The internet, it can be argued, is where womxn come to express themselves freely, without the direct reprimand and suppression that is a direct repercussion of us even remotely having an opinion in the physical spaces of the patriarchal societies in which we exist. The fairly flexible nature of online spaces coupled with the promise of a readily available community of other women provides solace for many of us. Along the way, we discovered an inadvertent opportunity to push back against oppressive institutions. And push back we did. So what has that been like?
Against this backdrop, Kweeta Uganda in partnership with Lakwena curated a conversation on seeking insights into how some women who have taken on the challenge of speaking truth to power online. the questions addressed were: how we are speaking truth to power, whether the powers that be are listening, our motivations (and repercussions) to standing up to power, whether we have registered any victories, what policies can improve our experiences online and finally, how we take care of ourselves even as we do the work.
How we speak truth to power online
We’re employing language that re imagines our realities by questioning conventional wisdom and resisting patriarchal gender expectations. Can we hold space for womxn who do not desire to marry, or have children, for example? If we find this strange, it is because society has for long told us that womxn must be willing to take those paths. But we’re our own people and womxn are not a homogeneous group. We can have different aspirations and we should be able to choose, without society’s dictation, what exactly we are going to do. To achieve this autonomy over our lives and bodies, we must organise by unapologetically and relentlessly making it known that we have a right to choose – and in so doing, we inspire many other womxn who are often waiting for one womxn to speak up about something that’s been eating them up in silence. For them to know that we’re here – a community that insists on being heard, one that will stand in solidarity with one another against systems of power.
Are the powers-that-be listening?
One poem by the indefatigable Dr. Stella Nyanzi on her Facebook got her an 18-months prison sentence for challenging the incumbent. Throughout this time, Stella continued to articulate through her art form, poetry, her resistance against the regime’s atrocities on Ugandans which elicited nation and worldwide support for her. When it comes to the social media platform Twitter, feminists who have, in a dissuasion attempt been branded Twitter feminists by misogynists have caused a maelstrom of conversation spanning every aspect of our collective and intersectional oppressions and privileges. As a result, mindsets have been changed, the disrespect of womxn online while ongoing has tremendously decreased over the years and on issues of representation or lack thereof; mainstream media has made an effort, albeit insufficient, to address all-male panels/manels.
It goes without saying that the power holders and system perpetrators are listening.
Our motivations for standing up to power – and consequently, the repercussions from making that leap
Perhaps the biggest victory of womxn speaking truth to power online is the guaranteed community and unreserved solidarity from Ugandan feminists and their sisters in struggle across the continent. A factor that each of our panelists mentioned as a motivator. Others included the fact so ably theorized by Black lesbian writer, scholar, feminist Audre Lorde: your silence will not protect you. We have come to learn that speaking; even, especially when we’re afraid, is what weakens our shackles and sets us free onto the journey to our freedom. And thanks to womxn like Lorde who came before us and opened the portal for us, we can take up the challenge with the knowledge on how to dismantle the master’s house in which we have been kept hostage.
But the foot soldiers of the status quo do not make this easy, no. They berate, gaslight and troll us. They use scare tactics and microaggressions to distract us. Institutions attempt to bring us to our knees by denying us opportunities and funding because we’re “too difficult.” Our identities are weaponized to shame us, the list goes on. Yet in the words of brilliant poet Maya Angelou, still (I) we rise. We rise for us – our collective freedom, the responsibility with which we’re charged to carry on the work of those womxn who came before us and on whose shoulders we stand today. So that like us, our daughters and nieces shall have a paved path.
Registered victories and required policy changes
As mentioned earlier, the victory that’s communion and solidarity with other feminists online is the gift that keeps giving. But that’s not all. Support – emotional, professional and financial by other womxn keeps us going. Womxn hold our hands and walk us into rooms of opportunity and healing. They mention our work in meetings with decision makers, and validate our experience by sharing theirs to remind us that we were never alone.
Additionally, we have and continue to shift the culture. We initiate crucial conversations and cause change through our calls to action.
On policy, we recognize that womxn must be equally represented at the table of policy formulation and implementation. But not just any womxn, or some womxn. Womxn whose gender politics align with our freedom. All womxn too. Not just religious, conventionally good-looking, middle-class cisheterosexual and able-bodied womxn. Because in this house we not only practice only that feminism that’s devoid of ifs or buts, we also reject the straightjacket identities into which the system attempts to confine us.
The work takes a toll not just physically, but emotionally. Burn-out is a given for every activist. So we must continue to deliberately create time and space to recuperate, detox, love and hold ourselves accountable. You deserve happiness, sis. Laughter, joy, prosperity and healing are also your calling. Connect with your higher self. Retreat to your echo-chamber after a whole week of schooling ‘pro-life’rs. Meditate or pray, whatever your spiritual connection is. Have a good meal. Post a good selfie on the gram and write about sex or your travels (not every day: “In this paper I will…” 🙂 ) Remember, taking a break does not mean you have betrayed the cause. After all, the cause can only benefit from you if you’re well. Unplug. Refill, rejuvenate.
A deep appreciation for our able panelists: Tracy Rubondo, Patricia Kigula and Lisa Kanyomozi-Rabwoni whose many insights from the tweet-chat are shared in this write-up. Please search clink this link: #WomenOnlineVoices and follow Twitter thread to catch up with the conversation as it happened.