A Testament of Revolutionary Hope and Sisterhood at the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights
Over a year has passed since the 10th ACSHR, yet the conversations and exchanges I experienced at that conference continue to echo in my mind. The joy, camaraderie, and optimism I felt back then still resonate powerfully.
In June 2022, I had the unique opportunity to attend the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights in Freetown, Sierra Leone. It was more than a mere gathering — it was a pivotal event that brought together feminists, advocates, and activists from around the world with a unified mission: to expedite the end of sexual and gender-based violence in Africa.
The six-day conference featured engaging activities like the Girls’ Summit and the Youth Pre-Conference. These forums provided dedicated spaces for younger generations to discuss their issues, foster connections, and galvanize the movement. The rest of the conference comprised various panels and workshops, impeccably organised by Purposeful, a remarkable group of committed feminists — a true powerhouse.
From receiving the invitation to the conference’s conclusion, it was evident that this was no ordinary event. The organisers went above and beyond to ensure the safety and comfort of all participants. On entering the conference hall, I was welcomed by a team who assisted me with acquiring a SIM card, badge, and other essentials. This level of organisation and personal attention extended to all attendees. The commitment and diligence of the event organisers in accommodating over 900 participants, especially following two years of a global pandemic, were truly remarkable.
The gathering went beyond the surface-level representation often found at such events, creating a deep convergence of diverse voices, cultures, and shared aspirations. Notably, it inclusively embraced individuals often marginalised, such as people with disabilities and members of the Queer community. The organisers’ dedication to genuine inclusivity was more than a gesture; it demonstrated a commitment to effective dialogue and meaningful participation. Translation services were readily available, ensuring effective communication across languages.
Living the Feminist Manifesto: Embracing Grief and Affirming ‘The Personal is Political’
Personally, the conference had a profound impact on me. At the time, I was grappling with the heart-wrenching loss of a loved one — a personal sorrow so immense that it nearly made me reconsider my participation. However, the empathetic event organisers offered unwavering support, reframing the conference as a platform for healing and personal growth.
Their sensitivity and thoughtfulness, combined with the creation of a dedicated safe space for grief and healing, fostered an environment where I felt truly seen and supported. Each day, I spent 30 minutes in the healing room, enveloped by an atmosphere of love and care. Here, I was more than just another participant - I was an individual navigating a profound personal struggle within a supportive and loving atmosphere. My pain was respected and recognised.
This pervasive empathy powerfully embodied the feminist principle that the personal is indeed political. The organisers embraced grief, demonstrating that my healing journey was not isolated but inherently intertwined with the broader mission for a more compassionate world. They embodied the belief that feminism is not just a label but a course of action, reminding us that our individual paths towards healing and empowerment are integral to our collective resistance and resilience.
The Sound of Solidarity: Our Stories as Palestinians in Our Own Words
As a Palestinian woman, this gathering underscored the critical importance of centering anti-colonial narratives. Our voices and stories took the spotlight, contrasting starkly with the challenging spaces we frequently navigate, including Berlin, where I currently reside. It offered us an opportunity to authentically and unapologetically express the experiences and struggles of Palestinian women, breaking free from the limitations and dismissals we often encounter in Berlin and other settings.
The conference served as fertile ground for understanding the profound interconnectedness of feminism and anti-colonialism. It enabled us to explore how colonialism intersects with other oppressive structures and provided a platform to acknowledge the intersectionality of the fight against patriarchy and colonialism. The struggle for gender equality, dismantling patriarchal norms, and the fight for self-determination in Palestine are deeply interconnected feminist endeavors.
Breaking Taboos: Empowering Conversations on Sex and Pleasure
Among the keynote speakers at the conference was Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, the acclaimed author of ‘The Sex Lives of African Women’. She led several engaging sessions on sex, pleasure, and shame, inviting us to collectively challenge and eradicate sexual and gender-based violence, including practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage. Nana underscored the vital role each of us plays in promoting safe abortions and dismantling the persistent stigma attached to it.
The openness and depth of these conversations were profoundly refreshing, standing in stark contrast to the subdued dialogues I have often experienced in the Arab world, even among feminist circles. This underscored the extent of the journey we still need to embark on and the crucial knowledge we must acquire to foster open discussions around these sensitive yet vital issues.
This session highlighted the importance of addressing the stigma and shame surrounding sex — a conversation frequently avoided yet essential for our liberation. This message was particularly empowering, highlighting the urgency of disseminating such narratives, especially in regions where such discussions are often suppressed or deemed taboo. By confronting these deeply ingrained prejudices, we take a step towards promoting healthier attitudes towards sex, creating an environment where individuals can safely express themselves and seek information. This openness is key to eradicating gender-based violence.
Dancing our way to Freedom and Liberation
The conference provided a unique space for connection, growth, and celebration. Despite addressing weighty topics, it created moments of joy and camaraderie that reminded us of our resilient spirits and our shared love for life, even in the face of oppressive systems. Live music and dancing filled the breaks, infusing the atmosphere with energy and creating opportunities for solace, spiritual nurturing, and resilience-building. During these moments of collective singing and dancing, we felt like an unstoppable force capable of driving radical change.
The conference challenged the notion that activists and feminists must solely carry the weight of struggle, affirming our right to experience a range of emotions. It recognised that crying, laughing, dancing, and expressing anger are all integral parts of our healing and journey toward liberation. These moments of joy and celebration hold transformative power, reminding us that they are not acts of complacency but powerful acts of resistance.
A Transformative Journey: The Lasting Impact of the Conference
The 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights was not just an event but a potent affirmation of collective solidarity. As a feminist and activist, it served as a compelling reminder of the transformative power that echoes when our voices unite for justice and equality.
The conference’s impact has extended far beyond a few days of workshops and sessions. Even seemingly minor actions, such as forming WhatsApp groups for continued communication post-conference, sparked the creation of a supportive community. Establishing connections with like-minded individuals and groups has proven invaluable; we’ve supported each other, shared opportunities, and celebrated victories, regardless of their scale.
More than just an event, the conference underscored the essential role of transnational solidarity in combating patriarchy and gender-based violence. Its enduring impact serves as a potent testament to the strength we acquire when united in our pursuit of shared goals. It reinforces the belief that through unwavering solidarity, we possess the power to drive radical change and strive towards a world free from oppression and injustice.
Fidaa Al Zaanin is a Palestinian feminist and gender studies researcher from Gaza. Currently based in Berlin, she is dedicated to advancing gender equality and social justice.
To find out more about the 10th Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, and the range of publications on this feminist convening visit: https://acshr2022.org/
To find out more about Purposeful https://wearepurposeful.org/