Seven months into my role as the Southern Africa One Billion Rising coordinator, I am in awe at the energy and passion that has set the whole region on fire. From our visit to Johannesburg in October 2013, where I met many activists to brainstorm about the Justice issues they thought were contributing to violence against women up to this point, when the whole region is poised to see massive Risings, I am humbled at what solidarity, commitment and a deep collective desire can achieve.
This journey has been about real and lasting changes to the way violence against women is viewed and how justice is carried out. In Lesotho, two young women are getting ready to bring their community together to rise for economic justice and against intimate partner violence. Their determination to do something for their fellow women and for themselves is nothing short of revolutionary. Lerato Ramaili and Mathamkaze Ramakau have doggedly pursued their goal to rise, going to internet cafes just in order to communicate with me and to ask questions about how best they can mobilize in a culturally and socially restrictive environment. They are doing door to door activism as part of their mobilization strategy. They are rising!
In December, Swaziland saw the first ever rising and street presence of domestic workers singing and dancing for Justice. Their song was about breaking the silence on abuse by employers, violence in their own homes and rape. Colani Hlatshwako is an amazing young woman an activist whose desire to end violence against women is matched only by her actions as she mobilizes and gets ready for Swaziland to have their first ever action for justice. Women from all 4 provinces of Swaziland will gather to protest impunity and a justice system that does not hold perpetrators accountable.
Zimbabwe and South Africa were part of the inaugural global One Billion Rising, 2013 and this year massive risings are set to take place in all major regions in both countries. In Zimbabwe Coordinator Nyasha Sengayi has partnered with Glanis Changachirere who is mobilizing young women in rural Bindura. Farmers and mine workers will rise and dance for justice on February 14, Batsirayi Chigama who is assisting with the Rising in Harare and Soneni Gwizi and Mgcini Nyoni who are mobilizing people with disabilities and youth in Bulawayo. Rosie Motene and Zubeida Shaik are mobilizing South Africa. In the last 7 months there have been numerous activities from the panel discussion on Justice in Johannesburg, to the story circle in Cape Town and the door to door activism of youth ambassadors to parliament in their rural communities. LGBTI groups, religious leaders, members of parliament and many prominent feminists and activists are joining in pre-rising events across the country.
Malawi is rising against impunity for perpetrators and they are working to involve the police in their Rising events because they are either not properly educated to deal with sexual and domestic violence issues, or they do not care Conversations on the Malawi Facebook page have been energetic and requests for more details started coming in the moment the page went up Mbachi Joyce Ng’oma is coordinating the Rising in Malawi and she has some enthusiastic young men to assist her.
The presence of men standing in solidarity with us as individuals and as organizations is a sign to me that all of us, men and women yearn for peace, security and nurturing environments and communities in which to live out our potential. It also signals to me that we all recognize the peril that humanity faces if violence against women and the pervasive corporate capitalist greed which is destroying the planet are not stopped.
Working with the various activists who are coordinating activities in their countries I have learned that true solidarity is realizing that we are all part of the same story: the human story of struggle, triumph, doubt, certainty, fear, courage, joy, pain, love, loss of love, discontent, peace, turmoil, failures and successes and so on as we swim in our common pool of complexity and paradox. One way or another we are all interconnected and whether by blood or by choice, or by force of circumstance or common cause, this interconnectedness is something I value. It is an honor to be part of an authentic sisterhood where we laugh, cry and even as we chafe and agitate and push and rub against one another, with love we are ultimately all growing and bringing out the best in one another. We are creating beautiful memories, lifelong friendships and powerful regional, continental and global networks through which we will be able to strengthen our work by deepening, broadening sharing our ideas as a movement.
Watching the coordinators and activists deploy extraordinary networking skills and observing the light of their passion ignite a fire in others, I am able to envision a world where violence against women and girls is ended. I also learned how creative, resourceful and persuasive these amazing women are as they navigate and negotiate sometimes rough terrain all with the goal of ending violence against women and girls. They have almost instinctively embraced the spirit of the One billion Rising Campaign, which is inclusive of all human beings who share the desire to fight for justice for women. The collaboration of activists in rural and marginalized areas with those in urban areas, farmworkers uniting with mine workers and domestic workers, lawyers with physician groups, artists with teachers unions and municipalities, university students with grassroots community organizers, township dwellers with suburbanites, commercial sex worker groups with safe houses, has been astounding to me. It has demonstrated the reality of the intersections between and among many social ills and how they affect violence against women and girls. Our Campaign in Southern Africa is imbued with the spirit of Ubuntu, not the tourist slogan but authentic Ubuntu where indeed one hand washes the other and understanding that what we are about to experience in our region is so huge that it is bigger than all of us or any particular group in their particular cause. This phenomenon is the sum of all of us in the same struggle rising, striking and dancing for justice until the violence stops. The fact that we do this in solidarity with men and women around the world signals to me the dawn of a new era.