Tag Archives: Feminism

For Little Girls Turned Women

I rise
In answer to the cries
Of the innocent, the fragile
Too young to understand
Yet never too young to know pain
Borne from the cuts of society
Masked in honour and servitude to God
Marked with the demands of a culture
That stands by and listens to these cries
Then beats the drums to celebrate this honour

I rise
For the little girl turned woman
Her only crime was being born female
Into a world where choice is masculine
Dignity is male
And pleasure is for her to give, never to receive
Her gift from God, stolen
Made a woman yet less of a woman
For how is she complete with a piece of her missing
While she watches the cycle grow
From her to her daughter, to her daughter
Missing pieces, vacuums of emotional trauma
Wherein dwell the loud echoes of pain indescribable

I rise
For an end to the cries
Healing for the cuts, the hearts, the minds
For the screams at childbirth, the passage too narrow
An end to the nightmares, the feeling of guilt
For the missing pieces, from woman to woman
I rise for the 70% and counting…
Against the culture that breeds it
The people who fight for it, defend it
For the little girl who needed one voice

I give my voice to her
I rise

#EndFGM #EndChildMarriage

11/11/2015

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LinguereSpeaks: Storytelling As A Means of Empowering Girls And Women

Statement written for and read at launching of ‘Keep The Dream Alive’, a book authored by young Gambian,  Charlotte Ajuwa Smith.

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My name is Jama and I’m a writer. It is a great honour for me to be a part of this very important gathering, as we not only launch the book ‘Keep The Dream Alive’, but also celebrate the talent and bravery of Charlotte Ajuwa Smith.

I say talent and there may be no questions about that, but I understand there may be some of us wondering what is so brave about writing a book, publishing and launching it into the market. Isn’t that supposed to be an easy thing, especially in today’s world where we have access to relatively more resources and platforms than before?

That last part is true, but access to these resources is still not equitable, and therefore, some sections of society fare better than others. As with most sectors of growth and development, girls and women are dealt the lesser hand when it comes to access. This is due to a number of reasons, and key among them are the social and cultural environments in which we raise our girls, who grow up to be women.

I look back to the periods of our history where the education of the girl child was seen to be of little or no significance. Where we were taught that the place of a girl is in the home, where she is taught the skills that will make her desirable for marriage and ready to keep a home. Her value lay in how expertly she handled domestic chores and how great a home she could make.

This is not to say that there is no value in learning these skills, as they benefit all of society; the problem begins when we see this role is all a girl – a woman – is good for, therefore neglecting the whole package of wonderful gifts they have been given by God.

One of my favourite writers, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, once said and I quote “We teach our girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to our girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man.”

How is this relevant to our conversation today, you may ask. First, because she is a storyteller who has taken it upon herself to create a strong example of what an educated and enlightened girl can grow up to become; the spaces we can navigate in our world, and the opportunities we can create for the millions of young girls who are still tied to society’s limits of who and what they can be. She is keeping the dream alive through the stories she tells and the speeches she gives. That is empowerment.

In The Gambia, we do not have a scarcity in the number of women living lives that tell stories of achievement, resistance, resilience and a breaking away from the norm. We are seated in a theatre that was established by one of such women, in the person of Aunty Janet Badjan-Young, creating a centre of excellence for young men and women in The Gambia to explore their talents and grow the creative arts in the country.

We have many more examples of women writing stories that speak to the humanity of girls and women, leaving their footprints (or can I say handprints) in the narrative of our lives – past and present. Again, this is important.

Comparatively, we may still have many more men telling our stories, in oral and written form and using other media around the world. However, there is a growing shift in the ownership of our narratives, and therefore, the kinds of stories that are produced and shared about girls and women.

Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to read and discover stories that provide more empowering and dignified images of girls and women, especially African. With the new generation of writers and storytellers, especially female, there is even greater hope of discovering stories that we can easily relate to, and of characters that look like us and share similar cultures with us.

I go back to Chimamanda in her TED Talk entitled ‘The Danger of the Single Story’. In this talk she says and I quote, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are not untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

The stories that have been told of us may not necessarily be untrue; the roles of the female characters may be roles that we have assumed at one point or the other. However, when we continue to create these roles, we are teaching the girls and women that there are limits to what they can become and this is what we will continue to embody, perhaps never discovering how much more potential we have.

In the few years since I started writing actively and taking my stories seriously, I have learnt lessons that I continue to share. I may still be young and I still have a long way to go in this journey, but each day comes with a learning moment, each one leaving me with more determination to pursue the course. What started as casual storytelling for me has morphed into a journey of telling my story and the stories of other girls and women that I encounter. This has become one of my life’s missions, and though it can be challenging, it is also very fulfilling.

When I write, I am aware that I do not only write for myself. I write for the many people who encounter my work and often find inspiration to also break out of their shells and tell their stories. In doing so, we are reclaiming the narrative of ourselves and are telling our stories from our perspective. We are cancelling the danger of the single story. We are dispelling the myths surrounding our experiences and are telling the world that there is more to us than the boxes we are forced and fit into. We are unwrapping the gifts we have been blessed with, and are sharing them with the bigger world out there. This is what hope looks like. For the next generation of girls and women, this is significant.

Today is significant, as it is yet another manifestation of what we can do when we have the necessary structures and support spaces we need. I believe Charlotte has achieved a milestone, not just for herself, but for every girl and woman, in and out of this hall. In the audience today, there may be a girl, a young woman, looking at her today and telling herself ‘I can do it too’. Ladies and gentlemen, that is the empowerment we need. The ones that come from living examples of possibility, of opportunity, of talent, of grace and of success.

Today, I urge everyone present here today to help in keeping this chain growing. There is no measure of the significant progress we all can enjoy if we encourage everyone in society, regardless of their gender, ethnic group, social standing or other man-made qualification, to reach for their goals and meet their fullest potential.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the author and everyone who’s supported her through this journey. I say this on behalf of the girls and women who will read this book and gain a stronger conviction and clarity of the path ahead of them. It is one thing to have a dream; it is another thing to keep it alive and turn it to reality. I am without doubt that the book we shall launch today will create another road of opportunity, belief, confidence and self-assurance for the many who read it.

We are the present and the future, and to build our country, our work needs to be supported and celebrated. We are the dream; help us keep us alive.

I thank you for your attention.

Jama Jack

17 July 2016

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.

 

twitter resoultion

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! 🙂

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.

In Response To The Gambia’s Pen

About two weeks ago, I got home tired, after a day of rigorous school work. In one of my classes, the lecturer had digressed into the growing relevance of e-reputation as a criterion for employment. Once I’d completed my daily routine, I turned to the all-efficient Google to see what traces I had left, and continue to leave on the Internet. An article in the Daily Observer caught my attention and I got even more excited when I read the signature: that of The Gambia’s Pen, Momodou Sabally. It was an opinion piece (“To Gambian Women: Love, Honour And Respect!”), written to celebrate Gambian women on the occasion of International Women’s Day. In one paragraph, the author wrote “To the young ones, the up-and-coming I say keep it up and don’t you ever give up! There are thousands of young Gambian girls with great promise but let me mention a few I’ve recognised of late: Jama Jack, Aisha Sulayman Keita and Satang Nabaneh. To them I say keep pushing, the future is bright adorned wih starry lights.” I was honored to receive such encouragement as I, together with my colleagues, continue to advocate for the cause of women.

In today’s Daily Observer, the author sings…but with a different tune. I couldn’t help noticing the disclaimer at the top of both articles, detaching the author from the feminist circle, but that is of little significance in the face of the contents of today’s article. “To Gambian Girls: A Message For Self-Preservation And Empowerment“, this title read. I braced myself for yet another inspirational read; one I could draw lessons from. After reading the introduction, however, I was forced to close the tab and set off for school. It was to be completed upon my return, and after proper assimilation of its contents.

I read and re-read the article and attempted to summarise the contents in a few lines. In short, the author’s message was: Dear Gambian girls, the world has changed and you have bigger opportunities to excel now. Grab them all, succeed in whatever you do, but remember that even with that success, you can never be equal to men and society expects you to remain chaste till marriage.

I marvelled at the double standards our society strives on. I wondered if the encouragement received in the first article was also to be taken with the notice in the second. The author tells Gambian girls that “you can and should be bigger and better than any man in any calling that suits you, including leadership roles”; a direct contradiction of the opening paragraph, where the author unreservedly declares that “…men and women at some level are not equal for man was made to be the leader and woman the follower”. You wouldn’t blame me for my confusion, would you?

At the MILEAD Institute in Accra last year, one of the dynamic resource persons highlighted the importance of redefining gender roles and doing away with the patriarchal and mysogynistic norms our society lives by. Being born female means only one thing: that one is a human being and is equal to all others in the eyes of the Creator. In our traditional societies, however, being born female means being raised as a woman…a lesser being automatically condemned to certain expectations that clearly infringe on one’s liberty to live as one pleases. Our biologically-defined organs become an instrument for the socially-constructed notion of gender, allowing us to create variables which identify differences in roles, responsibilities, opportunities, needs, constraints etc. I dare say  that these roles, which end up as natural elements in our daily living, are designed with little regard for the person’s interests or social orientations. The status of females, determined by (a patriarchial) society must change to accomodate the evolution of our times and acknowledge the capabilities of our womenfolk, without restricting them to traditional roles, while asking little or nothing of the opposite sex, as far as society’s expectations are concerned.

After ‘advising’ Gambian girls to “preserve our purity and delay our biological urgings”, the author turned to the boys, perhaps as an afterthought and in an attempt to avail himself of any accusations that might be advanced by the girls. How difficult is it to instill the same moral values in ALL of our kids REGARDLESS of their sex? Why should chastity be a priority only for girls, who risk great condemnation if they are found wanting in that department? How would the Gambian public have received that song quoted in the article if, instead of advising the girl to “baayi goor yiko jaii jiko chaii chaii”, the artists had opted to ask of the boys that they “baayi jiko chaii chaii yinyor jaii haleh yu jigeen yi”? Afterall, doesn’t the act of premarital sex go both ways for heterosexual individuals? Wouldn’t it be fair that where we ask girls to guard their chastity, we also ask of boys to lower their gazes, if spirituality is the backing we use for our ‘advice’?

I couldn’t help noting another contradiction in the poem which ended the article. The author tells the young girl to “dress up and parade”, to “do your thing with checkess”. I assumed this would be done in those same high heels which are “more suitable for girls than boots and overalls”. Isn’t this an evident, if even subtle portrayal of the woman as a sexual object, made to beautify herself and parade for we all know who? Yet, she still must guard her chastity and be “mindful of her reputation and that of her clan”. Hmmph!

We live in the 21st century and the feminist movement still faces enormous challenges, despite the milestones gained in the years since the Beijing conference. I’ve always been of the belief that we can only register significant success if we break the gender barriers and work together, both men and women, towards creating a better world for the human being. I believe the women’s movement cannot and will not make a breakthrough if there is no collaboration and solidarity among men and women, especially in revisiting and redefining the patriarchal norms and values by which we are expected to live our lives. I understand that the author has the right to an opinion, just like I do, and he has put it forward, even with the disclaimers. However, when one attains a certain status in society and is looked up to as a source of inspiration for young people, I think it is only right that one pays attention to the messsages put forward and the implications it might have.

To conclude, I throw a last look at the first paragraph where the author declares, “I am not a feminist” and that I ” am free to call him chauvinistic…”. I’ll honorably pass on that offer and , instead, suggest a very powerful video  by the amazing Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at one of the TedxEuston events. The title ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ is enough for me to rest my case.

Link to Daily Observer article: http://observer.gm/africa/gambia/article/opinion-to-gambian-girls-a-message-for-self-preservation-and-empowerment

IWD 2013: Take The Promise

It’s March 8th again. It’s International Women’s Day; a day set aside to celebrate all women in the world, irrespective of their backgrounds and differences.

We celebrate appreciation, respect, love and admiration towards women. We equally celebrate the numerous achievements registered in the social, political and economic spheres among others.

“A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women” is the theme for this year’s celebrations. Somewhere in New York, Governments, activists and supporters of women’s rights are gathered for the 57th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Discussions revolve around the priority theme: Elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. Earlier this year, the world witnessed the greatest movement of feminists and supporters on February 14th, demanding an end to Violence against Women. The ‘I Rise’ campaign reached out to people from all parts of the world, united towards achieving a common goal. Yesterday, in the United States of America, the Violence Against Women Act was signed into law by President Obama. It is only the first quarter of the year, but I can’t help celebrating these great achievements, while remaining positive for even greater things by the time the year rolls out.

The conversation continues, but the call for action has grown even louder. Do you hear it? Are you ready to take the promise? Are you ready to deliver that promise?

It starts from the smallest unit in society: the family. Take the promise to protect the women and girls in your home from violence and abuse of all forms. We’ll sweep the world clean, one home at a time!

Today, I honor the women in history! The strong Lingueres who paved the way for today’s feminists. The brave ladies who broke the traditional norms to speak up and demand that women get their basic human rights.

I celebrate the thousands of activists, carrying the torch forward and standing firm on their feet. The resilient men and women who shall not rest until the woman is treated as an equal, a human and one of God’s noble creations.

I stand in solidarity with all victims and survivors of violence and gender-influenced mistreatment. The world owes you justice. I stand tall with you and add my voice to your cry, growing louder until the world pays attention. I pray for those who didn’t survive the abuse and hope that their deaths will be avenged.

I salute my male comrades, who’ve broken the barriers and stay firm in their pledge to support the cause of women. I strongly believe solidarity and cooperation are indispensable to the success of our campaign. Equality can only be achieved when all parties concerned understand what it means. Our dear we-men, your efforts are appreciated.

I challenge all goverments and people in power to live up to their promises, assume their responsibilities, respect the rights and provide for the needs of the people they are meant to serve. The promise goes beyond signing and ratifying conventions and treaties. It extends to concrete and effective action to uphold and put into place the many recommendations they put forward! The world is watching and I implore you to act now!

Time is running out. One act of violence is one act too many. We can not afford to lose any more women, to death, physical disability, emotional breakdowns, psychological trauma among others.

Speak up! Act now! Do whatever you can! Don’t sit back and wait till it gets to you or those dear to you. Every woman’s cry should be your cry too! Live the promise!

“Though she’s half a world away
Something in me wants to say
We are one woman
And we shall shine” -One Woman song

Have a joyous International Women’s Day!