Friday, April 22, 2016

Feminist: The Label That Fit Me Like a Glove

By Annette Mukiga, Program Officer for RWN

The partnership between RWN and IIE under the African Centers of Excellence for Women's Leadership (ACE) program started in 2013 and I have been part of the different ACE convenings and activities since then. The most common threads in all these events have been feminist transformational leadership, personal reflection and promoting self care and love as well as our personal “her stories” as a way to keep our feminist principles alive and working in practice.

I have been working for Rwanda Women Network (RWN) for more than a decade and for the first time I could sense that this world that I entered as a young woman was feeling more like home. I finally had a name “Feminist” and it fit me like a glove. I am shameless and unapologetic in taking it and flaunting it as my own.

In most countries and cultural contexts, the word “feminism” carries a negative connotation, with feminism being seen as a western ideology that demonizes men. Feminists are caricatured as “man haters” and “home breakers”. The term feminism may have originated in Europe, but we lived it as Africans before we even knew what it meant.

There have been many struggles by women in challenging traditional and patriarchal systems all over the world and close to home, the famous Rwandan folktale of Ndabaga, the young woman who disguised herself as a young man in order to be admitted in a military camp is a powerful story of a woman who pushed and challenged the gender boundaries of that time.  As a single woman and mother continuously challenging society norms that want to shrink and shape me into “a submissive, virtuous and good woman” I identify with this woman.

For me this journey has led to both personal and professional growth. When I sat through one of the self-care sessions in feminist transformational process, I was hesitant at first. But after I went through a few and did some of the exercises including the body map for the first time, I began to understand body politics and the importance of space for myself. It was rejuvenating, I have learnt to love myself. I found this only in a feminist space!

Naturally, I am a person that is very reserved and like leading from the sidelines and hate the limelight. I have come to love me. For me to give back to the world I have to love myself first and not feel guilty about it. I have had to learn, know more and be in tune with who I am, my journey and where I want to be in this world. To know my strengths and my weaknesses in order to go where I want to go – it is not an easy journey and needs continuous reflection and keeping the bigger picture in focus.

As I continue to grow and take on bigger leadership responsibilities especially around promoting women’s rights, holding leaders accountable and advocating on gender and women’s issues like violence against women and girls, women’s safe spaces, women in decision making, reproductive health, family planning as well as contentious issues like abortion; I am counting on my strength as a woman as well as feminist principles to guide me through.

Feminism - a perspective that values all people as equal, women and men, boys and girls.
“Any woman who chooses to behave like a full human being should be warned that the armies of the status quo will treat her as something of a dirty joke………………. She will need her sisterhood” Gloria Steinem.

Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.
For more on IIE , ACE or RWN please follow the links below.