A few takeaways from an inspiring (and honest) session at Feminist Talks with Aluel Atem about the untapped wealth of knowledge that Black women have to shape their own societies – if people will listen
On Thursday, I ventured out amongst real people (wow!) to participate in a talk with Aluel Atem, a South Sudanese feminist, activist, peace builder and badass super smart role model. The topic was the disconnect of advocacy work, and the Global South/North challenges of agency, feminism and allyship. We also discussed the challenges women of colour in Sub Saharan Africa face, and how they have to be acknowledged in their contributions of knowledge in the subject of their own realities.
Not to go into too many details, but it is just super refreshing and empowering to meet fellow African women who ‘dare’ to speak openly about some of the real reasons behind our struggles – patriarchy, colonialism, the lack of authentic allyship and trust that our voices actually matter. Not only to define our own realities, but also when we design, collaborate and try to solve challenges in an African context.
Here are a few of the things that Aluel Atem and I touched on, as well as some of my takeaways:
We discussed the importance of understanding and utilising the rich, existing knowledge among women in the work of peace and reconciliation, human rights and economic development cannot be overstated. The programs designed by international entities like NGOs need to use not only expats – but real, local people. They should be looked to as the experts of their own realities, and on how to build and rebuild their societies. Diversity in knowledge freaking matters.
We need to unlearn, NOW! African history tends to ‘start’ with colonialism and somehow, the African narrative and the role of women has been erased from this history. Now is the time to acknowledge and change the perceptions that African voices are not valid, because there has been a rich history of prosperity and culture – and every so often, also communities build on the matriarchal and female ethos.
We do not need to inherit the flaws of a Western ideal society, but we can and should build our own futures.
Feminism is not just one homogeneous blob. There is such a thing as African feminism, and POC feminism(!). African women have opinions and experiences that have always – and continue to – lead the struggle against the white supremist patriarchy in African nations. We need more spaces to share and exchange our knowledge and ideas; spaces that center our experiences, not others’ ‘good intentions’, without having our agency stripped away. That’s why we are thriving in the digital space, where we can build our own stories on our own terms. We have a voice, we are just unheard!
Many ask and talk about allyship and solidarity in the midst of all these conversations, but somehow both need to be reclarified. True allyship must be in the eyes of the receiver, not the people who want to be an ally. This means it’s never really up to you – it’s up to the receiver. And in terms of asking Black women about how to show solidarity, please educate yourself and try to listen deep. That’s always a good place to start.