I am a feminist lawyer, human rights and democracy activist. For the last eight years I have worked as Executive Director of Urgent Action Fund-Africa, a women’s fund that I co-founded in 2001. UAF-Africa invests in the transformation of the world in which women live. It occupies a unique niche within the human rights and philanthropic sectors and has pioneered the rapid response grantmaking model in conflict situations. It is now firmly established as a feminist activist fund.
As a feminist I consider my work to always be political and collaborative. Throughout my entire adult life I have worked with others to fight oppression and authoritarianism. I am sure that I was born feminist; I have never struggled with the logic of feminism. My political understanding of feminism however developed through my involvement in the pro-democracy struggles in Kenya in the early 1980s, and the mentoring of an iconic male teacher. I understood then that as feminists our agenda was to alter the status quo. I am a part of that most powerful movement that has committed itself to the complete destruction of patriarchy and misogyny which now finds expression in heightened militarism and diverse fundamentalisms.
I have found it useful in various struggles to figure out ways of changing or subverting the law for transformation. Throughout the 1990s, I was involved with others, in a process of ensuring the inclusion of a gender perspective in the work of the International Criminal Court as well as ensuring that transitional justice mechanisms that were sprouting up in post-conflict countries on the African continent were taking account of women’s experiences. This interest took me to Rwanda and Sierra Leone where I lived and learned from women working in the most difficult circumstances brought about by genocide and civil war. These women, who have emerged from conflict bruised and battered and yet have been able to pick up the pieces of their lives and raise families and sustain communities, are my greatest inspiration.
I spent a season of my life at the Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program as a visiting fellow in 2005, researching local justice responses to mass atrocities and women’s positioning in these responses. I consider learning from women’s experiences a key factor is designing programs of intervention those suit women’s needs. Research and learning is therefore critical in informing our feminist strategies. I am absolutely excited by the re-emergence of an African feminist movement. This has enabled many of us to recharge and reenergise our passions, and take a critical look at the challenges that confront our organising. We will move forward embracing all our sisters in all their diversities. The true test of our feminism will lie in how well we will be able to do this.