Information Technology, agriculture, masonry and tailoring, as well as counselling and spiritual assistance. 

Vinothanayagi still lives in the center and expects to leave in June. She has undergone training in English, Sinhala, Computer skills and tailoring. With no clear indications of getting a job after her release, she plans to set up a home business, using her tailoring skills to make a living and help support her siblings. Eventually, she will decide if she wants to get married or continue living single. 

Some of the rehabilitated persons receive loans to start their own businesses, while students are encouraged to go back to school, moving up to University level. Others have gone on to join national sports teams. 


…rehabilitation does not seem to be the healing balm to the emotional wounds for these soldiers. Vinothanayagi shared the grievances of her friends, who have been cut off from their families, especially those living abroad. This is further fueled by rumours that the LTTE will strike again, reviving the war in Sri Lanka. Family members become scared to talk to the ex-soldiers, thinking they are still monitored by the government. She expressed her concerns on the effects of breaking family ties due to the fear that still reigns in the hearts and minds of the people. 

For Vinothanayagi, the chances of another war breaking out are very slim. She hopes this will never happen because it will mean losing everything they have managed to build in the past few years, through the rehabilitation program. She lost her father during the battle and could not see his remains. This is a situation she does not want to relive with the rest of her family. The general feeling among her colleagues is “to move on“. 

Letting go of the past

From our experiences as humans, we draw lessons or live with regrets. For some, it is easier and more convenient to forget the past and focus on the present. For others, the stories and memories from past experiences, no matter how gory, stay relevant and are constant reminders of where we have been and the journeys we have made. 

I was interested to know the current perceptions of the Tamils, Sinhalese and Muslim present at this meeting. What lessons did they take away from their experiences as soldiers in the civil war? Reconciliation and rehabilitation are important, but do the scars of war ever go away? 

It was evident that they all wanted the same thing: to move on with their lives and forget the past. Remembering, though important, has become too painful for them. They believe they were all dragged into an unwanted war and now that it is over, all they want is peace. To them, Sri Lanka is one country and they should all work together to make sure history is not repeated. They have moved on to live with each other in rehabilitation centers and hope to promote this spirit of peaceful coexistence, devoid of misunderstandings and hatred. 

The gathering remained solemn, with eyes saying more than words could. Theirs, reliving the moments of the war as they tried to bring us into their world. Ours, filled with questions and wild imagination, turning to pity and empathy as the narrations went on. Together, hope for a better and peaceful future.

Away from the general buzz of the Conference, these are the stories that touched my soul. These are the stories I brought home with me. 

Is the World Conference on Youth Truly for the Young People?

Following a grand opening ceremony at the Magam Ruhunupura International Convention Center in Hambantota, serious deliberations have kicked off for the World Conference on Youth in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The WCY2014 is meant to focus on “Mainstreaming Youth in the Post-2015 Development Agenda”. There are over 1500 delegates from all over the world representing different interests. Two days into the consultations, are youth voices really being heard?


I just got out of the round table session on Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship, which featured panelists from various departments as well as youth delegates with a vested interest in the theme. This session, like all the others I’ve attended and covered as a Social Media Fellow took the usual format of panelists speaking for about 5-7 minutes after which delegates given time to ask about 2-3 questions, only for attention to be returned to the panelists, so they can answer questions. This imbalance in the allocation of time and attention to the concerns of the youth delegates is quite telling of the need for better representation of our voices where they really matter.

The world’s youth are hopeful that their representatives at this global gathering will not only present their challenges and problems but also work hand in glove with policy makers and the relevant stakeholders to come up with action-driven solutions which will be included in the outcome document of the Conference, The Colombo Youth Declaration.

Whose opinions are being represented in this outcome document that is expected to help in creating a better world for young people?

During the Question and Answer session at the aforementioned round table discussion, a youth delegate questioned the absence of key words relating to vocational training and education, relevant to shaping the future of the employment and employability status of young people, adding that no one is listening to what the youth are saying.

The designated facilitator for this session interrupted, telling him to ask his question to the panelists. The disapproval among the youth delegates was quite evident and a pair of them, from two different countries in the world, stood up in solidarity with their colleague. One declared that he will not support an outcome document that did not represent the voices and concerns of the young people present at WCY 2014, an echo of the voices of many young people who could not make it to Colombo. This was received with much applause from the delegates present.

I spoke to one of the African delegates who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons, and he believes that the World Conference on Youth and its consequent Colombo Declaration on Youth ‘will not change anything’. There are irregularities in procedure, and withdrawals from the negotiations,

He further highlighted the under-representation of youth voices at these negotiations, where their voices truly matter and can make all the difference. This delegate seemingly echoes the voices of many others, adding that the situation is worse for Africa, due to the unequal representation of government delegates from the various African countries. The large delegation from South Africa, in his opinion, cannot fully represent and cater for the interests of other African countries with little or no government representation at the negotiations.

The Conference has been publicized as a gathering for the World’s youth, giving them an opportunity to meet with policy makers and their government officials to chart a way forward for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

But young people are being pushed aside even within the negotiations. As my fellow social media fellow Chris Wright highlighted this morning, young people are being sidelined within their own negotiations.

While no other negotiating groups were asked to sit in specified areas, young people were ‘requested’ to remain at the back of the negotiating hall. They were also asked not to publish specific country positions during the drafting of the Colombo text.

chris tweet

“It is great to see that young national delegates have the opportunity to discuss the text, but it is shocking that the Chair has asked for the negotiations not to publicised. These negotiations need to be transparent so that young people around the world can hear what is going on in their own Declaration”, Chris adds.

Is there any hope for change and different results from the MDGs if youth at WCY 2014 continue to feel excluded and sidelined in their own conference?

Will the future, or even the present, be any better for the world’s youth, especially in relation to the specific foundations and themes being discussed at this Conference?

How much importance are we giving to young people if sessions focus more on their questions than comments and some of their recommendations get withdrawn after review by the leaders here?

Will the voices of youth be fully represented in the Post-2015 Development Agenda if they already feel sidelined in the one space where they are expected to come up with recommendations for said Agenda?

I have so many questions on my mind and will continue to follow the proceedings, but more importantly, the reactions of the youth delegates here in Colombo. Hopefully, by Friday, when the outcome document will have been finalised, I will have answers to my questions.

A Chat With Sana Afouaiz, International Delegate From Morocco

Delegates from all over the world are putting in final preparations ahead of the World Conference On Youth, hosted by Sri Lanka. The main theme of the Conference is ‘Mainstreaming Youth in the Post 2015 Development Agenda’.

From North Africa, representation at the Conference has already been determined. Sana Afouaiz is one of the International Delegates from Morocco. She is the Regional Coordinator of the Moroccan Youth Climate Movement and the Project Manager of Advocacy Learning, which uses innovative service-learning to promote competence in advocacy and provide access to tools for self-development and challenge social oppression. Linguere caught up with Sana for a brief chat, ahead of the gathering In Colombo.

Blog 2 Sana Afouaiz photo


Linguere: Congratulations on being selected to represent Morocco at WCY 2014. Out of the many applications, yours was successful and I believe it’s because of a proven record of hard work in relation to the theme of the conference. Can you share a brief background of the work you do?

Sana:Thank you!I’m a journalist working with the Voice of Women Initiative to promote gender equality and oppose the perpetuation of gender discrimination. I use innovative approaches by encouraging women to tell their stories through the media, as a way to stop violence and inequality.

I’m also a government visitor in the Middle East Partnership Initiative program. Through this program, I explored diverse issues around leadership and civic engagement in United States. As a member of the steering committee of the Moroccan Center for Civic Education, I help to encourage volunteering, spread democratic principles and engage others to become effective in their communities.

I represented Morocco in the Regional Model Arab League Stimulation held in Tunisia. There, we debated about policy-relevant issues among the government institutions, civil society, and citizens in the Arab world.

I currently work as a volunteer assistant with Injaz Al Maghreb too, contributing to the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs. I also execute duties as a member of the national steering committee of United Nations UNV Youth Volunteering in Arab States.

Linguere:The Conference will gather over 1500 participants from all over the world, representing different organisations and groups. How prepared are you for the deliberations?

Sana: I’ll be attending the Conference as a representative of the Voice of Women Initiative (VOW). We are currently working together to produce a document on the recommendations for youth in our communities, which is the aim of the World Conference on Youth. I have great connections within youth organizations from different parts of the world. This has helped me in gathering the needed information to amplify their voices, share their opinions and demands. We plan to share these at WCY 2014 and look forward to seeing our voices represented in the Post 2015 Development Agenda.

Since VOW focuses on women’s issues, I’ve already written a document with important recommendations which I will present in Sri Lanka. These include the situation and status of women in the political, economic, and social spheres.

Linguere: Which key foundations and thematic areas will you focus on at WCY 2014?

Sana: Taking into consideration my background and the organisation I’ll be representing, my focus will be on two main Foundations: Gender Equality and Inclusive Youth Participation at All Levels.

For the themes, I have Realizing Equal Access to Quality Education and Full Employment and Entrepreneurship.

Linguere: In addition to representing VOW at the Conference, you are also recognised as one of the Moroccan International Youth Delegates. Shifting attention to the national scale, how would you describe the current situation in Morocco, regarding youth participation in leadership and development?

Sana:I would say that in the past few years, Morocco has witnessed an increased participation and engagement of youth in the political and decision-making process, in civil society and other public affairs. For me, this confirms that young people in Morocco participate in the development of the country in different fields.

However, there is still room for improvement, especially in the area of representation in Parliament. Young people will be able to share their voices, inform and influence public policies if they are fairly represented at this level.

After the social movement in 2011, the country has seen a huge number of subsequent protests, demanding parliamentary monarchy and advocating political change. More young people have become more interested than ever in determining the policies of the country, to make a positive change. This expresses the leadership sense that Moroccans have, which they want to apply to develop their communities.

Linguere: Has there been any other remarkable improvement following the February 20th movement, influenced by the Arab Spring?

Sana:Unlike other countries in the Arab region, Morocco has faced both street activism led mainly by the February 20th movement and an institutional revolution led by youth wings of political parties and civil society organizations. This led to a political communications and advocacy campaign, putting pressure on state and political parties to establish a quota for youth representation in the parliament.

This political dialogue also led the new election code, voted by the parliament, creating an electoral list for women and another for youth. Now, we have 30 seats guaranteed for youth in our Parliament.

The new constitution also included several theoretical reforms regarding youth and civil society, with various articles promoting youth participation, the freedom to create civil society organizations, formulation of draft legislation, among others. The government also promised to open public debate with youth and civil society, facilitate the creation of the Consultative Council of Youth and Community Work and improve a national integrated youth strategy in the policy plans and supporting associations working in rural areas to guarantee transparency.

Linguere: The majority of young people in the world will not be at WCY 2014. How will you, as a delegate, ensure that details of the outcome document of the WCY are widely spread, especially among young people?  

Sana:I intend to share the experiences, stories and advice gathered from WCY 2014 with other young people and experts. This will be done through social media and the organizations I work with, both at the national and international levels.

Furthermore, I will strengthen the inclusive youth participation in the decision-making processes, by inspiring them and enhancing their importance. This will be through sharing ideas, experiences and innovative approaches for effectively contributing to the post-2015 development agenda and its implementation.

I also intend to organize workshops for other youth to make them aware of their importance in the social, economic and political level when it comes to the decision of government officials. Those decisions should correspond to youth’s needs.

Linguere:Your expectations for the Conference?

Sana: I expect to use the platform to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment, and also to discuss the situation of women beyond 2015.  We need to consider the case of women’s right as a prerequisite for the health and development of families and societies, and a driver of economic growth.

I’ll further love to strengthen inclusive youth participation in the decision-making processes and in the addressing global issues. Youth are the lead; they are the concerned people, and it’s their right to get involved.

I look forward to sharing ideas, experiences and innovative approaches for effectively contributing to the post-2015 development agenda and its implementation, youth rights, and strengthened youth participation at all levels.

Linguere: Thank you for your time Sana. See you in Colombo

Sana: Thank you