“Feminism is also rooted in healing, in laughter, in smiles, in love, in sisterhood.” – Muthoni Ngige. I had the privilege of attending the Young Kenyan Feminists Convening that took place a couple of weeks ago with about 40 other participants. Feminists from different theories, backgrounds and classes from different regions in Kenya attended. It was an opportunity for me to interact with other women and learn how they are pushing the feminist agenda in their different capacities. It was also a refreshing course on the dire need for intersectionality in our feminisms. Intersectional feminist organizing means we have to look keenly at inclusive solidarity. We have to seek common ground against the backdrop of our differences.
I met a woman, Rachel, who is a caregiver to visually impaired children in Baringo, one of the less developed rural areas in Kenya. She shared with me her struggle as a caregiver and the pain she carried with her because most of the kids she takes care of had been taken advantage of and violated because of their visual disability. I met eco-feminists from Lamu, a coastal region in Kenya who reinforced in us the need to fight against having all our resources taken from us in order to develop further the ‘first world’ countries and the effects of coal mining. I met and became good friends with Catherine, a woman with a physical disability who shared with me a lot of her personal struggles as a woman living with a disability in a country that is not essentially disability-friendly. She shared with the group that she was once inappropriately touched which amounts to sexual harassment by a man who aided her in accessing public transport. This sparked a conversation on body autonomy. Even as able-bodied persons, we as women live in constant fear for what our bodies may be subjected to unwarranted touching, spanking, being stripped, being molested, raped. So imagine how worse it is for women with disabilities. we didn’t have to imagine we had women living with disabilities remind us the different vulnerabilities and violations they face and how we can work together to ensure body autonomy.
A lot of the issues discussed centered on body autonomy and sexual objectification of our persons, the ban on access to safe abortion in Kenya and the 2/3rds gender rule in Kenya. Kenya remain with one of the lowest women representation in leadership in the East African region. Although the 2010 Constitution stipulates that the National Assembly and the Senate should not have more than two-thirds of their members of the same gender, the situation has not changed for Kenyan women in the last eight years. You can find out more about the struggle for women representagtio in Kenya in this episode of the Otherwise podcast.
My path also crossed with Saida Aaliya, an exceptionally radical and brilliant feminist who reminded us of our herstories and the need for us as feminists to write and document our own stories, struggles and triumphs because men will always erase us, especially white men. We talked about the importance of African feminism specifically because it takes into consideration our realities and identities as African Women. We learnt of the importance of solidarity in feminist organizing and even though we are all subjects of different schools and theories of feminism, there is need for unity in each other’s movements and and organizing.
The most important part of my time with the feminists was redefining what feminism means for me. On one of the really cold foggy raining mornings, all of us sat in a circle holding hands, with candles, essential oils and flowers in the center of our circle. We hummed as we spoke affirmations and positivity for ourselves, for our work as individuals and as a movement. My feminism, for as long as I have self identified as one, about 5 years, has been deeply rooted in anger. Its been defined and fuelled by my anger, my bitterness, my pain, my traumas from my assault, the injustice on women all around me. It has been rooted in fear for myself, for my sisters and friends, for every woman out there, cisgender, trans or gender non conforming. My feminism has always been about fighting for my rights, for our rights, for the freedom we deserve. That day, in that circle, I broke down in tears, hysterically. I saw another meaning to feminism. I cried, and I broke down and I was kissed, hugged and loved back to wholeness.
Healing is not part of us. It is us. Our survival is not pegged in our pain, it is pegged in our strength. – Po Kimani.
As feminists, we carry a lot of heaviness and exhaustion because we constantly have to fight. We fight in our individual capacities in all the spaces that we occupy, and we fight in our organizing and movements. It can get tiring. We need to create time to sit and unpack our traumas, our hurt, our anger and use it to further fuel our fight for liberation. That day, in that room, in that circle, holding hands with my feminist sisters, I learnt that feminism can be love and it can be healing. One of the feminists, Muthoni Ngige said that as radical feminists, it is vital that we ground ourselves and our feminism in healing.
Our feminism is not only rooted in pain. We love, we fuck, we laugh, we care and we seek happiness. – Sheena
As African feminists, let us remember to take some days off, to lay down our arms, our take care of ourselves and each other. To love on each other, to re-energize, for ourselves and the collective movement. Feminism is healing and it is sisterhood.