Inspiration From Dakar: Notes on the African Feminist Forum

By Maame Yelbert-Obeng

Last month took me to Dakar, Senegal, along with my colleague Muadi Mukenge, to participate in the Third African Feminist Forum (AFF). It was a week of incredible connections, feminist discussions on a range of issues facing women on the African continent, and I had a blast!

Women dance at the African Feminist Forum
Women dance at the African Feminist Forum. Photo courtesy AFF.

For our program team, the trip to Dakar had a two-fold purpose -- to build on the portfolio’s efforts to deepen our work in Francophone Africa, and to convene a meeting with some of our grantee partners in Senegal for the first time. This year’s forum focused on renewing feminist connections, which has been a thread through this bi-annual forum that began in 2006.

The forum’s theme this year was “Feminist Connections: Reconnecting with Ourselves and Communities.” The theme was chosen after much thought, with the hope that “to achieve the unimaginable as African Feminist, we need to struggle, connect, think, reflect and celebrate together—and over the four days we practiced living these principles. We explored feminism at four levels: the self, community, the state and money and markets. We made the connection that “the personal is political and being a feminist is a lifelong process of learning and unlearning.”

Our understanding of feminism comes not simply from theory but from the daily realities women live and the connections within our communities. Our feminist connection at the state level involves harmonizing international legal instruments with national and local level policies to ensure the rights of women and girls. We were challenged in our engagement with money and markets and were encouraged to develop habits to build wealth at the individual, community, and state level, and connect these resources for the advancement of a strong women’s movement.

The forum comprised of a series of plenary discussions, interactive sessions, workshops, debates and numerous creative sessions. It was also a vibrant space to make critical linkages between the environment and gender, exploring pertinent issues such as climate change, food security, water, access and control of land. This component was especially exciting to me as women’s access to water has been a key aspect of my own activism in the region.

The presence of young feminists at the forum is a response to the ongoing conversations happening within the movement to mentor the next generation of women leaders and also to build solidarity between different generations. While having a strong representation of young feminists is a feat, we realized that there is a lot of work to be done to pique the interest of more young women and other marginalized women’s groups including rural women and women with disabilities, whose absence from the forum was discouraging.

At the special convening with our Senegalese grantees and other women’s groups, we discussed the new Parity Law in Senegal that aims to give women equal access to public office. We also discussed strategies for Senegalese women to address challenges facing them within the religious, cultural, socio-economic and political context. Like Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Uganda, and Togo where strong grantee networks have been established, we hope that a strong grantee network will emerge to advance women’s rights in Senegal.

Senegal will remain special to me for the connections made, for the skills acquired, for the stimulating conversations, and most importantly as an African living in the Diaspora to be able to visit Goree Island where over 20 million slaves are estimated to have been shipped from here to the Americas. In Senegal I easily passed for Senegalese and I was often caught in conversations trying to explain my Ghanaian origin.

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Maame Yelbert-Obeng is part of the Sub-Saharan Africa Program Team


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