Season’s Greetings dear EmGender Family and Friends!
I hope that you are staying safe during the festive season. I have managed to find a minute to reflect upon how fast the year has zipped by. Which naturally led to thinking about the coming year and what I hope to achieve with EmGender in 2016.
I have before me the piece of paper where I jotted down the notes that led to EmGender, it is a quick sketch that outlines the bare bones of my hopes, dreams and ideas for this organisation:
goals – catalyse interdisciplinary collaborative research and to provide information, case studies and resources to help researchers; to act as a springboard for grant applications and joint scholarship; to encourage, create and maintain researcher profiles: a database of gender justice researchers and their specialities; fostering real collaboration and collegiality; creating a space for feminist voices/research/writing/thinking/discussion; AND to work towards gender justice in Malawi.
That was September 2014. The very next day I set up this website, followed rapidly by the Facebook and Twitter accounts and I sent out an invitation for people to set up their membership profiles. over the past year and four months, EmGender has taken on a life of its own in some ways. Whilst in many other ways it remains closely tied to the original vision that I wrote on a piece of paper.
Here are some highlights of 2015:
It was a really important for me to ensure that EmGender was deliberately branded, that the logo made a strong statement about the organisation and its values. Enter the magician Joe Ruzvidzo and the development of the official logo. “At the centerpiece of our logo is an Adinkra Symbol of West Africa “BOA ME NA ME MMOA WO” which means help me and let me help you, and symbolises cooperation and interdependence. Through our logo we express the founding principles of this research network – connection, cooperation and interdependence.”
The work of EmGender members
I have been most surprised and gratified by the level of engagement from young Malawian feminists and activists. They have taken the baton and run faster and further with it than I had ever dared to hope. It is this energy that has shaped some of the work EmGender did this year. Members have written blog posts on a variety of subjects (how menstruation matters; maternal health; natural disasters and GBV; normalisation of violence in relationships; and, “Trophy” wives and the objectification of women). EmGender members (aka The Gender Justice League!) have taken up gender justice issues in new and creative ways both on and off-line. It was a member who brought our attention to the Norwegian Development Fund advertisement that only called for single women to apply for an internship – she wrote to the organisation to question the criteria and her concern led to our Open Letter, the organisation’s response and adjustment of the advert and even on-line news coverage of the issue. This was a group effort that developed with the collaboration and the input of all the members, it gave us an opportunity to think through what issues are important to EmGender. And furthermore, what actions we can and are able to take on through our collaboration.
A sister organisation!
Other work that has happened this year is the birth of UgGender – The Uganda Gender Justice Research Network; a sister organisation in Kampala. I had the great fortune to attend their first event – a film and discourse session hosted at Cavendish University. Keep a lookout for their on-line presence in 2016!
Surveys and social networking
I originally believed that the web page would be the lifeblood of EmGender – which is essentially organised as a digital organisation. This hasn’t been true for 2015. The (members only) WhatsApp group, the FB page and the twitter account have provided a platform for multi-faceted engagement. The mobile messaging app has allowed for a high degree of connectivity between members, whilst the social networking sites have allowed for broad access and input beyond the members. EmGender now has almost two thousand followers across the social networks. People often comment on and react to the posts that are made. It is also the primary means that we have utilised for sharing opportunities/calls for papers/jobs/scholarships etc. The social network has also been extremely important for gathering data – over the year there have been surveys on #revengeporn, the Maputo Protocol and #GBV. The revenge porn results will contribute to a paper on the issue; the survey on the protocol have been incorporated into a chapter on Malawi for the Pretoria University Law Press publication: The Impact of the African Charter and the Women’s Rights Protocol in Selected African States. The results from the GBV survey were published on-line during the #16DaysofActivismAgainstGBV. The poignant and often painful contributions from those who took the time to share their truths provided a deeply personal context for the #16days campaign.
Whoo 2015 has been a busy year! It has been engaging and enlightening; a steep learning curve for me and a resounding affirmation that EmGender matters. Thank you to each and every one of you who participated in this journey – EmGender could easily fall into the trap of simply being an ephemeral internet bit of fluff, the only way that it remains real and relevant is through the contributions of the members, the readers, the followers and the friends. Basically YOU.
So, what next for 2016? Lets dream BIG…
Around this time in 2014, I listed a bunch of goals for 2015. Some of those are still a work in progress including registration, research, funding and re-imagining membership.
All the legalities…
It is certainly time that the legal stuff got sorted out. So at some point in 2016 we need to get the registration sorted out. This is no simple undertaking – it requires deep, strategic, and forward thinking. How do we build an organisation that lasts and grows, something that lives longer (and larger) than its founder? How do we divorce an organisation from the personalities that created it and make sure that its ownership is deeply rooted so that it can branch out but stay strong, bend with the times but not break…. See my plight?
The research output
This year has been about growing in numbers and establishing a voice. Now we need to put our minds to research – both the development of evidence based research as well as the collection and curating of resources for researchers. In this effort I am guided by this saying: “until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” We need to tell our gender justice story in our own voices.
Well at some point we are going to have to generate money, sustainability demands it and so does growth. the key will be to find the balance between financial strings, independence and integrity. EmGender is not about making money, it is about fostering connections. But some of the activities to enhance the research and networking objectives will need to be bankrolled. So let’s dream big!
Time to wrap this up (I have kept going for waaaay longer than I intended when I sat down at the computer)! As always I want to end with a reiteration of my gratitude for your support and to wish you all the very best for the new year. The biggest dream of all is that we create and live in a more just Malawi!
peace & love,