Feminist Solidarity Saved My Life

Feminist Solidarity saved my life. This statement may sound overreaching but allow me to explain. My earlier journey to feminism was lonely. I am Burundian; feminism was not something claimed by women who were doing work around women’s rights in Burundi, including my mother. So I went into community with feminists in Kenya and Uganda, and that sisterhood built me tremendously. I felt seen, welcomed, and mainly belonging to a community where I could grow.

The most important thing at that particular time of my journey is that I was taught to see myself as part of a more significant community, to view my survival as rooted in others surviving. That responsibility of being my sister’s keeper shaped my sense of community. I realized that the community creates a shared responsibility towards each other. It pushed us to commit to each other’s well-being, divert from individualism, and, more importantly, help us consider issues or struggles that were appearing separate and see them as connected.

2020 has been an exciting year. Our old normal is gone. I do not think any of us is going back to any normalcy before the pandemic. We lost the old normal, a normalcy that had kept the world moving with so much inequalities. Losing the world as we knew it before the pandemic was such a breakthrough to reach a tipping point where everything looks like it is burning. Inequalities worldwide became so apparent that no one could refuse the ultimate urgency to build a world safer for everyone. It started with us realizing that even though we were confined in our homes, not everyone was affected by the pandemic the same way. Race, gender, sexuality, class, and many other factors were shaping everyone’s survival.

Moreover, during the pandemic, these same components created stronger solidarity both online and offline across continents. The rise of Black Lives Matter protests in the US was met with a global outburst demanding the total abolition of white supremacy and our world to face its ways of operations rooted in anti-Blackness. Protests all over the world occurred simultaneously, sounding like one voice about an issue affecting all these communities the same way yet in a very particular way. Audre Lorde’s words,” No one is free unless we all are,” became so real and so on time once again. The intersectionality within our organizing became so easy to navigate.

I am talking about the #EndSars movement in Nigeria championed by a coalition of Nigerian feminists and the #ShutdownNamibia organized by feminists in Namibia. These three movements’ momentum redefined solidarity to me and what it means to share a collective community. The women behind these two movements shared an online communal space where one hashtag amplified the other. It became a sync of “yes, this is happening in Nigeria, but also check what is happening in Namibia.”  The two protests appeared unlinked. One was about police brutality, the other was about gender-based violence, yet for African feminists, they all were connected.

Black feminisms in all their diversity and plurality have always been movements that do not move with single issues. It is mainly understood that Black women ‘do not live single-issue lives’. Our lives exist at the intersections of many systemic oppressions from white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, homo/transphobia, classism, ableism, and many more. The core of our multi-centered feminisms has always shaped Black feminist solidarity even between our foremothers. I think a lot about Angela Davis travelling to South Africa to offer solidarity to Winnie Mandela and protest with South Africans against apartheid. I think about Aoua Keita’s friendship with Binti Titi Mohammed and finding refuge in Dar Es Salaam when she could not be safe in Mali.

Our foremothers’ strong solidarity was also driven by the understanding that these oppression systems were connected.

Angela Davis knew that the US’s black struggles were very much connected with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Aoua Keita understood that patriarchy stripping and erasing her contributions to the anti-colonial struggle in Mali was the same patriarchy standing in the way of Binti Titi Mohammed’s work.

Not so long ago, a heated conversation arose on Twitter. We go through one of these once in a while. We call them diaspora wars. This particular one popped up in the middle of #EndSars. It was about the lack of solidarity from Black people in the diaspora towards African struggles. An important point was raised about how the US’s struggles always get mainstreamed, and other Black struggles do not get the same energy. While the statement was factual, it forgot that the US is an empire that has positioned itself as the global leader. Everything about it is always over amplified. Very often, no change happens, but the US strives for that attention. It made me sit and think about how we can divest from Americanism and the white gaze’s danger. I asked myself so many questions, including how we build movements that will not beg or strive to be seen by the western media or validated by US visibility?

There I realized the danger of individualism in our struggles and the urgency to shy away from that. However, my clear thoughts were inspired by the movement in Mali. Malians were in the streets for six months. They cared less about external media and focused on organizing the masses. I learned about their protests because I was doing remote work with activists in Mali. The momentum of their six-month protests reached the western world on the day of the military coup. By then, every international outlet news picked the story. What we did not hear was the sustenance of the movement for those six months. The media did not report that solidarity organizers from neighboring countries had offered Malians help from fundraising to strategic planning, and more. I was inspired by the stories I was documenting of organizers from Niger, Guinea, Senegal, and Ivory Coast who crossed to Mali to help. It honestly reminded me of our ancestors’ solidarity during anti-colonial struggles. Mainly, it opened my eyes to a more needed broad solidarity.

 The internet has facilitated globalization. We seem connected, but in reality, we could be more connected. While online solidarity is needed and mandatory, I was challenged to desire and opt for more offline solidarity this year. Of course, I was inspired by our foremothers who nurtured friendships of the struggle and invested in collaboration, community beyond imposed colonial borders. Solidarity demands work. It goes beyond telling someone that you stand in solidarity with them. It is a sacrifice. It is asking yourself what would you do if this was something very directly connected to you? Then doing it. On a particular level, Black feminist solidarity has always been part of practising feminisms. It is the commitment to building sisterly relationships and intentionally involving ourselves in each other’s work.

Last week, I drove two hours to join the #EndSars protest to the nearest city where I live. I volunteered to organize, and we pulled a great protest. On my drive back home, tired and exhausted, I felt so renewed. I am Burundian, and police brutality is not a myth to me. I have been a victim myself. However, being there for my Nigerian siblings validated my struggles, but mainly it created a sense of belonging beyond borders. My spirit was so full and once again solidarity has just saved me from giving up. I left with endless possibilities of a communal future in front of me.


This article is published as part of the GBV prevention network’s solidarity campaign


Judicaelle Irakoze is a Burundian radical feminist. She is a storyteller, passionate with articulating the experiences of African women.

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