Joya Taft-Dick

Joya Taft-Dick (Vital Voices - Africa Businesswomen’s Network, ABWN): Joya was born in Vermont and spent much of her youth on the move with her father – a UN official – in Africa and South Asia. After graduating from Middlebury College in 2006, she spent a year working in Colombo, Sri Lanka with a local women’s group and public health organizations. Joya then moved to Washington D.C where she spent two years working with a Congressional Commission on sexual violence in U.S prisons and jails. At the time of her fellowship, Joya was pursuing her Master’s degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. After her fellowship, Joya wrote: “Being around my colleagues and CBWN’s members was truly inspiring. The fellowship reminded me that I can operate very independently, that I am truly adaptable, and that I am happiest ‘in the field.’ I leave Cameroon with some rediscovered 'joie de vivre’.”

Finding the Success Stories

19 Jun

When you pick up a newspaper, or perhaps even peruse a UN or NGO publication, often times the stories that pertain to women are stories of violence, rape and discrimination.

This appears to be especially the case when it comes to women in developing countries, of various religions and cultures.  People the world over have become, by in large, at least familiarized with such terms as ‘honor killings,’ ‘bride burning,’ ‘sex slavery’ and perhaps even ‘rape as a tool of war.’

After a quick scan on Google for articles on ‘women in Cameroon,’ I immediately found a press release by the World Organization Against Torture on ‘Violence Against Women’ which stated, “An analyses of the legal and socio-economic and political status of women in Cameroon shows the link between the high levels of violence against women in Cameroon and their low status in all aspects of life.”  Another report released by CEDAW writes, “…discriminatory administrative policies, practices, laws, cultural beliefs and attitudes hamper the enjoyment of human rights of women [in Cameroon].”

I have spent much of my professional and academic career thus far very much involved in the issues around violence against women (VAW) – and this is something I have every intention to continue working on and highlighting, as it is a problem of global and epidemic proportions (and not just in the developing world).  That being said, since arriving here in Cameroon, and preparing to interview women who have, in large part, strolled past the ‘do not enter’ signs and established their own businesses and networks – I have been asking myself, where are the success stories?  Where are the stories about women’s resistance to violent and discriminatory systems?  Where are the tales that do NOT tend to portray women, especially African women, as eternal victims under the fist of patriarchy?

That is the kind of story I hope to explore this summer.  This does not mean to sugar coat the situation for women, or overlook the traumas some women may have faced.  What it does mean is that we shift to look at what women are doing in response, or in spite of the obstacles they face.

These stories are out there.  I have recently seen several documentaries tracing what various women, or groups of women, have done to stand up to the violence in their countries – my first thought is of the Liberian women who played a fundamental role in ending the civil war in their country.  There are also the mothers of the abducted and disappeared, in countries from Nepal to Argentina, who never stopped asking questions.

These stories exist.  And while the majority of the women I will be talking to, surveying and profiling this summer are not necessarily emerging from conflict or enduring daily violence, they are examples of the success stories that are out there and should be told.  Women need to know they aren’t alone in their struggles, or their successes.  Young women and girls need affirmation that self-sustenance is possible.  And the paradigm of the disenfranchised woman, shrouded in her victimhood, needs to have an additional, more nuanced side, which includes those powerful women who run their own businesses, despite a legal and political environment which may render that difficult.

I have only been in Cameroon for one week, but I am already impressed by the accomplishments and strengths of the three women I have had the good fortune to work with this first week.  It is these stories too, that deserve to be told, and I look forward to introducing them all to you, my readers.

The cover of a South African businesswomen's magazine I spotted in the Douala office

Posted By Joya Taft-Dick

Posted Jun 19th, 2010


  • Tess Perselay

    June 21, 2010


    Hi Joya! I’m working for Vital Voices’ Africa Program this summer and was introduced to you briefly at the VV event with the ABWN Think Tank on the 7th. I think what you’re aiming to do in Cameroon is really excellent, not to mention necessary. I definitely agree that the media presents women in the Global South to be helpless and victimized, often times to maintain a pristine power balance favoring Westernized countries. As you point out, the stories are out there and need to be heard just as much as the classic “sob stories.” Women are not helpless; they are not weak; they certainly should be hidden. You’re doing really great work and I can’t wait to read more about it!

  • Joya Taft-Dick

    June 22, 2010


    Yes, I of course remember meeting you Tess! Thanks so much for reading, and for the encouragement. I hope to have much more to come these next two months!

  • Christy Gillmore

    June 23, 2010


    Joya what you say is so true about the portrayal of women in the South, especially from Africa. There absolutely needs to be more success stories, as women have been and continue to do amazing work throughout the world. Your comment about the women of Liberia reminded me of the documentary, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see it.

    Good luck with Vital Voices and I look forward to hearing success stories!

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