23 October 2012

Swaziland: Festival of Feminism and Fun

Over recent years, the Festival has provided an unprecedented opportunity for organisations and networks of young women to convene and share strategies and critical information about young women's lives across southern Africa - and to do so in a space that's safe.

Funded by OSISA, the three-day Southern African Young Women's Festival took place in Ezulwini, Swaziland this year - bringing together over 120 young women from 10 countries in the region. The overall theme was 'Challenging Oppressive Systems' - under which were an array of critical issues and debates from 'unpacking feminist theory and practice', to 'breaking the barriers of oppression', to 'using creativity as expression'.

The Festival was an eclectic mix of theoretical engagement, debate, talk shows and poetic expression. Significant to the theoretical discussions was an unpacking of the meanings and multiple histories of our political consciousness as a young feminist movement in southern Africa. In particulare, a detailed analysis was done of the progression of feminist theory, including a focus on African feminist theory and its practice and relevance in our region.

It is critical to understand how feminist theory provides a means to analyse how power operates in our lives and how strategies for resisting this power are at the centre of feminist movement-building and harnessing solidarity.

A heated debate was held on day two entitled 'Has culture put women's rights in jeopardy?' This surfaced ideas about who custodians of culture have been in our African context and sparked a discussion about which practices signify cultural legacies and take precedence in our cultural memory. The Festival also explored meanings of body politics and an elaborate discussion was had about how women's bodies are continuously policed and controlled by the State and its citizens.

There is no other such gathering on the continent, dedicated purely to advancing the process and development of feminist movement-building amongst young women. This space is both sacred and catalytic in its formation and impact. I look forward to being part of the networks birthed during this week and the call to action in working to defend and protect women's rights in our region.

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