SIHA as a knowledge-building and advocacy institution
As the narratives of gender equality, to a large extent, continue to be controlled by actors from the Global North, SIHA holds a unique position and has a responsibility to continue building knowledge and pursuing advocacy that centers on the ‘lived realities’ of women and girls from the GHoA. To that point, SIHA prioritizes feminist participatory action research, applies intersectional approaches, and sees knowledge production and advocacy as a collective process that amplifies women and girls’ autonomous voices and uses their real-life experiences to achieve change.
Ideally, SIHA’s approach to knowledge- building and advocacy is described by the following keywords: evidence-based, intersectionality, qualitative feminist research, indigenous knowledge, solidarity, critical thinking, collaboration, partnership, openness, creativity, willingness to take risks, learn and unlearn.
In this current strategic cycle, SIHA continues to raise key women’s human rights issues with local and national governments, as well as with regional and international human rights mechanisms, particularly ACHPR. SIHA actively engages with funders and calls for more and better resources for women’s movements in the GHoA. Beyond that, SIHA is actively strengthening its intersectional policy analysis on social policy, and macroeconomic and environmental justice issues.
SIHA supports and acknowledges grassroots women, especially young women, as political activists. SIHA engages grassroots women in policy and advocacy discussions and invests in communication, especially on social media platforms.
SIHA also invests in its in-house advocacy capacities and skills, including advocacy training for its members and staff. Most importantly, SIHA engages its members in a collaborative and organized process to develop SIHA’s positions on such crucial issues as female genital mutilation and sex work.
Movement-building through Nurturing and Supporting SIHA’s Membership
SIHA’s vision has always been collective. Bringing women’s voices together through the network is crucial to ensuring that all women and girls in the GHoA have the right to live in a peaceful, just environment and can exercise their equal rights.
SIHA continues to see rapid growth in its membership from 90 members in 2017 to over 130 at the beginning of 2020. SIHA has also seen diversification among its members, with more activists coming from cooperatives, young people’s movements, and revolutionary protest movements like in the case of Sudan. This is in addition to SIHA’s more traditional members from community-based organizations.
This rapid growth and diversification of SIHA’s membership prove that SIHA is transitioning from being a network to being a fully-fledged movement-supporting organization. Sustained by its members and their relentless commitment to the cause, SIHA sees its membership platform as a strategy to build inclusive movements around the GHoA. SIHA is convinced, beyond any doubt, that if women and girls are given the necessary space, they will drive change in this region and beyond. With this new strategy in place, SIHA is especially keen to grow as a movement and transition into ways of working that are more flexible, politically challenging, and responsive to real life.
Currently, SIHA is prioritizing the expansion of regional learning, facilitating exchanges of experiences between members, and building cross-country solidarity. SIHA invests in documentation and facilitates spaces for shared learning between and within movements. SIHA also finds creative ways to support members’ engagement with the SIHA Regional Secretariat, country focal points, and women’s rights activists around the GHoA by facilitating opportunities for partnerships between members and other movements, as well as the political education of members regarding critical aspects of feminist political agenda and SIHA’s strategic plan. SIHA is intentional about supporting and co-creating spaces for solidarity so that members can celebrate, mourn, dance, and cry, all in a spirit of collective
caring and healing justice.
SIHA Working with Girls
According to FRIDA, the Young Feminist Fund,“Girls are not just the future of feminist organizing, they are also the present.”
SIHA has deliberately shifted its strategic approach from ‘engaging with male and female youth’ to focusing on and supporting autonomous girls organizing as a feminist strategy.To that point, SIHA is working not only to empower girls and amplify their collective voice but also to challenge narratives that portray girls as victims. As well, SIHA influences resource allocation for autonomous organizing led by girls.
The transformative potential here is massive. Girl-led organizing is rising around the GHoA, but patriarchal societies and their structures don’t, as yet, recognize girls as crucial political actors in their own right. Girls continue to be relegated to performing domestic chores in the private sphere, to face discrimination in education, and to have their economic opportunities curtailed by, for example, having limited access to vocational training. Girls are also absent from the social, cultural, and recreational spaces, and there is little investment in their political growth and aspirations. Girls find themselves excluded from government decisions and policy-making spaces, while INGOs and even women’s movements aspire to speak on their behalf.
Boys continue to dominate existing youth groups. Although SIHA sees potential in engaging with boys to transform patriarchy, this work will be carried forward in parallel through a distinctive strategic approach.
SIHA believes that it is crucial to support girls in a non-ageist and non-sexist way that respects them and recognizes the importance of their autonomous experience and work. Therefore, SIHA goes the extra mile to recognize and support girls’ organizing without the need for older women’s leadership. SIHA sensitizes girls about their rights, strengthening their capacities for wielding influence, and supporting initiatives that enhance mutual learning and experience-sharing. Forming girl-led societies and groups that enable girls to meet and organize safely is critical to SIHA’s approach.
SIHA Negotiating with Men
SIHA approaches the issue of negotiating with men cautiously because SIHA is acutely wary of the risks of recreating men as gatekeepers; that women and girls can achieve equality only through men, male engagement, and male changes in behavior and attitudes.
However, and despite the fact that men and boys usually have more agency and privilege than women and girls throughout their lives, men’s decisions and behaviors are also profoundly shaped by rigid social and cultural expectations related to masculinity.(30) And while there are many strategies to achieving full gender equality, engaging with men and particularly with male youth in order to challenge patriarchal structures, beliefs, practices, and institutions that sustain masculinities, aggregate privileges, and inequitable norms is one of the keys to success.
SIHA believes that negotiating with men is necessary to achieving gender justice. Men and boys need to be part of the solution and need to be allies to women. They need to promote women’s rights and challenge notions of masculinity and traditional perceptions of manhood. Men will need to question the power dynamics in their actions and their words at the personal, interpersonal, and societal level and to take responsibility for change.
In pursuing this strategic approach, SIHA explicitly and unapologetically retains its focus on feminist leadership and accountability to women, girls, and their movements at the grassroots. SIHA approaches men and boys as allies and not as champions.
SIHA wants to see men and male youth speaking out against patriarchy and transforming social norms, behaviors, and gender stereotypes.
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