By Lena Anyuolo
On 9th August 2019, women in the Social Justice Centres, university students and children of Mathare gathered in the hall at Mathare Social Justice Centre to commemorate Pan-African Women’s Day. The day was significant because sixty three years ago, on 9th August, 20,000 South African women led by Lilian Ngoyi, Lilian Joseph, Rahima Moosa, and Sophia Williams marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest the oppressive pass laws. The law required that native black South Africans carry an ‘internal passport’. This pass would determine which areas blacks were permitted to live and work in. It was similar to the kipande system in Kenya during British colonial rule. 9th August is now a public holiday in South Africa, celebrated as National Women’s Day in honour of these heroines.
The theme of the day was ‘Discussions on Building a Vibrant Women’s Movement’. The program consisted of the screening of the documentary film, ‘Taking Root’ , which is a biographical account of Wangari Maathai’s political and environmental activism. Afterwards, the forum was opened up for discussion on the lessons we drew from the film. Collectively, we were inspired by Wangari Maathai’s courage and persistence in defending the forests, public land and the environment, and her activism in the Release Political Prisoners Campaign when she led mothers and wives of political prisoners in peaceful protests for the unconditional release of their loved ones. The protests took place at Freedom Corner in Uhuru Park and later at the underground bunkers in All Saints Cathedral for 8 months.
The speakers of the day were Njoki Wamai, a professor of political science at USIU. She gave a talk on the history of women’s resistance in Africa by sharing the stories of Mekatilli, Muthoni Nyanjiru and Winnie Mandikizela and Queen Nzinga.
Julie Wanjira, the convenor of the Women in Social Justice Centres and a member of Mathare Social Justice Centre, led the session on reflections on revolutionary African Women who are a source of inspiration for the men in the gathering. Josina Machel, Winnie Mandikizela, Lilian Ngoyi, Faith Kasina (Kayole Social Justice Centre) and Carol Mwatha (Dandora Social Justice Centre) were remembered, honoured and celebrated.
This was followed by reflections by the women representing the various groups at the gathering (the Social Justice Centres and university students) on their experiences in the movement in the struggle for social justice and liberation. Representatives from Kiamaiko, Kariobangi, Mathare, Mukuru, Kariobangi, Kayole, Dandora and Komarock Social Justice Centres and the Revolutionary Socialist League all gave their reflections.
A solidarity statement from RICT was read by Irene Asuwa. The Embassy of Venezuela in Kenya sent their greetings which were delivered by Fredrick Kasuku.
The final session was for resolutions. It was agreed that every month, the women in the Social Justice Centres, through their representatives, would organise a women focused political engagement. This could be a documentary screening, community dialogue or political class/discussion with the aim of radically politicising the movement to fight for social justice and liberation. Secondly, the representatives were to give feedback on the social justice issues they face in their communities, and use these as the basis of organising the women in the communities so as to build a strong Pan African Women’s Movement.
The original Pan-African Women’s Day is marked worldwide on 31st July. The Pan African Women’s Day was organised by the women in the social justice centers and the Revolutionary Socialite League. See pictures below from this day.