JASS Blog Archives for October 2012

by Shereen Essof on October 20, 2012 on 12:00 am

The dusty roads twist and turn. The setting sun signals the end of another day. The roads are chock full of mini busses ferrying weary workers home, street side sellers with tomatoes, ground nuts, sweet potatoes, dried fish, bananas, all wares for evening meals. “Paradiso,” Sibo (Programmes Officer at JASS partner Manerela+) says, “We have to go straight on this road until we get to the place where there are piles of stones for building, and then we turn.” It is not as simple as this we are to discover, half an hour, several wrong turns, stops to ask and phone calls later we see Mirriam walking down the road towards us.

When we arrive at Paradiso two activist leaders are waiting for us Miriam and Ruth. We all exchange greetings and hugs and catch up on news. “There is a power cut,” Mirriam says, “The sun has set and it is dark, so we should sit outside.” We make our way to the veranda and sit on the green plastic chairs. It is hot even at night.

We are finally at Paradiso.We are meeting in preparation for a television interview on national TV that's going to take place the next morning at 6am. The energy for the campaign is palpable. We are all excited. We talk about what we want to say, the why, who and what of the campaign and then I hear it – a clanking sound coming from my right. I ignore it and we continue. Sibo switches from English to Chichewa and back again. Everyone is animated. The process is rolling, there is no turning back.

In two days, Malawian women activists will hold a national dialogue with stakeholders and decision makers (20 – 21 October) to demand for an immediate rollout of quality ART (antiretroviral treatment). Women will also meet with Ministry of Health officials and take to the streets at the Global Race to SAVE Lives Conference during a March on October 22 to demand the necessary resources and support from the Ministry of Health, medical institutions, local financial lending institutions, government and international donors to save lives now.

There it is again—a distinct clanking and rustling, louder this time. But it’s dark, too dark to really see and everyone else seems unperturbed, so we continue. I can make out the shapes of Miriam, Sibo and Ruth and I use the light from my cell phone to read my notes. We talk about the key messages that need to thread through all our engagements with the media in talking about the campaign.

First, we are holding government accountable to make available the WHO-recommended first line drug that is better-tolerated by patients to everyone who needs it. Second, women’s health must come first, and the scale-up and roll out of the new regimen of ARVs must be sustained beyond one year. Moo. There it is, a distinct moo coming from over my right shoulder, but I am mid-sentence so I continue. Thirdly, the constitutionally-mandated provision of equal access to basic resources, education, health services, food, shelter, employment and infrastructure for all Malawians so that positive women can support themselves while on treatment must not fall off our agenda. There’s more rustling and clanking, nearer this time. Moo. Now it’s so close I can feel it. It’s just behind my shoulder.

Mirriam doesn’t bat an eyelash. “The cows are loose,” she says and we go back to the business at hand, preparing for television interview on the ART campaign and movement building agenda. It reminds me that when women get together, no matter the circumstances or the cows mooing, there is no stopping us. It’s just another day in Malawi.

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by on October 9, 2012 on 9:14 am

Musasa-JASS Wellbeing Circle in Zimbabwe.

What makes a “bad woman”? Does she laugh too loudly or speak out of turn, drink too hard or dance all the time, have too much sex or no sex at all or have the “wrong” kind of sex? Does she cry when she’s sad and break things when she’s angry? Does she wear an impossibly bright smile and laugh so the whole room can hear?

Here at the Musasa-JASS wellbeing circle, just outside of Harare in a lodge that might be as close to heaven as I’ll get, amongst a wildly diverse group of women, from the 20-year old trailblazing activist from rural Chiweshe who is working in severely marginalised mining communities in rural Zimbabwe to a talented, visionary artist from Matabeleland who happens to be gay and proud to the incisive, brave sex worker with her peacock-blue eye shadow and caustic wit—I’m meeting “bad women” of all shapes and sizes, creeds and colours.

It surprises me how far we can travel over three short days. How many tales women have to tell, how many battle scars they’re carrying, how all of us (in different ways) have chosen to fight against a system of patriarchy that’s inscribed on nearly every inch of our bodies and proscribes the choices we have. How we experience power over in our marriages and relationships, in our jobs and organisations, in our churches and village homes.

But there’s no doubt that being here in one place, with all the difference and diversity we inhabit is no small thing. It’s radical. It’s rebellion. It’s in this catalytic space that sparks awaken, resonances sound as we share our knowledge, and real change ignites.

On our first day, we sat together and told our stories. The depth of honesty that women allowed in that space was magical. There’s a reason why women gathering together and finding power within the collective are deemed “witches”—because there is an energy in it that is electrifying.

As we all know, with transgression come not just liberation but also backlash, insecurity, loneliness, and violence. And it’s clear just from being here that the answer to all of that is bound in collectives of powerful women who are passionate about building real and sustainable alternatives.

And if we build a house for “bad women” while we’re at it, you won’t hear us complaining.

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