Fierce and Tender — a History-in-the-Making Conference for the African Continent
Purposeful — 3 November 2022
We did it! And we’re taking a breath to mark the power of what happens when over 25 collaborating feminist allies, agencies and partners from over 41 countries come together to accelerate the elimination of sexual and gender based violence.
It’s been four months since Purposeful hosted the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights — the single largest international delegation in the country’s history, with over 900 participants, 50% of them young people — and we remain humbled by the witnessing of hundreds of feminists speak their truths, and in awe of the fiercess and tenderness of the six days together.
This week, along with celebratory conference reports and highlights film, we published our series, Conference Voices — five short-read insights into the most urgent themes that make us more certain than ever that we can all enjoy the freedom and liberation of a world without sexual and gender based violence. It’s in the rallying cry of the #collectiveatwork, in hearing from leaders and activists across the Continent, and in the intergenerational discussions with survivors and young feminists at the centre, that we draw fierce hope in building cultures of safety and respect. On this world stage back in June, we claimed our rights to safety, health, information, pleasure, and dignity.
“Solidarity is a continuous process of never letting someone stand alone. The more we connect, the more powerful it makes us.”
Azaria Baker — Poet and Feminist Activist
For Purposeful, we are drawing deep on the voices we heard — still learning, listening and fuelling the fire within our movements, and we invite you to do the same. Take a deeper dive into Building Futures without Violence; that draws on the urgent action of dismantling entrenched structures, and focuses on FGM and child marriage as forms of violence. Read more in our Disability Justice piece about the specific barriers that disabled girls and women face, the everyday assumptions and stigma they contend with, and the urgent call for a disability justice lens across policies, programmes and systems.
We cannot talk about eliminating sexual and gender based violence without first talking about bodily autonomy and the choices we get to make about our bodies, and those choices that are taken away from us entirely. As we prepared for the conference, abortion rights came under renewed attack in the United States with the reversal of Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that protected the right to safe abortion. One week later, the world witnessed a history-in-the-making moment for Sierra Leone and the true power of this feminist convening, when on the final conference day, the President announced his backing of a Safe Motherhood Bill, including a provision to legalise abortion. In that same week, feminists from across the African Continent prioritised comprehensive sexuality education, led sessions on Decolonising Sexual Health, Rights and Contraception, and disrupted the stigma around sex and pleasure. You can read more in My Body is My Own.
The conference had invaluable support from organisations like ISDAO and RESURJ, drawing on voices of LGBTQIA+ activists and communities facing acute and rising oppression, stigmatisation, criminalisation, violence, and threats to their lives. This experience was and is a learning process for Purposeful, offering us the chance to reflect on our movement’s inclusiveness and ability to cater to and support all of us. You can take a look at these reflections further in LGBTQIA+ Rights on the African Continent. We’ve since been grateful for continued conversations with RESURJ members, one who shares; “during the pandemic we didn’t have a lot of spaces like this, and I was really just yearning and craving for a space like that, but also within the Continent, not far removed from my reality. And also just being able to reconnect with some comrades that I’ve worked with for a long time, who I couldn’t reconnect with physically during the pandemic. ”
As a vibrant space with activists and advocates from across the world, the conference was an opportunity for funders to be in direct dialogue with the communities whose work they support. There was honesty, rage, and joy from informal moments right through to the plenary stage. Yande Banda drew shouts from a huge supportive plenary audience to the cry; “Youth engagement is not posting on social media for “Youth Day” but not allowing the youth to actually lead your projects for the youth. We should have youth and girls at the front and centre of your organisations! Read this and more about how we, with CRIF, hosted a live youth-led participatory grantmaking process that saw 50 young people negotiate and design projects in real-time for an equal share of USD$50,000 — a powerful demonstration of Resourcing Response and Resistance.