Erica Williams

Erica Williams (WOCON – Women’s Consortium of Nigeria): Erica worked at the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program at Howard University, in Washington, where she organized material for the African Burial Ground Project. Between 1999 and 2001 Erica worked and studied in Venezuela, Brazil and South Africa. In South Africa, she conducted historical and ethnographic research at the University of Western Cape. Erica studied for her BA at New York University, where she received several travel and research scholarships and volunteered for several different organizations: Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER), WomenCare, Face to Face International, The Center for African Spiritual Culture, InI Performance Club, NYU, Golden Rose Awards Banquet Committee, NYU. She also served as Editorial Assistant, Academic Achievement Program Newsletter, NYU. At the time of her fellowship, Erica was studying for a Master's degree in African Studies at Yale University and preparing to start a Ph.D. in Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University. Erica asked many probing questions of AP’s new fellowship program, in person and through her final evaluation: “At the orientation, I noticed the beginning of a possible conflict of interest when I learned that interns were expected to engage in capacity-building at their organizations. But I questioned my ability as a 23 year-old student to tell a 50 year-old experienced, renowned human rights lawyer and activist how to run her organization. Perhaps this is the cultural anthropologist in me, but AP, myself, and future interns must recognize their position as outsiders to Nigeria and to WOCON. Being in that tenuous position creates a dynamic where it is difficult to tell people what they should do, because as outsiders we’re not even accustomed to living in their environment." “For instance, with my office experience in the U.S., I’m used to organizing files in labeled manila folders and hanging file folders in file cabinets. Thus, I found WOCON’s filing system of long folders in a multi-shelved closet impossible to understand. But it works for them. My work experience in the U.S. has also trained me to write out my daily activities, allot a specified amount of time to tasks, and rely heavily on the computer. This is an unattainable goal in Lagos because of the constant unexpected power outages and the fact that sending two emails can take you upwards of two hours. Future interns should be fully aware of the challenges they will face in Nigeria, and even then they may still have trouble adapting to the environment.” Erica also found Lagos to be hard work: “The daily struggles of life in Lagos were another challenge. Constant power outages, traffic jams, torrential rains and floods, painfully slow internet service, and the week-long fuel strike all conspired to make my work more difficult.”

Musings on African Feminism(s)

11 Jun

On Monday, June 9, I attended a workshop entitled “Mainstreaming Women’s Rights Issues in the Human Rights Community” at the University of Ibadan. Mrs. Olateru-Olagbegi presented a paper on the imperatives of a gender balance in the human rights movement. Speakers revealed how the seemingly commonsensical slogan “women’s rights are human rights” is not easily understood within a male-dominated human rights movement that often marginalizes women’s issues as irrelevant and unimportant. They emphasized the need to stop “converting the converted” by reaching beyond women’s NGOs in advertising for women’s human rights conferences, to educating men and women who haven’t already incorporated gender into their politics and activism.

The workshop provided an excellent opportunity to hear the problems and issues facing Nigerian women from the mouths of Nigerian women. All too often, Western feminism and women’s studies talks about African women, to African women, and for African women, without ever providing a space for African women to talk for themselves. I once took a course on African Women that consisted of only two works by African women authors, one of which was the only novel in the course!

Since my early exposure to Black Feminism, I’ve often wondered what an African feminism rooted in African women’s experiences and cultures would look like. Interestingly, the participants in the workshop never once used the word “feminism” in their discussions. This made me wonder if Nigerian women activists, professionals, and academics who place gender at the center of their analyses consider themselves feminists. Have they shunned feminist ideology, theory, and practice as a Western women’s thing — as something that is foreign and alien to their cultures? Or have they created their own unique version of feminism and christened it with a different name, just as women of color feminists have done in the U.S. and Europe?

On the other hand, I realize that naming oneself a feminist may not be as important as simply doing the work, as many of the participants in this conference were doing. There were NGO representatives, journalists and newspaper editors, scholars, lawyers, and grassroots activists working on issues ranging from trafficking, HIV/AIDS, violence prevention, domestic violence, youth leadership training, and civil society. The workshop was an inspiration, a learning experience, a great place for networking, and a superb way to begin the trafficking work and research with WOCON in earnest.

Posted By Erica Williams

Posted Jun 11th, 2003

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