Akina Mama wa Afrika with great pleasure shares with you the leadership journey of another distinguished alumna of the African Women Leadership Institute (AWLI), Ms. Manisurah Aheebwa. Her passion and contribution towards the promotion of gender equality in Africa, truly demonstrates the power in transforming individuals for greater impact. Meet April’s alumna of the month!
Kindly tell us about yourself and your work
Manisurah Aheebwa is a teacher by training. I strive to work towards justice, fairness and equity and the participation of women and girls in creating an environment that allows them to enjoy their right to a dignified life. I currently work under the Peace and Security program of the Eastern Africa Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI).
Where did your passion for feminist leadership stem from?
I cannot exactly lay hand on where this stemmed from but I guess growing up with injustice/ unfairness all around right from home to schools and workplaces left me with no option but to show that there is a better / finer way we can exercise leadership and power
Why was the African Women Leadership Institute (AWLI) appealing for you to take part in as a leader?
AWLI was an affirmation of what I believed in. I had been involved in women’s rights work and pushing against patriarchy without ever being in any forum where women’s rights was a focus of discussion. So the AWLI offered that concrete grounding in feminist principles. It gave me chance to interact and bond with feminist leaders from different countries and sharing was so immense and impactful.
What were your expectations before joining and did the Institute live up to these expectations?
I expected to understand more about the feminist principles, feminist leadership, self-care and how to stay true to the course of feminism. The AWLI met all my expectations. I was challenged and tickled. It was a space where you felt okay to just share anything without the fear of being judged. It was a space where we learned and played and danced- the balancing felt so fine. The institute trainers were all so down to earth- never had “airs of importance”, they took time to know each one of us and cared how we felt. I remember a trainer coming to me and asking whether I was fine. I was taken a back and wanted to lie to her- but I had to tell her how I was home sick after two weeks of being at the institute. I laughed and cried many times because of the revelations, the lessons. That’s when I realized that these are the things that made us stick together as sisters.
What has been your biggest achievement following the AWLI training you attended?
I have been able to stay true to the feminist principles. I have gone out and created spaces for engagement. I left the AWLI with a vision of founding a movement for girls’ empowerment but later zeroed in on supporting ten girls through University. To that end, five have been supported to complete their degrees. The times when I stand up for others who are less privileged count most in my life. The times I personally go out to lend a hand or lessen someone’s burden without necessarily using an organization’s platform are so fulfilling for me – because then I know am living true to my calling. The AWLI strengthened my abilities to exercise leadership and power in a manner that does not disadvantage or put down others.
How was your interaction with faculty, who were they and how exactly did they impact your journey during AWLI and beyond?
The faculty members included among others, Amanda Mukwashi, Jackeline Williams, Ngone Diop Tine and Solome Nakaweesi. These ladies were all so warm and very knowledgeable. While Amanda took you through the journey of the injustices women have suffered at the hand of society and showing you how we build a movement to redeem ourselves, Jackeline was handy in getting you to master your personal finances, Ngone Diop would then take you through the doors of all the global economic infrastructure and Solome would bring you home to self-care in order to rejuvenate your body and soul for another battle!. It was such a great team
How important is sisterhood and networking in your line of work, and did the institute support you in this regard?
Sisterhood keeps you grounded and shrouded with care as well as tough love. You realize that you don’t just live for yourself but others as well and that helps inculcate a sense of accountability to yourself and the other sisters.
What adversities have you faced during your journey, how have you conquered them?
I have been labelled a hen pecker by even the very remotest people in my life- just because of my outspokenness on issues. I have been labeled by some Muslim circles as not being Muslim enough because of my stand on Hijab, use of contraceptives. I have just learned to live with it because that is their problem.
Many would regard you as a resilient African feminist who has immensely contributed to the advancement of young women’s rights. How have you managed to maintain this brand and what is your advice to young women aspiring to lead?
I am resilient indeed and I think it is because of the stunner stuff I am made of. I am unequivocal on values and principles I hold dear. But most of all I embrace diversity always make my opinion on issues known.
My advice to young women would be to learn to live with themselves-“the ‘who’ they are”, always master the courage to stand up for themselves for in doing so, you learn to stand up for others.
Sometimes the work we do can be challenging and draining at the same time; what do you do to renew your energies?
I love to read about struggles, biographies, and movements to draw inspiration. I exercise a lot especially yoga.
Who is your favorite female author?
That can only be Maya Angelou. I love her poetry and one piece stands out, “Still I rise”
Why would you encourage young women out there to pursue the AWLI?
It is a space you get to interact with women in their diversity, a space where you can allow yourself to just be you without the fear of being judged. It is very, thought provoking, inspirational and always ignites or pokes the fires in you.
Any future plans/prospects for women in Africa?
African women have a great future ahead. We have broken into spaces and continue to break the glass ceilings of many spheres. We are theorizing new methodologies of empowerment especially for girls. There will continue to be a growing number of women embracing mobile technology and this will ultimately shape how we organize as women.