Africa Women Arise
"The world will never be at peace, until discriminative distinctions based on race and gender are eliminated"
In March 2015, The Africa Women campaign was launched with a crazy objective: to get 1000 men and boys in the town of Buea to sign a petition calling for an end to violence against women and girls in the town of Buea in South West Cameroon.
It was meant to be a one-month sensitisation which would culminate on the 8th of March 2015.
This campaign was initiated by a group of young Cameroonian students who became tired of gender-based discrimination in their communities.
The idea was that if men are the ones abusing women, then men can best be the ones to fight for women's rights.
Africa Women Arise was promoted by HeForShe CUIB Cameroon, with the support of the UN Women and Cameroon's Ministry of Women's Affairs.
The town of Buea records one the the higest rates of abuses and discrimination against women in the whole of Central Africa, and some statistics say that 2 out of every 3 women in the region have been raped or abused sexually.
In the face of this challenge, the campaign had three clear objectives;
First, to sensitize at least 100,000 people in the region on the evil of female discrimination and abuse.
Second, to get 1,000 men to sign a petition to support women empowerment in their communities
Third, to launch the first ever movement of men who support female empowerment in Central Africa.
HOW THE OBJECTIVES WERE ACHIEVED
A dynamic team of 50 volunteers was set up, made up mainly of students under 22 in age. Then, a huge fundraiser was done through churches, schools and civil society organsiations to raise 3,000 USD to fund the campaign. Note that more than 40 percent of these funds came from students.
The sensitisation started in early April and was done daily in schools, hospitals, markets and other public areas. The communication for the sensitisation was mainly offline: banners, tracts, posters and mouth-to-mouth communciations.
The culminating point of the event was on the 8th of March, when thousands of men and women gathered to sign the petition for gender equality.
Inspirational speakers were invited to address the thousands of men (and women) present on the importance of gender equality. Also, pro-equality artists were invited to sing songs that praised the ingenuity of women.
The petitions were signed and the movement for male-driven gender equality was formed in Buea.
For the first time in Central Africa, we adopted a new way of looking at women empowerment: no longer an issue for women only but one involving men and boys to fight for the rights of women.
Also, it was the first time that a group of students in Cameroon took the stage to fight for women empowerment.
1,350 men agreed to advocate for women empowerment and gender equality.
About 12,0000 men and women were sensitzed on the issue of gender equality and actions to be taken to fight discrimination against women in Cameroon.
Movement for male-driven gender equality was formed in Buea. Hundreds of young men and boys are part of this today.
The main challenge we had was rejection and resistance from most men due to traditional thinking.
Buea and Central Africa is still very enshrined in traditional cultures that downplay the role of women in society. This is worse in rural areas where most women are still forced to get married at 12 or 13, and become farmers, cooks and child bearers for the rest of their lives. Imagine therefore the reaction of men when we asked them to educate their girl children. Many times, they bluntly insulted us and some even threatened to beat us up. "How can I be equal to my wife?" most asked.
We however remained strong and determined in the face of this challenge.
3 key lessons:
Even when things seem odd, despairing and unrealistic, there is still a possibility of success. Our campaign was a success in the end.
Africa, contrary to what most people think, is capable to change and once it does it will unleash the potential of its women, and its growth will be unstoppable.
The greatest fulfillment one gets in life comes from the accomplishment of things that are bigger than one's personal needs, by fighting for causes that are bigger than us.