The AWLI: Memories of an Invincible Sisterhood Created

Not only is she an advocate and policy advisor on trade, governance, and development issues in Africa, she is also passionate about changing Africa’s narrative and empowering young women to lead. Allen Sophia Asiimwe runs a regional consultancy firm- AVID Development Ltd (www.aviddevelopment.org); and is the co-founder of a global mentoring programme – Girls for Girls (www.projectg4g.org) which seeks to empower girls to lead and change their communities. She is also an alumna of the African Women’s Leadership Institute (AWLI). We had a conversation with her where she told us about her growth as a Feminist and how she is inspiring girls and women across Africa. This is her leadership journey.

Growing up as one of five girls in a family of six, I was always cognizant of the different rights and privileges accorded girls and boys in our community. I was constantly questioning the status quo, and at the age of 11, I asked my father how much I was worth. I demanded to know why I would be “sold” and exchanged for bride price. Many of my questions remained unanswered until I attended the African Women’s Leadership Institute where I got some answers. Before I attended the AWLI, I had interacted with the women’s movement for a number of years and was inspired by the passion, commitment, energy of the women who walked the journey before us – for gender justice, for equality. I believed the AWLI would provide me with the basic frameworks and foundations around which women’s organising and the movement was based.

Many of my questions remained unanswered until I attended the African Women’s Leadership Institute.

The AWLI undoubtedly lived up to my expectations in that I was finally able to understand the system that is patriarchy in all its ways and forms and receive invaluable inspiration from amazing sheroes in the African Feminist Movement. I met incredible sisters with whom I created friendships which were critical for organising in later years. Most importantly, I got to know and understand myself better as a woman, a mother, a leader, and as an African Feminist. After the AWLI, I immediately run for office at FIDA Uganda where I first served as Treasurer and later as Chairperson of the Board.

As Chairperson FIDA Board, I was one of a group of women leading different organisations that brought the Uganda Women’s movement closer together to programme, raise funds and implement projects and campaigns together. I initiated and participated in a number of campaigns including the “Light her Candle” campaign to honor survivors of domestic violence and push for enactment of the Domestic Violence Law; The Nodding Disease Campaign; Black Monday and several other campaigns. Seeing my then 64-year-old mother and other women march side by side on the streets of Kampala to demand law reforms is a memory I cannot forget. Today, I ensure that women and girls are central and included in programming and all aspects in the work that I do.

A key learning I picked from the AWLI was the importance of sisterhood which today goes to the core of my work. I am a passionate believer in the power of sisterhood and I am always available to give a listening ear to friends from all over the world. I have gone ahead to co-start Girls for Girls where we train women professionals from all walks of life – government, politics, corporate, business, civil society on how to become mentors – with the power to listen, tell their stories and inspire others. We then partner them with girls (15-25) in academic institutions and communities; and with young women (25-35). We are currently in five African countries – Uganda, Niger, Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe and will soon extend to an additional five countries including South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Mauritius and Sudan.

The statement: “The personal is political” is one of the most defining ones in my life. By speaking out on the issues that we face as women in our society- making public those very issues that seek to shame us, keep us believing we are not enough, that we are failures – is how we conquer patriarchy.

During my leadership journey, one of the greatest adversities I faced was the loss of my dear dad to a sudden heart attack. I lost meaning in life and questioned the very essence of why we were born. I also lived in fear of who next! Having my family around me and speaking of our memories and experiences helped all of us heal. We also celebrate his life annually- at his birthday and his death anniversary. We will soon set up an Education Foundation in his name to honor his life- he loved education and dedicated his life to ensuring many went to school.

To renew my energies, I also I work out. I wholeheartedly love dance to the extent that I became a Zumba instructor although I only teach classes on special occasions. I also ensure that I make time for friends and sisterhood – always checking in and organising for any opportunity to get together. I also do not involve myself in the small, nitty gritty things that people want to spend their energies on. I believe in positive energy and try to surround myself with positive people.

The statement: “The personal is political” is one of the most defining ones in my life. By speaking out on the issues that we face as women in our society- making public those very issues that seek to shame us, keep us believing we are not enough, that we are failures – is how we conquer patriarchy. I believe that by being true to self and sharing the real stories with those in my life, I have helped inspire many to be true to themselves.  My advice to young women is you must be true to yourself, and to your dreams and passions. You must build a village/ community of like-minded sisters who will support you and push you even when you don’t think you have the energy to move on.

I am looking to work with others to empower women to lead in all aspects of our lives- from government, to business, to civil society. We want to see women presidents, women in boardrooms and C-Suite, and women having the courage to act and change their circumstances. Under Girls for Girls, we aim to reach over 10,000 mentors and 1,000,000 million mentees by 2025.

Are you an alumna of the AWLI? Get in touch with us at amwa@akinamamawaafrika.org and share your leadership story!