My Intersectional Activism as a Black African Muslim Woman

My identities as being a Black Muslim woman who is also African come in one. I experience discrimination in many unique ways: my skin colour, my gender, my religion and being African. Often, the notion of have these identities tend to equate to me being a ‘thug’ (black), a ‘terrorist’ (Muslim), ‘poor’ (African) and oppressed (woman). But I’m here to say that this is not the case and I would not have it any other way. This is why I always emphasise on the importance of intersectional activism.

Naturally, having these intersections make me an activist. I fight for Black people and for women, for Muslims and for Africans. I guess you could say I’m quite strong. 

Pay attention to those who are being excluded.

It is vital to pay attention and listen to those whose voices often go unheard or are dismissed. I am very skilled in this because when I am fighting for one part of my identity – often the other 3 go dismissed.

Perfect example: the Black Lives Matter movement. Certain parts of the Muslim community do not acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement because it’s a ‘race’ issue, not a religion issue. As if black Muslims are not being shot by police too, such as Yassin Mohammed and Amadou Diallo. Some bring up ‘what about Palestine?’ yet fail to acknowledge the suffering of Afro-Palestinians. Others are excluding disabled black people from the Black Lives Matter movement as we are less likely to hear their stories.

My identities are just as important – they come as one.

My Blackness does not exclude my ‘Muslimness’ or my ‘Africaness’ or my ‘womanhood’. They matter just as much as each other.

A perfect example of this would be the unfortunate killing of Shukri Abdi, which has prompted conversations on social media when it comes to #BlackLivesMatter. Shukri was an immigrant from Somalia who was murdered in Manchester, England and she had the same identities as me – Black, Muslim, African and a girl. Shukri’s death shook the Internet as it really exposed the lack of intersectional activism that some people have. Some ignored her death because of her Muslim identity or claimed that she’s Somali and not Black.

Either way, I am not part of the Somali community so I cannot fully comment on her identity. Obviously, not all Black people in the UK are excluding her death but just a select few. I just wanted to re-emphasise the importance of why ALL Black Lives Matter! #JusticeforShukriAbdi

Mental health matters too.

Another intersection is mental health and ability. Yassin Mohammed was murdered by police in the US. He was a Sudanese immigrant with mental health issues. Another death that was swept under the rug until it picked up on Twitter. Why is that?

Certain demographics fail to acknowledge intersections such as mental health and his immigrant identity, similar to Shukri’s. Perhaps he was not ‘Black’ enough because he had Sudanese descent or because he was a Muslim? Yassin’s and Shukri’s murders are just as important to the Black Lives Matter movement. Regardless of their Muslim or immigrant identity, we must say their names too. Their lives mattered.

#BlackLivesMatter is global.

Following the murder of George Floyd, protests literally sparked across the globe with many black women leading at the forefront. Two 18 year old women organised the London protests. Assa Traoré in France lead the #BlackLivesMatter movement for her brother Adama Traoré. He was murdered and many other lives taken from state sanctioned violence.

These international protests are not significantly only for George Floyd or for Breonna Taylor or for Tony McDade, but for the countless black people murdered daily due to this state sanctioned violence. It highlights how anti-blackness is perpetuated all over the globe. It also puts into perspective how a new global order could potentially occur – how things can change and how we can be the change.

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”  – Audre Lorde

Finally, I just wanted to leave this here and just want to remind people to always take an intersectional approach to activism. Because ALL Black Lives Matter around the world.

Here’s how you can help:

Read more about anit-racism here.

#SayHerName: An Intersectional and International Perspective on #BlackLivesMatter

In 2015, Sandra Bland died of asphyxiation in police custody.  However, her death was ruled as suicide by police authorities. Most people did not believe this and took to the streets. This was how the #SayHerName movement started.

Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Alesia Thomas, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Darnisha Harris, Kathryn Johnston, Kendra James, Korryn, Malissa Williams, Miriam Carrey, Pamela Turner, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, Shantel Davis, Shelley Frey, Shereese Francis, Tarika Wilson, Yvette Smith and many more. These are all Black women murdered by police in America.  These are a few of many names that did not get the same media attention as the Black men murdered by police. I only recognize two of those names: Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor.

The HBO film Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland covers the story of Sandra Bland and the protests after her death.

Breonna Taylor was killed during a “no-knock” raid and was shot eight times. Her house was identified as part of a drug investigation but no drugs were found in her house. Because there is no video footage of her death and Sandra Bland’s death, they haven’t received the same attention as the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.

A case unrelated to police brutality is Monika Diamond’s. Monika Diamond was a transgender woman and LGBTQ activist who was shot and killed while being treated in an ambulance. The man who initially attacked her eventually murdered her while she was being treated by the paramedic staff.

As we are all enraged at the violence displayed against Black men in America, let us not forget Black women and Black transgender women. As Malcolm X said in 1962, “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” This rings true today for Black women and Black transgender women all over the world.

Violence against women is the fundamental form of patriarchy. Its effects is especially seen in Black communities.

In America, domestic violence is the main cause of death for Black women between the ages of 15-34. Not only that, it took a long time for Black girls and women to be taken seriously in terms of the multiple allegations against R. Kelly. My own country, South Africa is the femicide capital of the world. What I have observed about gender based violence here is that mainly white women and middle-class women get the media attention, as seen with Reeva Steenkamp and Uyinene Mrewetyana.

The impact of the COVID-19 Lockdown

Since this lockdown, gender based violence has escalated.  In the UK, an NGO called Refuge reported a 700% increase in calls from domestic abuse victims. Black women in Brazil are the ones who suffer the most under gender based violence.  In South Africa, it is reported that gender based violence cases increased by 500% since the lockdown was implemented at the end of March. I cannot help but worry about the Black and Coloured women in rural areas and townships of this country that are unable to call authorities.

What about the LGBTQI+ community?

Since we are also celebrating Pride Month, let us not forget the violence against the LGBTQI+ community all over the world. South Africa is the only country in Africa where same-sex marriage is legal. Despite this, there is still violent homophobia especially against Black lesbian women. Gender reaffirming surgery is very expensive and unaffordable to most transgender people in South Africa.  They are also shamed and discouraged when they go to Home Affairs to change their names. In the rest of Africa, homosexuality is taboo and sometimes punishable by death.

Be intersectional with your activism

My belief is that if you are anti-sexist, you should be anti-racist and anti-homophobic as well. You cannot want equal rights for women and not demand equal rights for Black people and LGBTQI people. Intersectionality is the only response to widespread inequality and oppression. Peace and justice is the only response to violence.

You do not have to be an expert but stay educated. Protest injustice as much as you can. Speak up as much as you can. If you are a part of a dominant culture, stop trying to control the narrative on behalf of oppressed people.

And if this final sentence applies to you, please, stop using your privilege as a weapon against historically oppressed people.

Learn more about racism and intersectionality in our campaign Antiracist Voices here.

Intersectionality: from Theory to Practice

You’ve probably heard the word ‘intersectionality’. You’ve maybe heard people call themselves ‘an intersectional feminist’. In a lot of feminist media, culture and conversation, intersectionality has become a buzzword. But what does it actually mean, and how does it relate to gender equality?

To understand more, we spoke to Mpho Elizabeth Mpofu. Mpho is a development practitioner and philanthropist from Zimbabwe. She’s also the founder of Voice of Africa. Here’s what she had to say.

“It’s one of those words that we keep bringing up, but then the question is, is it really happening on the ground?”

An important thing to know about intersectionality is that the legacy of the whole concept is rooted within black feminst movements. It can be traced back to at least 1852, and the idea was explored by women of colour throughout succeeding decades. In 1989, the word intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw.

As Crenshaw explains it, intersectionality is a way of looking at the world. It draws our attention to the ways points of difference (such as gender, race, class, sexuality, ability) create overlapping and compounding inequalities. It’s like a lens that allows us to see that the many forms and sources of inequality are interwoven. Intersectionality is something you do, not something you are, and everyone shares the responsibility of taking the theory and using it in practice. If you’d like to learn more, Kimberle Crenshaw has a great podcast – Intersectionality Matters.

Girls’ Globe attended the Women in Dev Conference in March 2020. You can watch highlights from the event or join the conversation online. If you’d like to share your perspective, personal experience or work on intersectionality, you can amplify your voice with Girls’ Globe.

Women’s March 2019: Same Photos, Different Story

On Saturday 9th March, 15,000 people attended the Women’s March in Amsterdam. They braved icy bullets of rain and gusts of furious winds to take to the streets. Despite the grim weather, the atmosphere was electric.

Women, men and children from all walks of life joined in the songs of solidarity. Their voices echoed off the facades of old Amsterdam houses. The inclusivity of the march was bolstered by slogans such as ‘2019 is not just about women’ and  ‘all oppression is connected’.

Messages ranged from #BlackLivesMatter to #TransLivesMatter, and from welcoming refugees to questioning the ethics of male circumcision at birth. There were signs about closing both the wage gap and the orgasm gap. People called out the need to change perspectives on gender and to tackle climate change.

It was a beautiful blur of colour, intersectionality and communal cheer.

And yet, when I Google ‘Women’s March 2019’, hits from popular websites portray the march in a very specific way. Much can be said about the language used in the most negative articles. I am particularly interested, however, in the merit of using sensationalized images in coverage of events like the Women’s March.

It becomes immediately apparent when browsing through articles that the diversity of photographs is not extensive. In many cases, the same handful of images are being used. The Dutch photo service ANP appears to be the source of these continually reused images.

The photos carry important messages for the feminist movement. They share a common focus on the female body and, possibly, on criticism of the Madonna-whore Complex. Three of the most-used pictures show women with barely concealed or totally exposed breasts. In one, a woman refers to herself as a ‘slut’. Another warns Rutte, the current Prime Minister of the Netherlands, not to ‘f*ck with these c*nts’.

The messages put forth by these women are important. They are about our right to agency over our bodies – to do what we want, wear what we want, and own our sexuality. They’re also about our right not to be constantly sexualised simply because we exist in female bodies.

The repeated use of a few specific images have caused them to become sensationalized as the collective face of the 2019 Women’s March.

What does this collective face portray? It could lead many to conclude that the march was attended primarily by ‘free the nipple’ type feminists. But this is only one of the many components of the feminist movement as a whole, and of this event in particular. It’s a far cry from the intersectional ideology of the march.

Diverse use of images in the media is important.

Falling into the trap of using the same mass-circulated pictures is easily done. It’s often the easiest, quickest option. But in the spirit of the 2019 Women’s March, and of intersectionality and diversity, here are some photos from the march which I think are more representative:

One of the organizers of the Netherlands Women’s March 2019.
A young man challenges the now infamous phrase ‘boys will be boys’.
A woman holds a sign showing balled fists of all colours – a visual indication of intersectional feminism.
The rainbow flag, a symbol for the LGBTQ community, was donned by many attendees.
‘I am a sick feminist’. Many people with illnesses and disabilities were in attendance too.

When covering actions for equality in the media, whether in major publications or on personal blogs, it’s important to use the diversity and choice available to us. Sensationalised images are tempting to re-use because of their recognisable quality and virality. However, every face in the crowd on 9 March mattered, and so did every photograph taken.

We have to ask ourselves: what is the story we want to tell?

Photos by Scarlett Bohemian photography

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Women in Glasgow are Striking for Equal Pay

Thousands of people marched through Glasgow, Scotland this week in the largest equal pay strike the UK has seen since the seventies.

Around 8,000 city council workers – most of them women – walked out of jobs and picked up placards to demand equal pay for carers, cleaners, caterers and support workers.

The strike marked a culmination of a dispute that began more than a decade ago, in 2006, after a newly introduced pay scheme enforced existing inequalities within the system. Female–dominated roles within the council, such as cleaning and caring, were penalized through complicated methods of measuring a job’s value in ways that male-dominated roles, like gardening and refuse collection, were not. 

The Politics

Back in 2006, Glasgow City Council was run by the Labour Party. Over the ten years that followed, Labour reportedly spent £2.5 million on legal fees and staff costs so that they could challenge women who were claiming wage discrimination.

In 2017, The Scottish National Party (SNP) took control of the council, with a promise to “end Glasgow’s years of pay injustice”. However, in the months since, workers became increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress and voted to take strike action, despite the council’s claims that industrial action was unnecessary as progress had not stalled.

Photo by Public Services International

How We Value Women’s Work

Amanda Green, a care worker, explained that the women taking part in the strike carry out some of the city’s “toughest and most valuable jobs.” “The value of these jobs,” she continued, “is just not recognised – that’s the problem Glasgow has.”

But it’s not just Glasgow. The view that work carried out by women holds lower economic value than work carried out by men is a global problem. Our perception of jobs that have traditionally been more female-dominated – cleaning, cooking, looking after children and the elderly – is tightly interwoven with cultural norms of a woman’s ‘natural’ role in families, communities and wider society.

Ensuring everyone else is fed, watered, warm, safe, educated and comfortable – these are things we continue to expect women to bear responsibility for, and do for free, in their personal lives. It’s therefore not hugely surprising that we don’t take it seriously when women carry out similar roles in a professional capacity.

And yet, despite being undervalued, under-acknowledged and underpaid, society would grind to a halt if women stopped doing this work professionally. “We’re the ones that make this city come alive in the morning: we get children fed, we get elderly vulnerable people up and out of their beds so that other people can go to work. We go into schools at 5AM to clean them so that children can get an education,” says Shona Thompson, an at-home carer.

This week, after years of being dismissed and diminished, women across Glasgow withdrew their labour for 48 hours and suddenly, as if by magic, there was a newfound mass-recognition of their worth. “Schools and home care disrupted by Glasgow equal pay strike,” said BBC News. “Thousands of women bring city ‘to standstill’,” announced the Independent. Women spoke of the immense guilt they were being made to feel, as though “because of the job we do…we don’t really have the right to strike.”

Photo by Public Services International

Gender, Class & Equal Pay

Equal pay is rarely far from UK headlines at the moment. The BBC came under intense scrutiny over pay inequalities at the end of 2017, and over the summer the pay gap among professional tennis players received widespread media attention. We learnt that female actors earn thousands and sometimes millions of dollars less than their male co-stars, and Ryanair’s pay gap report led to intensely infuriating debates about whether men are perhaps just naturally more suited to being pilots than women are.

The salaries in the stories at the forefront of the equal pay conversation have tended to share two common threads – a disparity linked to gender, yes, but also a multi-figured nature. The equal pay debate seems to interest us a little less, and make fewer headlines, when discrimination affects women whose annual salary falls below the national average.

And so Glasgow’s working women haven’t, up until now, received the coverage or the solidarity I think they deserve. As one Scottish journalist commented: “Compared with the rightfully extensive coverage of Birmingham’s refuse strikers or Hollywood’s abuse scandal, is it that they are too female to be a proper workers’ rights story, and too working class to be a proper feminist one?”

If this week’s strike has proven anything, it’s that the jobs most of us want neither to do nor to talk about are the ones holding our communities and cities together. It’s that equality and fairness are for everyone, regardless of hourly wage. It’s that equal pay is a very present issue facing women in Scotland today. It’s that if a job is so essential that a city will cease to function without it, we should pay the person doing it fairly.

Raising Black Girls: an interview with Vanessa Stair

New York native Vanessa Stair’s experience as a woman of color, raising a child of color, in a non-traditional family is one not documented in the largely white, heterosexual context of the mommy blogger sphere. So she created her own space – is a testimony to the roses and thorns of colored parenting, being a feminist mother of a young girl, and raising our girls right.

Grace Wong: What inspired you to start chocoLACTmilk?

Vanessa Stair: My senior year I was pregnant with Peyton and wrote my senior thesis on breastfeeding in the black community. Since I was invested in the topic and was myself breastfeeding Peyton, I started inviting a small group of moms to come over once or twice a month to talk about their experiences of being black and breastfeeding. It naturally evolved to talking about other issues: how we felt as moms, some of us young mothers, our blackness, how we navigated our race and care for our children.

Life got in the way and some moms went back to work or moved, but I really held onto that space where women of color could talk about the intersectionality of being a mother of color to a child of color, and creating a space where we can talk about issues that uniquely affect us.

GW: You just mentioned that mothers of color face unique issues, what are some of the most challenging aspects of colored parenting?

VS:  I want to be unapologetic in my parenting. I want to live true to myself. But certain times navigating that space and respecting that can be very, very hard. I want Peyton to be a carefree black girl: do the things she wants, act the way she wants, and find her own voice, but often I find myself hesitant to do certain things because of the perceptions around children of color.

There are different life lessons that come with being a girl of color. I have to be very intentional about the kind of things I bring into her space so she sees positive representations of herself in various forms – not always the civil rights leader but a superhero or an astronaut. 

GW: You have been able to convey quite complex lessons like consent to Peyton. I feel like my peers, and even those older than me, don’t understand all of the nuances of consent. How have you been able to teach that to a five-year-old?

VS: To a three- or four-year-old consent can be taught very simply: no means no. When you say no I don’t currently want to be touched, that means no.

What has been more difficult for my partner and I is navigating Peyton’s ownership over her own body while also having the task of keeping her safe. For example, one thing we struggle with is crossing the street. Sometimes she does not want to hold our hand, and we have to say to her, “I understand that, but in this instance because there is a safety concern we need to hold your hand, and when we finish crossing the street and you don’t want to hold my hand anymore that is fine.”

As a four-year-old, Peyton has more awareness of her body than most kids and great at saying no to people. Peyton has an afro, and a lot of times people just want to touch it, and for us we say, every part of your body is your own – that includes your hair, your shoulders, your fingers – that is your body and the moment you feel uncomfortable you have right to say “no thank you.

Recently, we are walking down the street and this older woman puts her hand on Peyton’s hair and I am just about to go off at her and Peyton just goes, “Do not touch my hair” and the woman goes “Oh but I just wanted touch it,” and Peyton replies, “You wouldn’t touch my vagina, so don’t touch my hair.” This woman was mortified, but for me I was proud that Peyton recognized that every part of her body she has ownership. I think another part of the struggle is that it applies to everyone.

What is your hope for the chocoLACTmilk?

VS: Reaching a larger audience and creating a space where I can cathartically journal my experiences and create an outlet for other parents, with similar experiences, to have a dialogue. The dialogue is already out there so it is about harnessing that and bringing it to another, larger space, and creating community and support.