Photography Credit: Ahmed Mahmoud

It is time to drop the charade: women’s movements are political movements

On International Women’s Day this year, we reflect on what SIHA as a network has achieved throughout the region, but also on where we want to focus our efforts and advocacy and influencing work in the immediate future.

Since the establishment of SIHA Network in 1995, we have worked as a periphery organization because we work for and with periphery populations of women. The Horn of Africa region is characterized by significant challenges relating to poverty, climate change, bad governance, and ideologies which derive their power from the subordination of women and continued patriarchy, but it is also characterized by resilience and relentless courage. This courage is manifested in solid women’s movements that persist in the face of these ongoing adversities.

Our region has been subjected to global and regional power dynamics in the political and economic aspects, where we are seen as inferior and are often subjected to practices of guardianship and tokenism that undermine our leadership and knowledge. Because of the complex layers of power dynamics in this region, North-led decisions regarding resource allocation can (and often do) reinforce and amplify the intersectional inequalities that directly compromise the well-being, safety, happiness, and liberty of women throughout the Horn of Africa. Providers of international support have been allowed to exercise an authoritative voice-over what can be considered legitimate activism. This trend has impeded and hampered the progress of the region’s women’s movements.

Two very clear examples of this are the discourses of victimhood that are pushed on women in the region, and the attempts to depoliticize their movements. 

During the SIHA network strategy meeting that drew activists from across the Horn Region together, it was evident that our identities as feminist activists in this region have become more solidified, especially as more and more women in this region are becoming conscious of the root causes of the injustices they endure. The meeting reaffirmed the conversations and discussions of the women’s movements within the region to reject pressures to remain apolitical – in other words, to remain manageable and contained.

We must recognize the breadth of our diversity as over half the population, without losing the capacity to work strategically on collective and shared agendas. It is high time we rise above the naïve assumption of unity, and to strive instead for solidarity.

It is critical for the women’s movement in this region to recall a missing aspect of solidarity: collective care. We acknowledge that collective care is also activism.

Many often fail to recognize the suffering and agony that is endured over a lifetime of activism in this part of the world.

We call on those wishing to truly collaborate with the efforts of the women’s movements in this region to support and recognize the potential of grassroots women activism.

Today, the engagements between the North and South on women’s rights are not based on solidarity, but they should be and they can be if the institutions currently controlling resource allocation in the region take a back seat and listen to the conversation, knowledge and priorities of the activists throughout the region.

To those of us waiting for a magic solution to come from outside: “The burden is ours to carry, and to own.”