On Wednesday the 10th of August 2011, I found myself at the Mensvic Grand Hotel in East Legon speaking on a panel about my experiences as a feminist. I was speaking alongside Dorcas Coker-Appiah, Executive Director of the Gender Centre; Hilary Gbedemah, a lawyer and Rector at The Law Institute; with Dr Akua Britwum, Convenor of NETRIGHT as the moderator.
When I got the initial call from NETRIGHT asking if I was willing to speak on a panel about my personal experiences as a feminist, I jumped at the opportunity. The 1st Ghana Feminist Forum (GFF) took place in 2006, at that time I lived in the Diaspora and was completely oblivious to the existence of the forum. I moved to Ghana in April 2008, and almost immediately started working for the African Women’s Development Fund so soon heard a lot about the African Feminist Forum (AFF) and the national feminist forums that had taken place in other countries.
In September 2008, I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd African Feminist Forum in Kampala, Uganda. In October 2010, I attended the 3rdAfrican Feminist Forum in Dakar, Senegal.
In between these regional forums I was aware that countries like Uganda, Nigeria and Senegal had also held national forums so I was pining for my own country to hold another feminist forum. I had also come away from each regional feminist forum inspired in very different ways. At the 1st AFF, I had interviewed Dr Musimbi Kanyoro who is currently CEO of the Global Fund for Women, met Pregs Govender during her book launch of ‘Love and Courage’, and connected for the first time with Jessica Horn, a poet and feminist activist whom I now consider to be one of my closest friends. At the 2nd AFF, I saw the premiere of “The Witches of Gambaga’, met the Director Yaba Badoe, as well as the Co-Producer Amina Mama; spent several days working with an amazing photographer Nyani Quarmyne to take portraits of several of the feminists attending the forum (some of these pictures were featured in Arik Air’s online magazine ‘Wings’, visit www.affold.asdhostingservices.com for a link) and once more had the opportunity to connect and be inspired by African feminists from all walks of life. Each AFF for me had been a useful learning experience and had provided the opportunity for me to connect with feminists from across the continent and Diaspora. With this background in mind, I was keen to find out how the GFF would compare.
The GFF provided me with the opportunity to be on a panel with older and more experienced feminists who have been working on women’s rights issues for several years in Ghana. Many of the feminists present have been actively involved in the Domestic Violence Coalition, which successfully lobbied for Ghana’s Domestic Violence Act, as well as the ‘Sisters Keepers’ movement, which had campaigned for government to investigate the mysterious serial murders of women. I was the youngest woman on the panel, and a number of young women at the forum spoke to me afterwards to express interest in some of the issues I had raised during the panel.
There were a couple of aspects that I particularly liked about the Ghana Feminist Forum:
Feminists in Ghana used the Ghana Feminist Forum as an opportunity to inform women (and a handful of men) about key concepts in Feminism, and what being a Feminist means on a practical day-to-day basis. It seemed to be that there were quite a few women present who worked for women’s organizations or were student representatives of women’s associations on university campus but did not have an in-depth understanding of feminist ideology, and some of the practical ways through which to live your feminism. So it was extremely powerful that by the end of the 2 day forum a number of young women made comments to the effect that, “Oh I get it now, feminists are not man-haters”, “you can be a feminist and be married”, “you can be a feminist and a Christian”. That for me was moving testimony and I hope the GFF is only the beginning of a personal journey with feminism for all those young women.
I particularly liked that the organizers of the GFF were flexible. When they heard that a number of young women had complained they had not been given space as speakers on the panel, room was created to have a panel of young women share their experiences of the forum. That willingness to be flexible and react to the needs of the participant was very important and commendable.
The organizers of the GFF knew their audience. They know that Ghanaian society is conservative and spoke about the importance of feminists dealing with a broad range of social issues and stressed the importance of rights for all including rights for homosexuals. In Ghana, merely making a statement asserting the importance of rights for all including homosexuals is a brave step in an ultra conservative society and support for gay rights was something that came across strongly from all the speakers I heard. Whilst recognizing this, I felt that it would have been even better if a panel to had been held on Gay Right’s considering that the subject has become such a ‘hot’ topic in Ghana recently. But perhaps, this decision not to have held such a panel was a deliberate part of ‘knowing your audience’.
Since I left university my engagement with feminist theory has been mainly through reading books, blogs and attending events organised by the AFF, Association of Women in Development (AWID) and Women’s Funding Network (WFN) to name a few. So it was especially refreshing to have African feminists such as Dzodzi Tsikata, Takyiwah Manuh and Dr Rose Mensah-Kutin deliver comprehensive sessions on ‘Theoretical Underpinnings of Feminist Thoughts and Practice ‘, ‘Feminist and Identity Politics’ and ‘What is a Movement’. Even though I have a Masters in Gender and Development, I had studied these issues before I began working formally for the women’s movement so it was really useful to now have this practical knowledge and an opportunity to reflect on theory.
My one major query at the end of the forum was a question as to whether the needs of the more experienced feminists had been met? My understanding of the feminist forums has been that it is a space for ‘Feminists. Full stop.’ This means it’s not intended as a space for women who are interested in feminism or willing to learn about feminism. On the contrary it’s a space for those who have already committed to feminist ideals and practice. Some may argue that this does not ‘grow’ the movement. Others may be of the opinion that a space solely for committed feminists is crucial, and that the space for women who want to learn about feminism may be found in Gender Institutes, and feminist leadership programmes like the ‘African Women’s Leadership Institute’.
What are your thoughts?
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah
 In an interview I conducted with Angela Dwamena-Aboagye on 11th June 2010, she stated that the ‘Sisters Keepers’ movement had began between 1997-1998 in response to the serial murders of about 35 women who had all been killed in a similar fashion, and in the same area. After continuous demonstrations by ‘Sisters Keepers’ a man was eventually arrested and the murders ended. The movement agreed to disband in 2001-2002.
 I am aware that Prof. Akosua Adomako Ampofo led a session on ‘Men and Feminism’. Unfortunately I wasn’t there when this panel took place so I am unable to comment on that. However the feedback I heard about the panel was that people thoroughly enjoyed it and felt that it was an extremely important aspect of the forum.