“Solidarity strengthens resistance struggle. There can be no mass-based feminist movement to end sexist oppression without a united front–women must take the initiative and demonstrate the power of solidarity. Unless we can show that barriers separating women can be eliminated, that solidarity can exist, we cannot hope to change and transform society as a whole.”
These words, written by bell hooks in her 1984 seminal work “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center”, perfectly encapsulate the significance of the 2021 WILPF Africa Regional Conference – which can only be described as a pioneering exercise in successful cross-border solidarity.
The hybrid conference took place over the course of two days, from 13 to 14 November 2021, and combined physical gatherings on the national level with virtual presentations and discussions that transcended borders.
This cross-border event – which was organised by WILPF Sweden and WILPF’s Regional Representative for Africa, Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo – hosted WILPF Sections, Groups, and emerging Groups from Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Togo, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. In total, 392 feminist organisers and activists joined one another over the course of the conference, and took the opportunity to get more intimately acquainted with WILPF, with WILPF’s current programmes, and with one another.
The rich conference programme included sessions on the future of WILPF; disarmament; militarised masculinities; Women, Peace and Security; feminist political economy; and monitoring, evaluation, and learning. Through these sessions, participants gained insight into WILPF’s thematic work and participated in group exercises and discussions, which explored how this thematic work is (or can be) implemented locally.
Sections and Groups also presented an overview of their achievements at the conference, and bonded over shared experiences. Through this event, participants were able to take stock of how much WILPF Africa has evolved, grown, and gained strength despite difficult national contexts. Through different thematic sessions, participants shared their national experiences and challenges while learning about the work conducted by other Sections and Groups, which will no doubt improve the national implementation of WILPF projects across the continent.
The conference also evoked notions of pan-African solidarity among participants, who were reminded that their interests are largely the same. Indeed, one of the key takeaways was that there is a lot to be gained from collaborating effectively on a regional level. When sharing their concluding reflections on the future of WILPF in Africa, Sections and Groups affirmed their commitment to collaborate on regional issues through collective advocacy and awareness-raising campaigns. Common regional interests include addressing climate change (and its effects on the livelihoods of African women), inequitable financial policies, militarised masculinities, autonomous weapons, arms trade and proliferation, and governance reform.
The conference was a true accomplishment, both in size and organisation, and it would not have been possible without the selfless efforts of WILPF’s Sections and Groups, who dedicated their time, energy, and resources to ensure the conference was a success. This success also attests to the tireless work that Sections and Groups have conducted across the continent and over the years, despite difficult national contexts.