In a context where conservative culture, social disparities and economic struggles exacerbate violence against women, fracture communities and serve to entrench the inequalities that oppress women daily, a group of community-based activists are coming together to compose a different narrative.
Since women’s experiences, struggles and victories have largely been left out of official ‘histories’, revisiting history has always been an important part of building feminist movements. This becomes even more crucial if we are to fully understand struggles of the past and their implications for the present and the future for us and those who come after us. Engaging with key moments in history enables us to situate ourselves in the present and informs how we unpack power and systems of oppression.
There is a certain connection that is created when women share their stories. With storytelling, we [women] realize that we are not homogenous. We have very diverse experiences and backgrounds but even so, there is something that connects us as women and connects our struggles. ~ Nana Zulu
JASS Southern Africa (JASS SNA) initiated this process in November 2012, through a Feminist Movement Builders (FMB) School which brought together key activists from Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to strengthen collective analysis, skills and political strategies within the region. Followed up by the JASS SNA Feminist Writeshop in February 2013, both these workshops enabled women to reflect on history, demystify how change has happened over time in their countries and across the region, and develop new ways to tell that story from women’s perspectives.
The personal is political and every woman’s lived experience is important to movement building. In these workshops, a woman can move from the individual self and begin to understand that the struggle of the woman sitting next to her is also her struggle. She realizes that something needs to be done and that we must come together as women to take action against oppression. ~ Nana Zulu
Building on the success of FMB School and the Feminist Writeshop, fifteen grassroots activists who form part of Basali Amoho, a collective of urban and rural women, met over two days, at a Herstory Workshop to share their own stories of violence against women in all its manifestations, including—domestic violence and sexual abuse, forced marriage and lack of access to contraceptives, harmful cultural practices, religious conservatism which limits access to HIV-AIDS treatment and literacy, and social stigma due to HIV status. Through storytelling, the women activists were able to, critically look at their own lives, analyze how power plays out personally – in private and public, and draw meaningful connections between their experiences.
As Zambia continues to deliberate on its Draft Constitution to be presented by June 2013, Basali Amoho is using this space to think through what the terms of the document will mean for women while mobilizing on the ground and developing their own strategies to move forward. In the next six months, they plan to share HIV/AIDS treatment and literacy tools in Muslim communities and educate young people on issues of violence.
The women in the mosques here are not allowed to talk about condoms as Muslim women. But the leaders do allow outsiders to come and talk to them. So we have developed a strategy. Taslima (a woman leader in the Lusaka Muslim Women’s Association) will do the voluntary testing with women. And we, as Basali Amoho will come with a condom pack and engage the imams (religious leaders) there because we have that opening. If we tell the imams about the condoms then the imams will tell the rest of the people. ~ Sombo Kuku, member of Basali Amoho