Black woman- Pic: Shutterstock
A manager once told me that my peers didn’t respect me because I self-identified as “Black” first, and a “Woman” second. I know… I know, it sounds ignorant and crazy, but it really happened. It’s just one of the many micro-aggressions that I and many women of color experience in the workplace.
My response was that of a samurai warrior! My tone was even but stern, and my tongue was slick and cut like a knife, to the point that tears began to roll down the face of the person attempting to demean and degrade me. The one thing that person underestimated was my lifetime of experience as a Black woman, which inevitably gave me the strength to combat this divisive and racist behavior.
I am proud to be part of the esteemed group of Black women who are unapologetically bold about who they were born to be. This doesn’t mean that we are not accepting of other cultures and races, it simply means we are proud of our heritage and ethnicity.
During the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the power that lies within Black women leading the charge to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in their respective industries and communities. I had the pleasure of attending the Harlem Fashion Row’s (HFR) Fashion Show and Style Awards founded by Memphis native Brandice Daniel, a creative and passionate force for change within the fashion industry. Brandice made a call to action asking the attendees to wear “everything black”, meaning wardrobe curated by Black designers.
HFR provides a platform and support for black designers who are underrepresented in the fashion industry. Brandice founded the company in 2007 and has made great strides in advancing black designers and their work. Most notable is the collaboration with Nike and Lebron James to design James’ first women’s sneaker, the HFR x LeBron 16 and the recent announcement of HFR’s new “In the Black” e-commerce site. It’s an online boutique introducing curated merchandise from select designers of color. Make sure you check it out!
I left that event, which was held at the top of the World Trade Center Observatory, feeling so proud of Brandice and all that she has accomplished to ensure that black designers receive their fair share of equity in the fashion industry. She has overcome obstacles that would cause many to give up, but she kept, and keeps going. A true warrior in the fight for inclusion and equity!
I also attended the 2019 ADCOLOR Conference and Awards, founded by a Black woman trailblazer in the advertising industry, Tiffany R. Warren. What I love and admire about Tiffany is that she drives strategy by focusing on the intersectionality of diversity, and all of the different aspects we should consider when championing for true equality beyond race and gender. It was my second time attending the conference and awards of the premier organization that celebrates and advocates diversity in the creative and technology industries. I first attended in 2016. Not only was I was blown away by the growth of the conference over the years, I was equally impressed by the content, speakers, and the work that Tiffany and the ADCOLOR team had done to #TakeAStand for more equity and inclusion in the advertising industry.
My greatest take away from my ADCOLOR experience was that diversity is a given. It’s time we move beyond counting people and checking the box on quotas. We must ensure that women and people of color not only have a seat, but a valued voice at the table. One of many memorable quotes from the conference was, “Our activism can’t just be on Twitter; it has to match who we are in the workplace. Your character at home needs to align with your character at work” – Angela Rye. If we are fired up about injustice and inequality at home, we need to bring that fight to all aspects of our lives. We shouldn’t be required to silence our values when we step inside the workplace.
This leads me to the next event I had the pleasure of attending, Diversity Honors. Created by another dynamic Black woman Dee C. Marshall, CEO of Diverse and Engaged in collaboration with Full Color Future, a think tank and advocacy organization committed to changing the narrative about people of color in media, tech, and innovation. Dee is a force all by herself. She’s been known to be a policy influencer, and female members of Congress call on Dee to co-convene women’s initiatives, strategic planning on mobilization of women, and gathering local women leaders whenever they need a young fresh perspective on connecting with women.
The event was designed to recognize diversity leaders, game-changers, and corporate leaders across industries and sectors, as well as community representatives who have moved the needle and made bold moves to advance marginalized and underrepresented people in workplaces and common spaces. The theme for the event was “Diversity is Multidimensional; People of Color cannot be Forgotten.”
The theme speaks to the fact that many companies are attempting to make women their area of focus for their diversity and inclusion efforts, counting the advancement of white women as their big accomplishment. If they only propel white women in the organization, it does little to nothing to build a culture of inclusion in the workplace.
Minda Harts addresses this in her new book “The Memo: What Women of Color Need to Know to Secure a Seat at the Table.” A recent Harvard Business Review article Minda stated, “Many senior leaders are not comfortable talking about race and they are doing their talent a disservice by ignoring racial equity in the workplace.” I wholeheartedly agree. I am baffled by senior leaders who state that they are committed to diversity and inclusion yet are unwilling to discuss the role of race in driving inequity in the workplace.
By the way, if you haven’t read Minda’s book, please do, it’s a must read for anyone looking for validation or a better understanding of the experience for women of color in the workplace. You may want to buy a few copies to gift to a few of the managers in your workplace who would benefit. I’m just saying, with my side eye, you know who they are!
Last but certainly not least, I attended the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in addition to the Black Women’s Agenda annual town hall and luncheon in Washington DC. The content focused on issues that are preventing black progress in this country, and most importantly those issues most concerning to black women.
The fifth annual “Power of the Sister Vote” survey of African American women published by Essence magazine in conjunction with the Black Women’s Roundtable revealed the top issues that are of concern to Black women in this country.
- Criminal justice and policing reform.
- Affordable healthcare.
- Rise in hate crimes/racism
- Equal rights and equal pay.
- Gun Violence and Gun Safety.
I left DC with the affirmation of what I already knew; Black Women are fired up, convening, and planning to lead change. So, to my old manager and anyone else who questions why I affirm my blackness or my womanhood… you can have several seats!!! I am proud to be black, a strong woman, and part of the Black Women Leadership Tribe! A huge THANK YOU and much gratitude to Brandice Daniel, Tiffany R. Warren, Dee C . Marshall, Minda Harts, and to all of the countless Black Women leading the charge!
Most importantly, I commit to doing my part towards advancing progress. I know that I was in those rooms for a reason and I don’t take that privilege for granted. As a woman of faith, I know that to whom much is given, much is required.
By: Dorinda Walker, Founder and CEO of Cultural Solutions Group
Sunsets and Waterfalls Book Launch: Restoring Hearts for a Better South Africa
Sunsets and Waterfalls Founders, Cindy Jacobs and Toni Erasmus (Source: Toni Erasmus)
Being plunged straight into an unprecedented global pandemic and having been challenged with the devastating realities of our country, Sunsets and Waterfalls (S&W) saw an opportunity in realising that South Africans hold the answers to their own generational outcry. With that being said, straight out of a pandemic, Sunsets and Waterfalls (S&W) was birthed. Founded by Cindy Jacobs and Toni Erasmus, S&W is a platform for South African women, children and families – empowering all to share their raw and real stories.
These two women have a shared vision to drive change at both grassroots and government level, where they aim to develop and impact South Africa and her leaders to restore the soul of our nation by tackling the core issues of our nation- one story and one heart at a time.
On the 1st and 2nd of May 2021, Jacobs and Erasmus launched their poetry book “Sunsets and Waterfalls”, a poetry book designed to connect and empower all people to own their raw and real stories. The book is a compilation of over 300 poetry pieces and 300 impactful line art illustrations by Carter Constant, depicting the raw and real-life events and stories of two women who have bravely overcome the traumatic experiences and enlightenment of their broken hearts.
“We need young leaders with new ideas, new approaches and empathy to effect meaningful change.” This was the view of Melene Rossouw, co-founder and director of the Women Lead Movement, speaking at Gallery South, situated in Muizenberg on Sunday, 2 May 2021 – one of the events of their weekend launch.
Young as they are, they recognise that this is not an exclusively personal and individual journey. They know that the soul of the nation, South Africa, is deeply wounded, and they seek to enable people in local communities to become active change drivers who can pursue social change at both grassroots and government levels.
“I’m really honoured to be sharing this day with both Toni and Cindy,” said Rossouw. “In my brief but deeply insightful engagement with these two exceptional leaders, I was transcended in both mind and soul,” she said. When she met them, Rossouw was immediately struck by the young women’s authenticity born of their ability to consciously explore their own wounded histories, personal and political.
“We want the entire South Africa to join in as we believe: When hearts unite, mountains move!”
Rethinking African Leadership: Right resources, wrong leaders
African Leaders at the African Union building (Source: AU)
How possible is it that the continent with the most of the world’s natural resources, hardworking labour force and favourable climate conditions could have earned the title of being labeled poor and be reduced to beggars than those that have less resources? The scenario that Africa has created of being rich but not prosperous has presented a paradox whose puzzle needs a careful consideration to spot the missing link to enable Africa retain its rightful title, “The prosperous land of opportunity.”
Since the management of resources and the driving of the development agenda falls mainly on leaders, the attainment of real meaningful development can best be achieved when there is in place the right leaders who are selfless and put the interests of their countries and continent above their own. With many African countries having attained independence decades ago, what type of leaders should be put in place to change the African Narrative?
Development focused leaders
Over 20% of current African leaders have been in power for over 20 years and seem to have run out of ideas of what to do differently. They instead usually maintain the status quo of running affairs despite shifts in various development fundamentals. This trend has resulted in rampant corruption, political instability and economic stagnation because the leaders become preoccupied with how retain power and silence challengers at the expense of development. Most African countries are engulfed in discussing political issues and other non-development essential matters that have painted their countries black, thus affecting local investor confidence. For a country to be able to produce enough for exports, it must be able to focus on producing more than local demand and create a suitable environment for the each sector to thrive.
However, African countries have focused their efforts on political issues and planning how to win the next election instead of what milestone to achieve. This derails efforts to work towards real development. African countries have nicely drawn up development plans with well elaborated visions and objectives but the challenge has been implementation. Therefore, Africa needs leaders who are focused and determined to develop it.
Local solution believers
Speaking at the UN general Assembly in 1984, former president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara argued that „it was time for men of Africa to come to their senses and turn to their societies to develop solutions that will be credible even at the international level. Leaders must carry out profound changes so that they free themselves from the foreign domination and exploitation that lead only to failure of the countries.‟ Africa needs leaders who believe in local solutions and will advocate advancing these solutions. Not leaders who always parade problems before advanced countries, seeking for aid and solutions like beggars who are helpless.
Statistics have shown that, while Africa receives help in various sectors, it loses more. The Health Poverty Action report research found that while about $134 billion flows in Africa in each year largely in form of loans, foreign investment and aid, over $192 billion is taken out in profits made by foreign companies, tax evasion and in costs of adapting to climate change which results into a net loss of about $58 billion annually. For how long will African leaders seek foreign help when they can believe and try local solutions suggested by their people? It is interesting to note that while it is the responsibility of leaders to improve the living conditions of their people and provide better health facilities, a number of African leaders would rather seek medical care from advanced countries.
Unsurprisingly, a number of African leaders have died in foreign countries while seeking treatment and this point to the fact that they do not believe in their medical facilities. Africa needs leaders who will eat, drink, work, rejoice and face problems together with their people and make a difference together. It is not enough to build hospitals that leaders themselves fail to go to or have schools which they cannot send their children. Therefore, Africa needs leaders who will inspire confidence in their people and be open to listen and support local solutions.
The leaders that Africa needed at the time of independence achieved their aspirations and gained the freedom that they sought. But times and challenges have since changed and African problems are no longer about seeking independence and therefore, Africa needs leaders that can read the time and accommodate change. The problem of having long serving leaders has been that they want to use the development mechanisms that worked decades ago and apply it in today’s world. Knowledge and technology have advanced; populations have grown and therefore needs have increased and changed. Africa needs leaders who will collaborate to develop it.
The ideal African leader is one that will upscale the interests of Africa first and work with others to maximise the African potential in trade, resources and prosperity. What is worrying about Africa is the fact that it trades more with countries outside the continent than among member countries. The share of exports from Africa with the rest of the world ranged from 80 – 90% for the period 2000 to 2017 (Economic Development in Africa Report, 2019) while intra Africa exports averaged only 16.6%. To boost economic fortunes, leaders must support the Africa Continental Free Trade Area with a view of working together in solving local problems.
Africa also needs leaders who accommodate the views of the youths who are creative, energetic, and innovative and not view them as a threat. Youths are usually updated with latest changes that should be incorporated in the development matrix of today’s world and therefore, they should not be side-lined with an out-dated proverb “youths are the leaders of tomorrow” when the future and tomorrow is now.
Indeed, despite the abundant availability of needed resources for development, Africa’s current situation can largely be blamed on leaders it has had. Leadership mindset change is therefore needed now than ever before.
Written by: Nchimunya Muvwende, an Economist
The Role Of The African Union In Promoting Human Rights – Kim Lamont Mbawuli
African Union Building (Source: Quartz)
Amid the global Covid-19 pandemic, 2020 has been a turbulent year for Africa. During this time of crisis and uncertainty there has been over a dozen countries that have held general elections, many of which have been married with violence. The toll of the crisis has had a ripple effect on the human rights crises across the continent, including the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. According to Human Rights Watch, areas such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria,
Somalia, and South Sudan armed conflicts persists.
Unfortunately, non-state armed groups and government forces were implicated in massacres, targeted killings, rapes, the burning and looting of villages. As well as kidnappings, forced recruitment, attacks on students and teachers, and the illegal occupation of schools. If regard is given for the sort of Human rights violations exhibited it’s time to place the African Union into a spotlight to determine whether the correct framework is in place to protect the plight the African people.
The Transition From OAU To AU
The transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) into the African Union (AU) in 2001 was placed in to central focus. The need to endow continental structures with the powers to make binding rules and regulations for the enhancement of Africa’s integrative efforts. The AU has 53 member states of which this supranational aspiration is espoused through the legal and institutional framework of the organisation. Of which two important developments extended and deepened Africa’s commitment to human rights, democracy, governance and development as cited in the Claiming Human Rights website.
The first was the adoption of the African Union’s Constitutive Act, which endows the AU with the powers to coordinate the activities of the regional economic communities, intervene in member states, and determine and monitor the implementation of common policies, it reaffirms Africa’s commitment to promote and protect human rights. It solemnises a promise made by African leaders to uphold unity, solidarity, cohesion and co-operation among the people of Africa. The second was the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which also places human rights at the centre of development of which both frameworks are to provide an opportunity to put human rights firmly on the African agenda.
Notwithstanding, the strong central drive towards the promulgation of human rights, African countries still lack a degree of transparency which is easily demonstrated through the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, many African
governments introduced severe restrictions on movement and the freedom of assembly. In some cases, implementing full lockdowns. On the one hand these measures helped curb the spread of the virus in some contexts. On the other hand people were disproportionately impacted, particularly those that live in poverty. Many governments did not provide adequate assistance to cushion the impact of the economic downturn, which has exacerbated existing poverty and inequality across Africa. Furthermore there was little transparency around how government funds were being spent, to support the Covid-19 responses, triggering allegations of corruption. The pandemic has also exposed serious systemic gaps in health care services and social safety nets, thereby drawing attention to the need for African governments to make meaningful investments to improve access to quality healthcare, water, and sanitation. Bearing this in mind it brings to question how basic human needs have not been catered and how this has had an effect on the right to human dignity.
Co-Ordinating Common Purpose
The AU offers a broad dynamism through the use of non-indifference which includes the right of the AU to intervene in any member state’s affairs particularly around the recognition of human rights and the Promotion of social, economic and cultural development through the use of human rights instruments such as the; African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, and the Charter on Democracy, Governance and Election. To enforce these instruments, bodies were established and were provided with an express human rights mandate such as the African Commission on the Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Commission), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC), and the African Court.
Bience Gawanas cites the AU as utilising a more interventionist approach to end war crimes and crimes against humanity, human rights violations, and unconstitutional changes of government, through the mechanism of employing sanctions. It represents a higher form of unity and integration for the African continent. It has also continued to develop legal frameworks and establish relevant institutions and in so doing, it has paved the way towards creating a culture of non-indifference towards war crimes and crimes against humanity in Africa.
Legislative Mechanisms To Pursue Human Rights
The Africa renewal magazine states that the pursuit of African human rights requires and enabling environment to pursue the promotion and protection of such rights. The Pan-African Parliament (PAP), Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), the Peace and Security Council (PSC), the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the African Court are all structures and legislative frameworks to ensure that such rights are upheld for all.1
The Role Of The African Court
The African court (hereinafter- the court) was established by the 1998 protocol in respect of the Africa Charter on Human and Peoples rights which endows many African governments, acting nationally and also collectively through the AU, are serious about solidification and protection of human rights. In the Journal of Administration and article written by Antigegn G.K. avers that the jurisdiction of the court extends from the determination of disputes related to the interpretation and application of the Charter, the Protocol and other instruments ratified by state parties, to provide an advisory opinion to the AU or any African organization recognized by the AU on legal matters. For many a key judicial issue, lies between the question of an independent judicial system and the question of impunity. The court can put pressure on states to lessen their hold on the courts, which they use to massively violate human rights throughout the region as cited in the Journal of Public administration.
Courts Response To Human Right Violations
According to UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity between 2006 to 2020, 174 journalists have been killed in Africa, and unfortunately only 10.3% of the cases that were reported have been judicially resolved. The above paints a grim picture albeit there are a few landmark decisions made
by the court on Human and Peoples’ Rights directly contributed to strengthening freedom of expression and to fight impunity for crimes committed against journalists on the African continent.
End Impunity: Promote Free Speech
In the case of Norbert Zongo, the Court has undoubtedly made a direct contribution to ending impunity for crimes against journalists wherein the Court found that the delay in prosecuting the assassination in 1998 of investigative
journalist Norbert Zongo and his companions constituted a violation of their rights to a fair trial, namely to have their cause heard within a reasonable time. In what is known to be one of its overall landmark judgment on the merits, the Court found that the Respondent, the State, failed to uphold its duty to due diligence as no trial was conducted in more than 15 years in a case where Zongo was allegedly about to release a report on investigations involving officials including the brother to the then President of Burkina Faso.
In its judgment on reparations, the Court also awarded a quantum of 1 million USD compensation to the beneficiaries for material and moral damages suffered as a consequence of the violations established.
Similarly, in the case of Lohe Issa Konate exemplifies the contribution of the Court to the protection of journalists in Africa. The issues at hand were strongly focused on the freedom of expression rather than an attempt to the applicant’s life. In its ruling on the merits, the Court found that the one-year imprisonment against Konaté for publishing newspaper articles that were critical to the prosecutor constituted a breach of his freedom of expression as it was disproportionate.
Further to this the Court held that authorities who discharge public functions should be prone to a higher level of criticism and prison sentences would therefore deter journalists from performing the very critical duty of exposing shortfalls in public governance. As a result of the violations found, the Court ordered the Respondent, the State, to amend its laws accordingly and reinstate the Applicant’s banned newspapers, and pay compensation.
Finally, it is worth referring to the judgment rendered by the Court in the matter of Ingabire Victoire Umuhoza regarding freedom of speech in a political setting. The matter relates to statements made by opposition leader Umuhoza which were found by domestic courts to constitute denial of the Tutsi genocide. The findings of the court were that the remarks made by the Applicant did not constitute minimisation of the genocide against the Tutsi and therefore found her conviction to violate her freedom of expression. Although the case did not involve a journalist, it provides an interpretative position to understanding limitations to freedom of expression in instances such as genocide where states may use the restriction to silence critics, including media professionals. In the Umuhoza case, the Court ordered the Respondent State to restore the Applicant’s rights and pay her compensation for material and moral loss suffered by herself and her family members.
Therefore, the effect of such outcomes is the greatly wedged against the domestic systems of each country involved and must be evaluated from a normative, regulatory and judicial perspectives. Human rights are not just a construct based on ideals. They have deep roots in the traditions of all peoples. The primary focus for the promotion and protection of human rights is at the national level, an African level and an international level, it is the primary responsibility of Africa and all its people to ensure that human rights are promoted, protected and fulfilled.
“Our experience over the last 20 years has shown that indeed people must themselves become their own liberators. You cannot wait for somebody else to come and rescue you.” Thabo Mbeki
Written by: Dr. Kim Lamont-Mbawuli
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