Malawi: 10 things we would write about if we had the time

After a whirlwind of activity over roughly 14 days, we leave Malawi bone-tired but also excited about the depth and breadth of JASS' work, our partnerships with MANERELA+ and women leaders from a wide spectrum of organisations and networks, and more.

Anna

  1. What it means for women to meet with state representatives and traditional leaders in a context where women are not expected to engage formal power directly.
  2. The sisters of light: feminist team work, spirit and making things happen.
  3. Safe spaces and collective power: how giving space for women to speak encourages other women.
  4. The men of Paradiso and Rev. Domoya: how men can act in solidarity when the space is set up to support women's voices.
  5. Legitimacy of voice, language and messages: the importance of being grounded in process when working in other countries.
  6. The art of knowing when to be quiet and stop fiddling during a prayer that was announced in a language you don't understand.
  7. Male dominated international spaces: how 'neutral' programmes and application processes marginalise women's participation and voices.
  8. The value of an insider to drive, direct, negotiate, get things done and in our case a driver, Elson who does all of that and narrates the adventures of the Sisterhood in 3rd person.
  9. Negotiating language, culture and manners: how Malawians often say Yes before they explain why the answer is No.
  10. The danger of debates that pit poor women against each other (e.g. health centre workers with 'bad attitudes'), the danger of debates that make poor people fund their ARVs (e.g. taxing airtime not AIRTEL) and the danger of debates that make women responsible for a) ending HIV infection b) curtailing population size c) upholding morality (mothers of the nation discourse)

Malawian women demand better ARVsShereen

  1. Power cuts, water cuts and really bad internet connections: the challenges of organising in Malawi.
  2. Elson (the JASS driver in Malawi) and Karina (his car):  Feminist Popular Education on Wheels
  3. The Chinese pagoda in the middle of the field:  Chinese investment in Malawi
  4. The power of process and relationship building in partnerships: The case of MANERELA+ and JASS
  5. Radical confluences and their contradictions feminism meets institutionalised religion.
  6. Feminist friendships and solidarity.
  7. Sustaining feminist organising:  some thoughts.
  8. A cockroach, an underwater creature of the deep, and many mosquitoes.
  9. The vegetarian:  a guide to Lilongwe.
  10. On dangerous ground: grounding feminist politics when the process is running away from you.

Maggie

  1. Sometimes bigger is better: we came into the national dialogue process expecting a "modest" showing of 60 women activist leaders. Instead, we found a room bursting at the seams with more than 140 women singing, dancing and more than ready to take action (often at 7AM in the morning, 1.5 hours before the daily programme was even due to start!). An intimidating prospect at first, the collective energy and passion contained in that space was explosive.
  2. Navigating strange spaces: The pagoda's already been mentioned but the SAVE Conference space is an odd one for building human connections and solidarity in general - all dull, grey concrete and glass; brutally mown landscape with only a sparse covering of trees baking under the hot sun; inside are luxurious, brocade-covered chairs and shiny parquet floors that still smell like industrial glue, and signage on all the doors and fire hydrants in both English and Chinese (foreign language).
  3. Pizza is not a universally-understood food concept and that's okay.
  4. To whom does it belong to…: a hilarious and powerful anthem about claiming and re-claiming our bodies from head to foot - you had to be there, in a room of 140-odd women to understand.
  5. The infectiousness of collective energy and solidarity: I spent the march running ahead of the masses, camera in hand, sweating buckets and snapping photos of everyone and everything in sight - every single poster painstakingly written by women involved in our process in the hands of people I'd never even seen before!
  6. Media in Malawi: it's still shocking just how present MANERELA+ and JASS processes were in the media. Every morning we would get reportage from Elson on the ladies-in-blue on TV and the radio and the newspaper.
  7. Theatre for change: during the Interfaith service, two women and a man performed a hilarious skit on the challenges of T30 that had the whole room in stitches and tangibly released any stiffness there might have been in the congregation. That and the Muslim women's choir that brought the whole room to its feet.
  8. Safe spaces that allow women to release inhibitions, to step out of any societally-imposed boxes, and dance, sing, celebrate, share, be creative, and confront power in the most direct manner.
  9. The willingness of local media-newspapers, radio, television-to cover our stories. We were on the news every single night, the blue chitenge was often instantly recognizable.
  10. Dr. Mwansamba (at the Ministry of Health) promised that Bactrim would be available in all hospitals in Salima district within two weeks; he also gave us his phone number to call him back if this life-saving medication isn't accessible to everyone who needs it by the aforementioned time. I hope, along with our sisters in Malawi, that he's right

Country: