Silencing our Fears and Fearing our Silence at the Uganda Feminist Forum 2019

Three days in a room overflowing with radical, powerful, fearless, vulnerable sisters intentional about growing their feminist journeys is unparalleled. With support from the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), The Open Society for Eastern Africa (OSIEA), Urgent Action Fund Africa and WomanKind Worldwide, the 8th convening of the Uganda Feminist Forum (UFF) was held from 30th July to 1st August 2019 – a gathering that sought to spark off conversations on Silencing our Fears and Fearing our Silence within the feminist movement in Uganda.

A Section of Sisters at UFF 2019

Women in Africa have been socialized to hold fear in high esteem while we agonize in silence, watching our liberation fade away. With the keeping of our lips sealed, we have signed our death warrants for eons on end. Recognizing that our fears may never go away and we are doomed whether we speak out or not, feminists from across Uganda came together not only to celebrate the courage of sisters who have risked life and limb in speaking out against injustices, but also to examine our involvement, intentional or not, in keeping quiet when our voices could have made a difference. Together with sisters from Rwanda, South Africa, Malawi and Zimbabwe, participants reflected, comforted and called each other to account on silence and fear, personally and as a collective.

 

Lest we get erased, sisters participated in a joint herstoricization of the Uganda Feminist Forum, recalling learnings from the first ever forum held over a decade ago to date. In her feminist song to break the sound silence, Nancy Kachingwe, a Malawian Feminist living in Zimbabwe alluded to how the themes of the previous gatherings of the UFF could together be the basis of a feminist manifesto. She noted that fearing our silences and silencing our fears is what feminism is about, the same way we are about questioning power and politics, understanding who and what we are as a movement, spreading our wings and grounding ourselves, understanding our power within the political moment, and taking on giants. Macklean Kyomya, the Executive Director at AWAC Uganda and a passionate Feminist, shared her experience practicing fearlessness as a former sex worker now championing the rights of women sex workers in Uganda.

Fearing our silences and silencing our fears is what feminism is about.

In a space so worthwhile, safe and action-provoking, feminists named and faced their fears, the many fears that have crippled us from advancing the feminist agenda. The fear of not being feminist enough, the dread of insecurity, both personal and as a result of activism, and the distress of being forsaken by sisters during troubled times were cited, among others. The economic injustices faced by women on flower farms in Uganda were unpacked and women’s invisibility in Uganda’s economic processes, silence on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression interrogated together with how Feminist sisters are packaging resistance and proposed tools of resistance. With the Charter of Feminist Principles for African Feminists as our guiding tool, sisters reflected on the value of the charter and how it serves as a salve to allay the revealed fears.

Sisters indulged in both ancient and contemporary practices which keep our inner fire burning. Right from the wellness African yoga sessions at the break of day to love at the fireplace way past dusk, sisters celebrated the love and diversity in the space. A wealth of information was exhibited at the Museum of Ugandan Women which unearthed, recognised and amplified Ugandan women’s roles in Uganda’s history in order to reclaim their place and celebrate their contributions. The museum set up by Wulira! explored girl’s education in Uganda from 1905 to date, scary women in Herstory and some of the sheroes of the Uganda Women’s Movement. Feminists also visited Rights for Her, a Women’s Shelter in Jinja and Slum Women’s Initiative for Development.

Seasoned feminists danced with budding feminists, older met young, in play, in soulful conversations, in difficult conversations, in laughter, and in tears at the 8th Uganda Feminist Forum with the dazzling steering of Ophelia Kemigisha and Hope Chigudu. We came as African Feminists. Our voices were heard. We allowed ourselves to see our lives beyond the horizon, fearless and courageous in the face of oppression. We march onward, reinvigorated to practice fearlessness in all the spaces we occupy.

Ophelia Kemigisha, Nancy Kachingwe and Rosie Motene, all African Feminists at the UFF2019

“Sometimes I worry that my words are harsh, but how will people know what I think if I don’t speak up?

Dr. Hilda Tadria

Read: The stories which contributed to the conversations at UFF 2019