Category Archives: Musing

My thoughts on various subjects; random pieces too.

The New Year Resolution That Worked

The year 2015 has been an interesting one for me, taking me through all of my elements and rocking up a myriad emotions in more ways than one.

I am not usually one to make New Year Resolutions, for the simple reason that they are pushed to the back of my mind by reality and, therefore, rendered considerably pointless. However, at the beginning of 2015, I made one resolution and pinned it on my Twitter profile.

 

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You may ask why post it on Twitter and not on the walls of my room, or somewhere more visible. My resolution was inspired by the Twitter trend #FeministNewYearResolutions and through the course of the year, has been a great reminder for me, as I navigate spaces with my voice and thoughts as a feminist.

Making that promise to myself, and to the world which followed that trend, ensured that I shared my views on feminism and a great many issues affecting women and girls without reservation, and with no apology.

The online ‘streets’ can be especially ruthless for those sharing unpopular views that diverge from the usual conservative life values we have been taught to embrace as normal.

Identifying as a feminist has brought me my fair share of vitriol and trolling, especially online, with suggestions that my choice is an anomaly because feminism goes against my African values. Ha!

In past years, trolling and (disrespectful) opposition to my views would get to me and sometimes lead me to question my beliefs, lending credibility to what I have now come to consider as no different from noise. Not this year; and I daresay the conscious decision and the thought process that went into coming up with that resolution helped me in holding the fort strong and remaining unmoved by the negativity.

Proclaiming my feminist identity, especially on Twitter, took to a new level when I changed my name to Jollof Feminist, further strengthening the feminist branding of my page, especially for the benefit of new followers. This change, in itself, warranted comments that I would rather not delve into, but choose to replace with how they made me feel.

A few months ago, I was in conversation with one of the members of the diplomatic corps in The Gambia, and our discussion centered on Gambian women’s voices online and the reception to this new and growing normal. We explored the negative reactions to feminism as a concept or way of life, and I had another eureka moment.

I came to the realisation that people are not as angry about feminism itself, as they are at feminists, especially when these latter happen to be women. Their opposition, I concluded, came from a place of discomfort and displeasure at seeing women use their voices to fill up our spaces, as opposed to the previous norm of being seen and never heard. My conclusion was reinforced by the opposite reactions I saw towards men speaking on the same issues, even when simply regurgitating opinions and think pieces from women in the same spaces.

This is not to say that some male feminists do not get attacked for their views, but this can never be compared on the same scale as the attacks on female feminists. This understanding awakened a new fire in me, solidifying the resolution to remain unapologetic about my being a feminist and, consequently, my feminist views and opinions.

Without a doubt, it has been a challenging year and I have found myself in more debates on feminism and, especially, sexism than I care to enumerate. Sometimes, the exchanges would get too heated, but I pride myself in the calmness and focus with which I now maneuver through them, ensuring that my points are made in all respect, but my views are not watered down and trampled upon as irrelevant or an overreaction.

A friend once asked me if it was all worth it, and if I wasn’t bothered by the negative attention I would probably get from engaging in debates and arguments online. My response was simple: it took me a lot of learning and decisions to get here and I am very much convinced about the necessity of what I do. If there’s anything worthy I am doing, it is this.

Reading through this piece, one would think that it has all been ice, blood and fire with my experiences as a vocal feminist online. However, I am grounded in reality by the many positive reactions to these efforts, directly and indirectly.

I have been humbled and honoured in equal measure by the many young women who reach out to express gratitude for these efforts, and explain how it has inspired them to speak up about their experiences and struggles, as well as those of other women and girls.

I have also engaged with several men, young and old, who acknowledge the importance of our voices and our stories, and who vow to be more sensitive especially in navigating our shared spaces on the grounds of their male privilege.

I had an acquaintance reach out to say he has become more mindful of what he says about women when he is around me. I took that as a first step to change, while making obvious my wish that this would become normal for him and he wouldn’t require my presence to check what he says and does, in relation to women.

I have been lucky to find and engage with other feminists, especially young Africans, who have provided more learning opportunities for me, and even more affirmation of the importance of the work we do in simply being ourselves and making our voices heard. The solidarity on Twitter is priceless and the experience is one I am truly grateful for this year.

And for me, that is enough worth and result for the work being done by the many like me, who have decided to no longer be silenced. Discovering the power in our voices and the greater power in using them to tell our own stories has been enough motivation to remain true to my promise and ensure my resolution was seen through to the end of the year.

Where reality has often pushed previous resolutions to the bin in my head, this year has been different. Perhaps, this is because I made a resolution that was in complete alignment with my daily living and activities, both at work and through private ventures. In alignment with my beliefs and what I have come to accept and embrace as the purpose of my life, for as long as it is needed in our world.

I made a resolution at the start of the year, and through the course of living it, I have been blessed with countless experiences and lessons, each one reaffirming the validity of my choices and the necessity of my life’s work. I would cheat and make this my resolution for the coming year, but it would be a repetition of something that has already taken firm root in my being and would flourish even without a reminder.

In 2015, I refused to apologise and stood firm with my beliefs, but I still believe I can be more, do more, give more and embrace the wholeness of my being.

So for 2016, I choose one phrase to guide me: BE INTENTIONAL. In everything I choose to be, say, do and be a part of. Let’s see how this one works out.

As we go into another year, with resolutions or not, I thank you for taking this journey with me and for reading my blogs, even when they come from a very confused place. I am truly appreciative of the support I get through Linguere and pray that it will lead to the realisation of the plans I have to make this bigger.

Have a very awesome 2016! 🙂

FGM Ban In The Gambia: The Beginning of An End 

Today marks the beginning of another 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an annual commemoration that runs from November 25th to December 10th each year.

In The Gambia, this year’s commemorations dawned with great news through an Executive pronouncement, Monday evening, banning the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the country, with immediate effect. The news, broken by the Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure, Sheriff Bojang, on his Facebook page received a generally positive reaction, especially for organisations, activists and advocates that have dedicated their time, resources and lives to the cause of ending the practice over the past three decades.

However, there are also comments on caution and expressions of opposition to the decision; a reaction that is not surprising, given the context and the long traditional history of the practice of FGM in The Gambia. There are ongoing discussions looking at the way forward for the campaign and efforts to end FGM in The Gambia.

Does the Executive pronouncement bring an end to the work of the different organisations, activists and advocates? Is there a need to celebrate this development? Can victory be declared now, and attention shifted to other issues affecting women and girls in The Gambia?

The responses to these questions may vary from one individual or organisation to another, perhaps based on the level of understanding and involvement in the activism and advocacy to end the practice. There may be differences in opinion, but a growing sentiment in the activist circles is the need to translate the pronouncement into specific legislation and consequent enforcement, for greater impact.

Over the past three decades, organisations like GAMCOTRAP have led the advocacy for a law banning the practice of FGM, but efforts were met with negative results. The latest was the rejection of the proposed anti-FGM bill by the National Assembly, pushing back hopes to see legislation passed against FGM in The Gambia. From this context, this pronouncement is one to celebrate, as it displays a political will to ensure the practice ends in The Gambia, possibly leading to action from parliamentarians in line with the various international legal instruments protecting the rights of women and girls. Due process needs to be followed, and the different stakeholders should strike now and push for legislation following this pronouncement. The ground has been set and there have been expressions of support from several National Assembly Members, as captured in this vox pop on the Daily Observer Newspaper.

There has also been a very commendable turn in the media in the past year, with an increase in coverage on FGM, especially in the newspapers. These range from reports on events to opinion pieces examining FGM from different perspectives including health, culture, religion and human rights. The importance of the media in shaping perspectives and public opinion is common knowledge, and their role in the campaign to end FGM is crucial.

Over the past decades, perhaps due to the consideration of FGM as sensitive and taboo, little media attention has been given to the issue, especially on sensitisation regarding the negative effects of the practice on women and girls. Following the pronouncement, the Daily Observer’s issue of Wednesday, 25th November 2015 hosts a front-page feature, a Page 3 coverage, an editorial and a full spread vox-pop. Anyone who has followed media coverage of FGM knows this is a huge turn, even if desired at an earlier time. Other publications have featured stories on the issue and this has contributed to a heightened awareness on FGM, even if met with surprising reactions to the statistics on prevalence in The Gambia.

Increasing awareness of the public on the dangers of FGM and its effects on girls and women is the sure way to changing attitudes and influencing an abandonment of the practice. FGM is a deeply-rooted culture and its practice has prevailed with a justification along cultural, traditional and religious lines. As with many other cultural and traditional practices, there needs to be a shift in perception of the practice, for abandonment to become a true reality.

The pronouncement on the ban is a great first step, but it is only the beginning of the end for this campaign. Activists and advocates still have the very important responsibility of raising awareness on the realities of FGM, backed by evidence and data from the different perspectives. The most effective means of finally eliminating the practice will come from an understanding of its consequences and the voluntary decision of people in communities to protect girls and women from harm. Enforced legislation will be a guideline, but care must be given to the possible deviations from the law, as is seen with other issues that are considered illegal.

Using the law as a deterrent might lead to a new phenomenon of practicing undercover, to avoid the penalties associated with these violations. This can have serious implications, with a continuing risk of complications for the girls, as well as problems in collating accurate data to track progress made in the years following the ban. Where the practice is not done undercover, there is the risk of girls being transported to countries where there will be no legal implications for the practice. This is a current phenomenon in countries like Senegal, where the practice of FGM is against the law. The subject of vacation cutting has also emerged, where girls are generally brought to African countries from America and Europe for cutting, to avoid facing the law in these countries.

These are a few challenges that could arise with the provision of a specific legislation on FGM, and therefore highlights the need for continued work from all fronts to ensure a more holistic solution in line with ending FGM in a generation. There is need for more intensive work to make sure the gains made over the past decades are not erased and community outreach is still at the heart of most efforts to eliminate the practice of FGM. Communication strategies should be reviewed to project positive messages, taking into consideration new developments, avoiding intimidation and promoting dialogue in communities, for more impact. This will definitely yield long-term results, while drawing attention to the human rights and protection perspective for all girls currently at risk.

It is evident there is still a lot of work to do, and a lot more ground to cover. However, there is enough reason to celebrate this new change as it has clearly contributed to a huge shift in opinion from various duty bearers that had, hitherto, taken the backseat. It is a huge step for all involved in the campaign to end FGM, and should be a guide to creating new strategies and actions that will lead to legislation as well as effective outreach and sensitisation, especially targeting practising communities.

This is a positive start to the 16 days campaign in The Gambia and I extend congratulatory wishes to everyone who has been involved, at whatever level, in the campaign to end the practice of FGM in The Gambia.

The executive pronouncement banning the practice of FGM in The Gambia is the beginning of an end, and the next steps taken will determine how much success will be registered. The true winners will be the women and girls of The Gambia, especially those at risk of FGM.

Illusions of Strength in Times of Grief

It rained on my way to work today. I’d noticed the clouds when I left home and prayed the showers would hold on till I got to the office and away from the possibilities of spending the rest of the day with itchy skin. The heavens opened suddenly, half-way through my long commute and my dress bore the marks of the large drops I tried to avoid, with little success.

It was enough to dampen my mood, but as I progressed, I was blessed with visions of the most beautiful green sprouts on land that had, until last week, been brown and bare. I took it all in, grateful for the ability to see the light within the storm. My thoughts were loud enough to drown the conversation among my colleagues, as I got lost in dreamy appreciation. This got me thinking about the past month and how similar this new growth from bare land was, to life and living on this Earth.

It’s been exactly a month since my father passed, and I’ve gone through the whole whirlwind of emotions from shock and denial to reluctant acceptance. The image of my aunt coming out of the hospital ward where he’d drawn in his last breath, tears flowing down her cheeks while she broke the news, remains stuck in my head. The details of what I did and said after that moment are still foggy, but I still remember the piercing scream from my sister when she got wind of our new reality, and that was enough to send me down on my knees. Papa was gone… this time, never to return.

Within the blank, I could hear the voices urging us to ‘be strong’, to ‘accept God’s will’, to ‘have more faith and pray’. I had said the same words on countless occasions to bereaved friends and even strangers, and it was quite sobering for me to be on the receiving end of these attempts to comfort, to encourage, even through the gloom and loss. From within, a tiny voice stayed in my mind reminding me to ‘stay strong for my younger siblings’. It is a voice I know too well, one that has helped me build up defenses and muster strength when weakness threatened to overpower me. It is the voice that had guided me through many difficult situations, even when  I wanted nothing more than to ignore it, give in and up.

Messages of condolence began to pour in as the news spread,  and the one recurring trend was strength. For some, I am the strongest person they know and so I could get through this, too. For others, there was an understanding of how it felt to live in that moment, but I still needed to be strong and eventually it would get easier. I was comforted by the outpouring of love, prayers and goodwill messages. I also had my escape blocked by the expectation to stay composed, to grieve but not so much that it would show a lack of faith, to be the strong woman everyone knew.

Through it all, I remembered the words of my sister Yassin who bent over me and told me to ‘take time out, be selfish with my grieving and let my emotions run their course’. I held on to that new-found freedom for a fleeting moment, but I found myself dragged back into living up to the expectations as usual, and getting through the days ahead with a straight head.

This meant numbing my feelings and attempting to shut out the images in my head that would remind me of my father. It meant smiling at the sight of his freshly ironed haftaan when I walked into his house that night, instead of crying from the reminder of his permanent absence. It meant riding home with his shroud beside me and shutting out the thoughts that they would be his last garments on Earth. It meant smiling too, at the many people who filed in to pay their condolences to the family, and thanking them for coming. It also meant narrating the story of how it all happened, in answer to the many questions, while fighting tears through muffled breath. I was supposed to be strong; I was being strong. Perhaps a little too strong.

After the flurry of activities and an eventual descent of calm, I searched for those feelings I’d tucked away, to no avail. Some days, they would rear their heads for a swift moment and return to their safe place behind my wall of strength. Twice, they’ve come to me in full force and opened the floodgates before I could stop them. However, with each day, there is always a reminder -even if subtle- about living with our new truth. The sight of my eldest brother, a call from my youngest, a chat with my sisters… it all keeps coming back and I realised that we can only be so strong for only a short while. After all the comforting voices die out, we are left alone to face the reality of what had happened and getting used to no longer having our father here with us. After all the attempts  to show strength die out, we are left with one another, to be perhaps more united in his absence than we could be while he was still here.

A visit to his grave brought me some closure, even as I pondered on so many questions that might never get answers. Yesterday, my sister shared a dream of him, and we realised he was probably closer to us now than he’d ever been. In these moments, our vulnerabilities shine forth, our grief becomes clearer and the need for strength is overpowered by the true feeling of loss and our right to own our process of mourning him.

This experience has been one of learning and acknowledging what really matters, what needs our attention and the futility of life as we know it. It has also been my chance to reconnect with the most human parts of my being, accepting my vulnerability as necessary and my feelings as valid, even if they do not meet outside expectations. Today, all that really matters for me is how I feel, how I’m dealing with it and what I can do to make sure I do not shut out parts of my wholeness, just to avoid disappointing. I appreciate the goodwill and the great intentions behind all the messages and encouragements for strength. I also hope that when my cover falls and my smiles are replaced by tears, it will be understood as necessary in the process to accepting life as we know it now.

A month ago, at around this time, I was lost in prayer for my father’s health. Today, I pray for our ability to accept and go through all the necessary phases it will take to get used to. I pray too, that wherever he is, his soul is at rest, his burden lifted and peace be his.

 

Till we meet again. R.I.P Alhaji Momodou Mactar Gambi Jack.

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.

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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.

 

 

International Women’s Day: I Celebrate

It’s International Women’s Day and today, as with everyday, I celebrate (with) all women and girls around the world!

Source: UN Women social media pack for IWD 2014

Source: UN Women social media pack for IWD 2014

I commend us all for the sacrifices we make, the burdens we bear, the changes we influence, the care we give, the love we share, the hope we restore, the strength we embody, going against the odds to succeed, and for a million other things we represent and do as women in this world.

I celebrate the Queens we are, giving birth to Princesses and Princes, partners to Kings, Mothers of the Universe and leaders in our Kingdoms. I celebrate us Lingueres, for even when the crown gets heavy, we still tote it atop our heads with dignity and unrivaled strength!

I celebrate my mother, my ultimate Linguere, for going against all the odds and raising her children and others under her care all alone. I never have to look far for motivation and inspiration and I pray I become even half the woman she is. I celebrate my grandmother too, for setting the pace and inspiring strength through generations.

I celebrate my teachers, mentors, and the many women taking the lead in developing our communities, countries, continents and the world. Your leadership paves the way for greatness and the future is bright for the younger generation.

Source: UN Women Social Media Pack for #HeForShe campaign

Source: UN Women Social Media Pack for #HeForShe campaign

I celebrate the woman who wakes up as early as 5am, takes care of her household chores and heads out to the farms, the markets, the offices etc to earn a living and give her children a better life than she had.

I celebrate and empathise with that woman who wakes up and tries to cover bruises on her body and face, a result of the severe beating she received from her partner the night before.

I celebrate and give my voice to the little girl lying on a mat, legs splayed apart while older women around her engage in excited chatter, as she loses her clitoris and becomes a ‘full woman’.

I lie beside the mother who is forced to abort her baby -one she had fallen in love with- just because it came with a vagina and is, therefore, worth little or nothing at all. Womanhood is sacred and I celebrate her today.

I remember the many victims of honor killings- stoned to death, drowned, suffocated, slaughtered, shot at- all in the name of restoring dignity. May God in heaven grant you the pleasures and freedom you were deprived of here on Earth.

I stand with all girls and women who’ve had their innocence stolen in childhood, during war, down that dark alley, within the walls of the homes where we are supposed to feel safe. I celebrate you and share my hugs when the hot flashes return and the trauma continues, even after 15 years. Rape is not your fault and you have nothing to be guilty for.

I celebrate, stand by and add my voice to the cries and calls of all women and girls who have been, are and will be victims of violence. One in three women could be me… and it is!

I celebrate the women who are rising against the status quo and proving that we are strong, phenomenal and forces to reckon with.

This year, the United Nations celebrates IWD with the theme ‘Equality for Women is progress for all’ and calls for more involvement from men and boys through the #HeForShe campaign. Partnership is the way forward. 

So today, I also celebrate our men and boys! Yes, I shall never tire of saying we can only really make great progress if we work together as partners. This is what the world needs and it will lead to progress in attaining equality and development. Gender equality is not just a women’s issue; it is humanity’s issue!

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Source: UN Women Social Media Pack for #HeForShe campaign

I celebrate the men in my life, and around the world, who recognise that women are equal beings and who continue to support us and work with us as we strive for excellence. I celebrate and commend all men who see women as partners and are not intimidated by a woman’s success.

I celebrate the men who say NO to violence and are ready to protect the women folk from any of its forms.

I have had quite a handful of these amazing men in my life and suffice to say, it has made a big difference and contributed to who I am. They’ve been some of my biggest mentors and supporters and I’m grateful for their presence in my life. I celebrate my WE-MEN today! I love you all!

Remember, equality for women is indeed progress for all! Let us reflect on this and work towards a better world, where gender is no longer an obstacle to success and growth.

Happy Women’s Day everyone!

Gender Equality: A Call For Understanding And Partnership #WCY2014

For many decades, gender equality has been the subject of much debate, with the main issue being its nonexistence in our world. By nonexistence, we refer to the remarkable absence of equality and equity in various spheres, ranging from the social to the economic, political and other sectors.

It is no coincidence and certainly with great reason that the promotion of gender equality figures in the Millennium Development Goals, with special focus on equal access to education, political leadership and employment opportunities. Arguments have linked improvements in promoting gender equality to an increased progress in attaining the other seven MDGs for obvious reasons.

It is important to note that the call for gender equality predates the establishment of the MDGs, reaching far back into history and gaining greater momentum around the beginning of the 19th century. The movement was further pronounced by significant milestones like the creation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the 2005 Beijing Platform for Action, among others.

Young men and women working together; partnership is key

Young men and women working together; partnership is key

Barely a year to the target date for the attainment of the MDGs, the progress made in the various sectors still leave much to be desired. Gender inequality remains a significant problem in most parts of the world, regardless of economic, political and social advancements registered.

One is bound to question the effectiveness of the various projects and measures put in place to promote the cause and ensure much progress is made. Why haven’t we seen more improvements in this area, despite the growth in human rights and especially, feminist groups working for a common cause?

The growth in the women’s movement did not leave the world indifferent; very significant encouragement and criticism have been received. Equally significant is the reaction to the nature of the participants in and promoters of the cause for gender equality. It has become normal to identify gender equality as a women’s issue, extending to the labeling of women’s rights advocates with various adjectives, most of which are not positive. Angry, bitter, man-hating, male-bashing, brainwashed are just a few. This perpetuates the misconception that advocacy for gender equality is a domain exclusively for women, most of whom personify the adjectives listed above.

It is evident that one of the main issues hindering progress in achieving gender equality is the existence and preservation of traditional gender roles that naturally make leaders of men and followers of women. This already creates an “us VS them” dynamic, that continues to set one group against the other, in sticking with the binary definition of gender. However, it would be unfair to blame men for all the disparities in this cause, despite the suggestions that the opposition or passivity is due to the ‘fear’ of being overtaken and dominated by women. Arguments have presented women as contributors to the perpetuation of the challenges caused by gender roles, through their decisions to stick with the familiar and preserve their traditions and cultures.

This stems from a general misunderstanding of the call for gender equality, or the equally renowned fifty-fifty slogan and their objectives. It is, therefore, very important that people are sensitised and educated about the aims of the movement to foster better understanding and consequently increased participation in its promotion.

Only when all parties are aware and well-informed can we register even more progress in attaining equality and ending discrimination due to one’s gender. The empowerment of women translates to marked development in various sectors, as everyone is free to contribute their quota and develop themselves, their families and their communities.

It is also crucial that women’s rights groups work towards an end to the alienation of men from the work being done to advance gender equality. This has been a cause for concern and has contributed to the belief that promoting gender equality is a women’s issue, when it really affects people from everywhere around the world.

For this reason, gender equality should be everyone’s concern – male or female. With concerted efforts, preceded by equal opportunities, we’ll observe a growth in productivity and production while registering declines in issues like Violence Against Women touching on problems like early and forced marriages, domestic violence, FGM/C, rape culture etc, as well as the over-expectations on men to show dominance among other issues born from patriarchy. Respect of human rights flourishes and the existence of level grounds for all will positively affect the progress made on other development goals.

As the world transitions from the MDGs to the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, it will be beneficial to establish more inclusive approaches and promote more education on gender equality, its benefits and the consequent ripple effect of its progress with regards to other goals and causes.

There is strength in unity and our differences as humans should never be a threshold for injustice, inequality and the violation of basic human rights. Gender equality affects us all and should be everyone’s concern. It is not just a women’s issue. It is humanity’s issue.

Reflections After Three Years of Blogging

Yesterday, Linguere turned three! Yes, it’s been three years since that cold February morning when I woke up and decided I would start blogging. It dawned upon me late last night and I wondered at how time flies. It has been one very interesting journey, but I daresay it’s been worth every word, sentence, paragraph and post.

Thank you for the support!

                                            Thank you for the support!

Writing has always been my favourite means of expression, and to this day, I still get mocked for choosing it over speaking at most times (I like to think I’m a great speaker when I take up that role too). My desire to write came from being a very introverted person while growing up, and so padlocked diaries and tiny notebooks were my best friends. It was an escape for me and a means of entrusting my secrets to ‘someone’ who wouldn’t share them… at least until the diaries got stolen or ‘mistakenly’ opened.

I was – and still am – a bookworm too, reading anything I could lay my hands on – from newspapers to books that were way beyond my age and level. I would even pick up scraps of paper on the streets just to read what was written on them. I grew up to love words and wanted to write like my favourite authors. When I wrote essays in school, my teachers would call me back to ask if I had any help writing them. I am not tooting my horn. This is just to say I recognise the gift that I have and understand that it has grown into a passion and stayed a means of escape for me.

Linguere was born at a time when I had much encouragement to take my writing seriously. I was also inspired by another Gambian blogger, Jatou Gaye, who ran La Femme Noire and Anything Baroque at the time. I was intrigued by her posts and read all of them in one night’s sitting. Unfortunately, she stopped blogging and I bemoaned the loss of that Gambian presence on the blogosphere. This gave way to questioning myself and asking why I couldn’t keep that alive. The idea couldn’t have come at a better time and convinced that I could make it work, even when uncertain of the experience, I started Linguere, hosted on Blogger. A year later, I would move to WordPress and here we are today.

It has been a truly amazing experience and I have learnt quite a lot within these three years. I’ve picked up tips on great blogging – how to create successful posts, how to get more traffic, how to stay ‘on top of my game’, the benefits of interacting with fellow bloggers and my readers and a host of other things. When I started blogging, it wasn’t so much for the attention it would get me as it was for my need to express myself and hone my skill. I ended up having both and am thankful for this. I’ll be the first to attest that my writing has improved greatly over the years and it can only get better from here.

It has not been all rosy. As a blogger, I’ve learnt to expect and accept criticism for my writing. It is definitely not easy, but I’m glad I’m open to it now. I’ve had my fair share of critics, though I must admit they are possibly the nicest ones around. I’ve gone through that blogger phase of writing a post and waiting to see how well it did and how many people it reached. I’ve caught myself getting excited because someone left a comment after reading. I’ve seen posts that I thought would do well go down the drain and others that I put half a heart into, do pretty well. I’ve been happy to open my social networks and see friends and strangers share links to my posts. As much as I’ve tried to make visibility less important in my pursuits, I welcome it now. I realised that my writing is usually very serious and carries important messages, as far as I know, and so it is important that it reaches as many people as possible.

Today, I woke up to two messages on Facebook – one from an ex-classmate and the other from someone I do not know. Both messages left me teary-eyed and the senders told me how great they thought my writing  was and how proud they were of me. The ex-classmate went on to add that he would be very proud to say he once sat in the same class with me. The second sender ended up asking for my number and calling me all the way from The Gambia just to say how proud she is of me. It is not the first time I’m getting these messages and I’m certain it won’t be the last, but it made me realise one thing. We never really know what impact we can have through our work, our actions etc. Some messages leave me surprised and thinking ‘Oh, s/he reads my blog too? Wow’. It was the same feeling when I met another classmate while on holidays in The Gambia and he asked ‘So when are we getting the next post on the Jollof Chronicles’. I didn’t expect that and was reminded that I could make a change through my blog, because people were reading and paying attention to what I wrote.

For these and other reasons, I’m thankful. I may not put up posts on a regular basis; I still struggle to keep my posts short and concise; I could go months with no attention for Linguere but I believe it is all part of this journey. I may not know everything there is to know about blogging, but I do not plan to stop anytime soon so there’s always time to learn new things. However, I’m not really one to stick much with the rules either and I believe one thing that makes Linguere different is the fact that I chose to do things exactly how I felt and wanted.

I’ve had readers from all over the world and I must say the interactions have been one of my favourite parts of my blogging experience. I’ve made friends whose contributions have been very meaningful. I’ve received much support from fans of the blog and admirers of my person. It could be very easy to lose myself in these acknowledgements, but I stay grounded and appreciative of it all. I thank you for reading, liking, commenting, sharing and subscribing. You all motivate me to write better. I am really grateful.

Here’s to another year of blogging, of sharing and interacting with you all. I hope we all live to see Linguere grow from this blog into the bigger platform I hope to turn it into. It began three years ago and shall grow over the coming years, by God’s grace.

P.S I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment and share your feelings about the blog, what you’ve gained from it, what you would like to see more of and remember to share with your friends. 🙂