It’s time to change the narrative about Africa’s women
Yesterday marked one month since the mass abduction of the Nigerian girls. We can say they disappeared. We can say they are missing. We can even say they have been kidnapped. But there’s no way to sugar coat the harsh truth: they have been trafficked into slavery.
As an American it’s easy for me to fall into the default mentality that “slavery is dead” thanks to Mr. Lincoln and other brave souls like Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as the legislation put in place in my country. At the same time terms like “human trafficking” and “sex trade” are on the rise and becoming a normal part of our vocabulary, even a recognizable part of bumper stickers and youth group fundraisers. (This isn’t a bad thing, but we do run the risk of becoming numb if we aren’t careful.)
These monstrosities enrage me and my heart aches for justice and yet I’m still tempted to turn the channel, put on one more Friends episode, and wish—or even sometimes pray—the situation away.
But what exactly are we doing to bring change? I don’t know. Increasingly I ask this question, what can we do?
Because we want to do something, right? And yet… And Yet.
Maybe the answer can be found among the ashes.
Leymah Gbowee, the winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize was instrumental in bringing peace to Liberia – a conflict that most of the world probably still doesn’t even know existed. For nearly a decade and a half violence reigned in her nation before peace finally came.
Gbowee, and thousands of women along with her, are the ones who brought that change through solidarity, peaceful protest, and prayer.
And here’s what we need to know about change coming to places like Liberia, like Nigeria, and yes, the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram currently controls with terror:
Change will come through the women. It’s already coming.
“Because of the bravery of Nigerian women, who took to the streets to demand that the world pay attention. . . Myth and stereotype blind the world to the reality of what African women are accomplishing,” says Gbowee. “As a woman and a mother, I pray for the safe return of all the abducted girls. I also applaud the strength of the women who continue to fight for them. They are African women — women who can function under the harshest conditions, who in the face of murder and rape continually stand up to fight. Strong. Resilient. Powerful. It is time for the world to put away the image of African women as victims and see them as the everyday heroes they are.” Read the rest of Leymah Gbowee’s compelling piece in the LA Times here.
Gbowee hits on something deep here, something the world needs to begin to take note of:
It’s time for us to quit stereotyping African women and minimizing them as solely the victims of violence and poverty, hunger and rape. Although these problems are very real and cannot—should not—be ignored, it’s time to start listening to Africa’s women and championing them to bring about the justice they’re crying out for. It’s time to empower our African sisters to walk in the fullness of their womanhood – in strength and dignity, with wisdom and with grace. It’s time we let them lead.
We’ve got to stop boxing them in with our good intentions, and perpetuating the same oppression they are experiencing as a result of the injustices they are entrenched in. Because even if we are dosing it out in much “tamer” form than those we’d clearly deem as oppressors—like Boko Haram—naming their potential by their circumstances is just as suffocating to their dignity and their destiny.
Are we willing to listen? To follow?
I am not exempt from this need to shift my perspective. And I am certainly still burdened by the injustices and heartsick over the plight of girls and women in Africa (and elsewhere). I will continue to advocate for justice and pray that the chains of systemic poverty are broken, even looking for ways that I can personally engage and contribute to see their freedom come. And yet I must remember that to truly help my African sisters is to empower them to bring the change that they are desperate for.
We cannot fix Africa’s problems. But I wonder, could Africa’s daughters? If only we are willing to listen and respond to their leadership. . .
Friends, these are difficult issues and I’m repenting and evolving in beliefs even as I listen and gain understanding. Of course let’s not forget that our girls still aren’t home yet (keep praying and working to #bringbackourgirls). But let’s also start to rewrite the narrative about the women of Africa and their potential to bring powerful change where it’s most needed.
Let us be a people who listen, even as we claim to love. And let us be willing to follow where our sisters so courageously lead.